BURRILLVILLE – The board that runs a historic community library is inviting residents to join them in a celebration of a landmark anniversary next month, at an event highlighting the facility’s unique story.
Pascoag Public Library will celebrate its 150th birthday at an evening event on Friday, Oct. 22 designed for an adult crowd, with a speaking program, cake and hors d’oeuvres.
“We wanted to engage the community in our celebration of being 150 years old,” explained Sher Ann Rossi, a member of the library’s all-female Board of Directors.
Rossi noted that the village library has been run by women since almost the beginning – and has maintained that dynamic since, a unique historic fact not often discussed.
“It’s just not well-known in the community,” she said.
The library was founded in 1871 in a millinery store with just 500 books.
“There were a group of men and women who were kind of prominent in activities in the village, and there was no library in Burrillville,” Rossi explained.
The facility was taken over by women in the first year, and Rosemond A. Steere, who owned the store, became its first librarian in 1876.
Steere moved west in 1882, and the library found a new home in the Elijah B. Sayles building in Fountain Square. At the time, Mrs. Maria Steere was the librarian, but the location would last less that a decade.
The years that followed saw Pascoag library located in the Henry Elmsly Jewelry Store on Main Street and the Miron Noyes Confectionery Shop in Fountain Square, to name a few.
“We moved from location, to location, to location,” said Rossi.
At one point, the library was renting another space in the Elijah Sayles block, but had to move because the board couldn’t afford the $6 a month rent.
“They considered storing the books,” said Rossi. “They didn’t really know what they were going to do.”
A board member talked to her husband, who decided to let the library move to a rent free space above a business the family owned.
And in 1913, former librarian Steere left the Ladies Pascoag Library Association $500 in her will – with the requirement that it go toward purchase of a building.
“She never forgot the library,” said Rossi. “So we stated a building fund.”
The association’s first fundraiser, dubbed “Seven Ages of Women,” was held in 1923, when the group transformed a music hall into a fairy land. It was the same year that Dr. John Lace donated a roughly half acre parcel of land adjacent to his home to the group.
The women borrowed an additional $1,000 to have a facility built, and it was completed in 1924, where it still stands today, at 57 Church St.
An addition built in 2011 doubled the library’s size, with a new underground space dedicated to children’s programming. A picnic table was later added in back of the building as part of an Eagle Scout project.
Under Director Gretchen Hanley, hired in 2018, Pascoag Public Library has secured grants for more improvements in recent years, with upgrades to the computer and electrical systems.
But with a reliance on local fundraising, Rossi said COVID-19 has made operations difficult.
“It’s been a tough year for us financially,” she said.
Still, the library has remained a community staple, offering a wide variety of children’s programs, genealogy classes and more. It offers microfilm of old newspapers, inter-library loans, computers, color laser printers, and now boasts more than 16,000 volumes, plus audio books and a large selection of children’s DVDs. It is handicap accessible, including a chairlift to get to lower part of the building.
And when Boy Scouts of America first opened its program to girls in 2019, the library was one of the first to sponsor a girls’ troop.
“We just have all sorts of programs going on all the time,” said Rossi.
The board member noted that the next project at the Pascoag facility will focus on offering digital printing from cell phones.
The library held a birthday party catered to children in June, celebrating with cake and activities.
At the celebration in October, Rossi noted, the goal is to reach out to the adult community, including those who may not have visited in the past, or heard of the library’s history.
The group has invited local government officials, and will serve punch, coffee, hors d’oeuvres and a cake from Wright’s Dairy Farm. A citation will mark the sesquicentennial anniversary, and a brief speaking program will include comments by Kathan Lambert, current president of the Pascoag Ladies Library Association. All who attend will also receive a gift bag filled with goodies, including a more detailed account of the facility’s long and unique history.
To learn more about the Pascoag Public Library and help the board and staff celebrate, visit 57 Church St. from 6:30 to 9 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 22.