Library celebrates 230th anniversary
Updated: Oct 4
Special to Today Magazine
The Avon Free Public Library is celebrating its 230th birthday. The library traces its roots to September 1791, when the town’s minister signed up subscribers for a library.
Rev. Rufus Hawley wrote in his journal about riding to New Haven to buy “books for the public Library.” By 1798, Samuel Bishop had a collection of 111 books in his home on Bishop Lane, and the library was open six times a year for borrowing.
When the next librarian, Josiah Ansel Wilcox, was elected in 1842, the library moved to his home on Cider Brook Road.
After that library closed 10 years later, books were shared informally for many years before moving into Phinenas Gabriel’s shoe store on West Main Street in the 1890s. In 1909, a board of directors was elected to reorganize the library and draw up by-laws and rules. With a budget of $175, the board hired a trained librarian to classify the collection.
Fred Neville became Avon’s first paid librarian, compensated for his librarian duties and also for housing the library in his home on Simsbury Road. The library in Neville’s home was open each Friday evening from 6 to 8 p.m. Each borrower was limited to two books at a time, to be returned within two weeks. Records show that 1,767 books circulated in 1909 among 62 registered families.
Fundraising began in 1929 to buy land for a library building. On Aug. 30, 1932, a one-room brick building was completed at 17 West Main Street. In the next 50 years, this building was enlarged three times.
Volunteers manned a bookmobile that delivered library books to West Avon, Huckleberry Hill and Secret Lake. In 1950, the Friends of Avon Library group was formed to provide funds for books and equipment and to establish exhibits and programs.
Long-range planning for a new building began in 1971, and the site of the current library on Country Club Road was purchased in 1973. After a 1978 agreement with the town of Avon, the library board donated the land to the town, which built a 13,500-square-foot facility and assumed responsibility for most operational funding.
The Country Club Road building was expanded in 1997 and again in 2012, tripling in size to 40,000 square feet and becoming the Avon Free Public Library of today.
Back in 1969, the Wilcox family (i.e., the descendants of Josiah Ansel Wilcox) made a major donation to the library — over 90 books of the original 1791 collection of 111 books, plus the original book cabinet. The historic cabinet and books now reside in the library’s Marian Hunter Local History Room. +
• This article first appeared in the September 2021 edition of Today Magazine, our monthly publication