The Stratford Library Association organized in 1885 to create a public library in Stratford. The Association’s collection of about one thousand books was temporarily housed in a series of buildings, including a store and a post office; soon the Association began to search for funds for a permanent library building. A major donor was Birdseye Blakeman, a descendant of two early settlers of Stratford. Construction began in 1894, and the library was dedicated in January, 1896.
“Designed by architect William H. Miller of Ithaca, New York, the building is of classic Romanesque design. Its walls are of St. Lawrence granite from a quarry in Gouverneur, New York. It has copper gutters, renewed in 1986, and a roof of specially made brown glazed tiles.”(1)
“Imagine the delight of the citizens at the dedication on a cold January 16, 1896, as they pushed open the heavy iron-grilled oaken doors, to find themselves in a reading room large enough for two hundred patrons. Where to look first? “At the carved oak tables…and chairs… two fireplaces– — the green pottery table lamps designed by the architect himself — the stacks three stories high?”(1)
The fireplace is decorated with two pre-Raphealite-style ceramic plaques, which feature these quotes:
“Grant me, O Fame, after sad funeral still alive, thus to float on the lips and ears of man.”
“So to the summit of thy wheel roll us, Good Fortune, kindly, nor thereafter move us.”
Miss Fanny Russell was the first librarian. She ran the library for the Stratford Library Association from 1896 to 1958. She planted a seedling on the front lawn which has grown into a magnificent oak.
In 1955, the library built an addition at the back of the 1896 structure. The high-ceilinged addition housed a new Children’s Department and Reference Room, as well as offices. At the same time, a branch library was opened at Main Street and Wakelee Avenue to accommodate the town’s growing need for library services. This North End Branch remained in service until the early 1970s.
From 1979 to 1983, the library expanded dramatically. Vivienne Knapp, the first woman president of the Stratford Library Association, selected architects Galliher, Schoenhardt, and Baier of Simsbury, Connecticut, to enlarge the library by nearly 300 percent. During this time, the 1955 addition was dismantled.
“The architects designed a linking building to tie the Richardson Romanesque granite library to the 1921 Stratford fieldstone Sterling Memorial structure known as Legion Hall. The Victorian reading room with vaulted ceiling, oaken trim, and tiled fireplaces was transformed into a community lecture hall. The original stacks were torn out and replaced by a projection room [later transformed into offices] and washrooms. The checkout counter and reference desks occupied the new connecting structure, and above them was a new children’s section with books, games, soft toys, and cushy seats. Three floors of stacks filled old Legion hall, with an elevator between.” (2)
On September 24, 1994, the community room was dedicated as the Lovell Room to honor the Lovell family’s involvement and contribution to the library for over 100 years. Edythe M. Landes, the first Director of the newly enlarged library, retired in 1999 and Karen Bowles served as Library Director from 2000-2006. Barbara Blosveren, began her tenure in 2007 and served until 2016. Sheri Szymanski currently has the privilege of serving as Library Director.
Artist Mariann Hudak’s 1996 painting of the library. The 1922 American Legion Hall building is on the left, the original library is on the right, and the 1979 addition links the two.
“The Learning Tree” is a stained glass window created by Stratford native Reverend Robert J. Terentieff, a gift from the artist to the library in 1994.The window was created by the artist for the 100th anniversary of the Stratford Library and depicts what can be accomplished through the joy, growth, mystery and pleasure of discovery that comes through reading. In creating “The Learning Tree”, Terentieff hoped that viewers would not only appreciate the beautiful art form called stained glass but, in examining it, discover a learning experience in the process. The large circular window is located in the play area of the Children’s Department and is situated directly above the front entrance of the library overlooking Main Street. Reverend Terentieff has a Ph.D. in Fine Arts from Pacific Western University in Los Angeles and an M.S. in Art Education from the University of Bridgeport.
Notes on Sources
(1) Lewis G. Knapp, In Pursuit of Paradise: History of the Town of Stratford, Connecticut. (West Kennebunk, Maine: Published for the Stratford Historical Society by Phoenix Publishing, 1989), pp. 194-195.
(2) Knapp, p.298.
Photos of the exterior, the reading room, and the fireplace are from Dedication Exercises of the Stratford Library, January 16, 1896 (published by Standard Association, 1896). The photo of Miss Fanny Russell is from Mr. Knapp’s In Pursuit of Paradise.
Mariann Hudak is a Connecticut artist who specializes in wood cutouts in miniature of historic buildings, monuments and scenes.