Categories: Architecture, Everyday Life, Historic Preservation, Plainfield
Aldrich Free Public Library: Dedicated to the Dissemination of Knowledge
Over 100 years ago, residents of the Moosup section of Plainfield organized a free public library “for the promotion and dissemination of useful knowledge” to its local citizenry. While a beneficiary of the trendy corporate philanthropy of the era, the Adlrich Free Public Library also owes much of its success to the dedication of local residents who worked diligently on a wide variety of fundraising efforts to keep the library in operation.
Wool Mill Partners Help Make Library for Plainfield a Reality
Like most of the small-town libraries constructed in Connecticut during the late 19th century, the Aldrich Free Public Library relied on funding from corporate financiers to help bring the town’s plans to fruition. Two men in particular, David L. Aldrich and Edwin Milner—partners in a local wool mill—financed much of the early construction. When David Aldridge passed away in 1889, he left $3,000 for the founding of a public library. Milner immediately followed this up with a $2,000 donation of his own.
Local residents took over from there, raising the remainder of necessary funds through donations and special events. In 1893, library proponents organized the Aldrich Free Public Library Association and promoted fundraisers such as a milkmaid’s convention and schoolchildren’s carnival.
Library Association Rallies Community Support
In 1895, with sufficient funds finally available, builders put the finishing touches on the Aldrich Library. Once again, Edwin Milner stepped in, paying the roughly $1,100 in remaining construction costs so that the Association could use the money it raised to purchase books.
The library officially opened on Washington’s Birthday in February of 1896. The books that filled the shelves came from the Association’s purchases, from donations made by local families, and from a collection of 156 books donated by the Young Women’s Christian Temperance Union.
In addition to lending out these books, the library served a variety of social and community functions. Among these was providing a meeting place for local Girl and Boy Scouts, as well as educational facilities for teaching public school classes. The Aldrich Free Library Association funded these services by soliciting subscriptions from wealthy residents. In addition, the library hosted fundraisers like the one held in May of 1897, in which a night of cake, ice cream, vocal and piano performances, and a children’s dance around the May pole raised $76 toward the purchase of new books.
The Aldrich Free Public Library is still in operation today. Conspicuous by its late 19th-century Queen Anne style, this 1½-story clapboard shingled structure is the product of Moosup builder Willis Rouse and Rhode Island architect Charles F. Wilcox (a friend of both David Aldrich and Edwin Milner). The building proved to be such a well-preserved, significant example of late 19th-century Victorian architecture that it received a listing on the National Register of Historic Places in 1994.