The Many Libraries of Ashfield – by Nancy Intres, Library Trustee

A library has always been considered important to Ashfield.  “Even as early as fifty years after the Town’s incorporation records indicate that a forerunner to a library existed.”  This library was just a “collection of carefully chosen, cherished books read by candlelight and housed in a shoe shop”, but it was an integral part of life.  These books were moved from house to house as townspeople would shelter, tend and circulate them.

In June 1805 the Proprietors of the First Social Library held an organizational meeting at the home of David White (formerly the Zechariah Field Tavern).  A library under the care of three officers and five committee members was created.  Each Proprietor held shares.    All monies collected from fines were used to purchase books.  A Proprietor could take two books for a period of three months.  Any person could become a Proprietor by purchasing one Share (the cost to be determined by the Librarian and the Committee members).  The librarian was paid two dollars for his yearly service.

Over time, the first social library ceased to exist.  However a second social library, consisting of fourteen people was formed in August 1815.  A constitution was written similar to that of the first social library and forty-three shares were sold.  Anyone over the age of 12, and not a member, could take out one book at a time by paying a fee.  The librarian kept the books at his house.  By 1866, only nine people took out books and at the last meeting only nine members attended.  By “common consent” it was voted to dispose of the books and property of the library.

In November 1866 Charles Norton and George W. Curtis formed Ashfield Library Association.  Shares were sold at $5.00 each and these two men donated many of the books.  At this time, the library was located on the second story of Almon Bronson’s Store (now Ashfield Hardware).  Miranda Smith was the librarian.

In 1881, the books were moved to the old academy building.  In 1882 Alonzo Lilly (of Newton) gave $1,500.00 to the Trustees to purchase new books or repair old ones.  Previously, he had donated money to enable poorer families to purchase shares.  Eliza Field requested that the “new academy” (which opened in 1889)) have a room for the library and that it be free to all.  By 1910 the books had been moved to Town Hall where they remained until the present library was completed in 1914.

Eva Tanguay

Eva Tanguay

In 1911, Milo Belding, Sr. purchased a house and lot from Eva Tanguay, a well-known vaudeville actress.  In 1913, he razed the house and began preparations for the erection of Belding Memorial Library.  Milo, a wealthy silk merchant and Ashfield native son, chose to build the library and donate it to the Town. This “free” library was given in honor and memory of his parents, Hiram and Mary (Wilson) Belding.  The library, built of St. Lawrence marble by Italian stonemasons and designed to hold 14,000 volumes was completed in 1914.  The dedication took place on August 29, 1914.  At the dedication, Milo presented the deed, the endowment fund and the keys to Dr, John Urquhart on behalf of the town.  Special mention should be made of Mrs. Mary Boice who served as secretary and treasurer to the Trustees for thirty-one years and librarian from December 1918 to July 1943.  Librarian salaries ranged from $300 yearly in 1914 to $480 in 1959.

The sources for the above information were “History of the Town of Ashfield” and the May 2014 Ashfield Historical Society Newsletter.  Any errors are mine and mine alone.