A Brief History of the Library- by Nancy Intres, Library Trustee
“A centennial carries us back, it bears us forward. It is clearly defined knowledge, on the one hand, and seeing as in a glass darkly, on the other side.” - Rev. DD. William P. Paine.
Belding Memorial Library was given to the Town of Ashfield in honor and memory of Hiram and Mary (Wilson) Belding. Their son, Milo M. Belding, Sr., the donor of the library was born in Ashfield on April 3, 1833. Growing up in Ashfield, he worked on the family farm and attended school in the winters. At age seventeen, he began peddling goods, first locally and then selling jewelry for W.M. Root & Co. of Pittsfield. His association with the Pittsfield firm convinced him that there was money to be made in selling silk. He introduced three of his brothers, David, Hiram and Alvah, into the peddling of silk in the western states. Hiram and Mary and five of their children had moved from Ashfield to Patterson Mill, part of Otisco Township, MI in 1858. The area in which they settled became the Village of Belding in 1871. By all accounts, the Beldings were clever businessmen. By 1866 the men started manufacturing raw silk into silk threads at their first mill in Rockville, CT. The Connecticut mill employed 600 people and daily converted 550 pounds of raw silk into thread. By 1872 the demand for their products convinced the brothers to build a second mill in Northampton, MA to make broad goods and silk embroidery thread. By 1890 the the Beldings owned and operated seven mills located in Belding, MI, Petaluma, CA and Montreal, Canada as well as the older ones in CT and MA. Belding mills imported one-twentieth of all silk imported into the United States. The Belding Brothers were generous and broadminded businessmen. They treated their employees well at a time when other industrialists did not. Their female workers were provided with housing where a matron presided. Curfews were respected, rooms were pleasant, meals were formal and somewhat elegant, and wages were competitive.
Efforts to establish a free library for the citizens of Ashfield had had limited success before 1914. So the gift of the beautiful building built of St. Lawrence marble by Italian laborers and designed to hold 14,000 volumes was a very generous one. The building was begun in 1913 and completed in 1914. It was dedicated on August 29, 1914. For the dedication celebration an outdoor luncheon beneath a tent was planned but due to rainy weather the dedication was moved to the Town Hall. For the event the houses along Main Street were decorated with flags and buntings. Pennants of all colors were strung across the street. The Town Hall was festooned with gold and white bunting and evergreens. The stage was banked with evergreens and bunting in anticipation of a dance to be held in the evening. Nearly all the townspeople attended the dedication as did former residents and people from neighboring towns. The presentation, consisting of speeches by many local dignitaries began at 2 PM. Milo Belding, Sr. presented the deed, the endowment fund and the keys to Dr. John Urquhart on behalf of the town. Mr. Belding also gave $1,000.00 to the town for the purchase of books
A more comprehensive history of the library will be available soon as a handout at Belding Memorial Library. Among the exhibits at the Ashfield Historical Society this summer will be one on the Belding family and their silk mills. The historical society will be open Saturdays from 10 to noon, beginning on June 7.
Learn more about our library:
Library History Part II: The Many Libraries of Ashfield
Library History Part III: Belding Memorial Library: Highlights of the First 100 Years