BURRILLVILLE – Opened in 2008, the structure that now holds the Jesse M. Smith Memorial Library was built following voter approval of a special construction bond.
It was a show of support by town residents that library officials would not soon forget, and over the past 15 years, they have made it their mission to live up to the mission of being the, “cornerstone of the community,” according to Director Beth Ullucci.
“With more space, we were able to expand our services and become a gathering place for residents to learn something new, find materials to check out or enjoy a program,” Ullucci said. “We are an important place for residents to make connections.”
The director noted that today, families new to the area make friends during story times and other library events, just as their children form bonds during programming. Teens find someone to trust and talk to, and adults meet at craft programs, and laugh with staff while checking out materials. People relax on summer nights listening to music at outdoor concerts.
And as officials mark the facility’s 15th anniversary next month, Ullucci said they will continue to expand all of the programs, services and community connections that have made the library so central to quality of life in Burrillville.
It’s a town tradition that now dates back well over a century. The first structure known as, “Jesse Smith Memorial Library,” was dedicated in 1906, built on the corner of East Avenue and Main Street, thanks to a donation to the town of land and money by Harrisville resident Mary E. Smith, in memory of her late husband. The funding was used construct what was known as the Memorial Block, a three story brick commercial building that housed various businesses and recreational facilities, including a bowling alley, an assembly hall, town offices and, of course, a library room.
The Memorial Block was demolished in 1933 as part of a building project by renowned mill owner and philanthropist Austin T. Levy to make way, in part, for a new library building, which was completed 1935.
That building at 144 Main St., now the Town Annex, served the community well for decades, but it had become too small by the 1990s, and a major renovation campaign began. Handicapped access, a program room and more collection space were added, expanding the facility to a total of 6,400-square-feet.
But by the end of that decade it was once again clear that more space was needed. The Burrillville Town Council appointed a committee to assess library facility needs, which later transitioned into the Library Building Committee. And in November of 2004, voters approved a bond for construction of a new, 24,900-square-foot facility.
Designed to mimic the architecture of the mills that once stood on the Harrisville site, the new Jesse Smith open on April 1 of 2008. It would feature a, “Riverwalk,” where residents could enjoy a cool breeze while enjoying views of the stone river arch bridge and nearby waterfall – a scene also visible from the second floor Children’s Department.
“We take advantage of this wonderful area behind the library and have many of our programs here, including outdoor storytimes, Waterpark Wednesdays and Outdoor Game Days,” Ullucci said.
A Capital Committee was founded to raise funds for the new facility, which later grew into Friends of Jesse Smith, an organization that still raises money for the library today. Ullucci, the previous assistant director, became director of library in 2015 following the retirement of Sandra Mundy, who had led the facility for more than 45 years.
“The years have flown by, and we are so proud of our beautiful building by the river,” Ullucci said.
Achievements over those 15 years have included expanding connections in the community through partnerships with both resident and government groups, and working on joint programming. Today, Jesse Smith partners with Burrillville Parks and Recreation, Pascoag Utility District, Harrisville Fire Department, and the Burrillville Farmer’s Market to host community gatherings at the Stillwater Mill Center throughout the year. Annual events include the Family Fair, the Green Festival and Santa at Stillwater. Library officials also team up with Parks and Recreation and the Pascoag Utility District for the Annual Earth Day Poster Contest.
The library is part of the Burrillville Snack Pack Program, which delivers easy-to-prepare food to children who need it over the weekends, and is a member of the Burrillville Prevention Action Coalition, hosting annual open houses and teen gaming nights. The children’s and teen departments partner with Burrillville schools to promote literacy and put on other youth events, and library staff helps to plan and run the town’s senior Lunch and Learn gatherings.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit the region, library staff supported the town’s efforts, assisting with vaccine appointment scheduling, and serving as a test distribution center. Braving both virus concerns and the elements, staff set up drive-through kit distributions throughout the winter months, and continues to distribute the free tests today.
“The library strives to be an integral and vibrant center for our community,” Ullucci said.
To celebrate the milestone anniversary, the director said the library will bring back patron favorites and add a few new programs this year.
The first will be the return of teen Laser Tag on Wednesday, April 12, an after hours event allowing participants to play in the stacks for free. Next is a children’s, “Dancin’ with Hoops,” program, on Friday, April 14.
On Friday, April 21, Concert in the Stacks will return, with the first band ever to perform inside the library, All About Amy. That event, sponsored by the Friends of the Library, will include birthday cake.
Inside the library on Friday, April 28, patrons will have the chance to play mini golf, thanks to a grant from Ocean State Power, and the Friends group will host a book sale on Friday and Saturday, April 28 and 29. The Riverwalk Times Concert Series returns on Saturday, July 8, and Waterpark Wednesdays will also return this summer.
Finally, a popular event dubbed “the Haunted Library,” will return on Friday, Oct. 6.
The public is invited to attend the special events and to help celebrate all year long.
“As we move into the future, we will continue to offer our residents a place to gather for both educational and entertainment purposes,” said Ullucci. “We will grow our community connections, and inspire and thrill our patrons with new and ever expanding programming.”
Contact the library at (401) 710-7800 or check out their new web site at http://www.jmslibrary.org for more information on any of the upcoming events.