History of the Franklin Free Library  by Mark Boshnack

The Franklin Free Library has always relied on the kindness of its patrons. But, when was it started? It exists as a testimony to the generosity of the many people who have donated their time and money to insure that the people of Franklin have a library that they can call their own. But who were some of these people? And what did they do? Let’s start at the beginning.

Some have placed the first library in Franklin in 1796, but details or documents supporting the existence of this early library, barely three years after the first town meeting, cannot be located.

Records do exist showing that a town library was founded in 1828 with Dr. John Hozen as its librarian; in 1840, Albert Noble held the position. The last entry contained in the journal which is the source of these facts is dated March 8, 1842. There is no mention of where this library was located or what its charter might have been.

The library that graces Main Street today and serves the town’s residents is first referred to in April, 1877, when an editorial in The Delaware Dairyman suggests, “A circulating library would, we think, be a very valuable addition to our village convenience and would be quite extensively patronized.”

Its actual creation came about as the result of the work of two organizations. One of these, the Excelsior Society, a literary group, began in the Delaware Literary Institute. The other, the Village Improvement Society (VIS), was founded in 1903 and existed until 1914. The initial purpose of this second group was to clear old trees and plant new ones, as well as make sure public places were clean. Under the leadership of Amelia Jennings, the members sought to improve not only Franklin’s physical appearance but also the knowledge of its citizens. They sponsored lectures, educational courses and the like. So it should not be surprising that the Franklin newspaper, The Dairyman, wrote on May 18, 1906, “Why not secure a lot for the public library building which we expect to have in Franklin? It would be a safe investment and give to the Village Improvement Society a worthy project for which to work.”

Maybe the idea came from the success of the Tabard Inn Library begun in 1905, a rotating collection of rental books that were kept in Sullard’s Drug Store, located on Main Street across from D.L.I. Or maybe the building of a library was inevitable given the rich tradition of literary societies that were fostered by the Delaware Literary Institute. In the early days of the century, each of these groups had its own library spread around the Village, some accessible to the public.

Whatever the motivation, the minutes of the VIS state that after the meeting of October 16, 1906, Mrs. Cora Chamberlin remarked that she “…had always wished to see a Library in Franklin. The meeting was called to order again and a committee was appointed to secure a building for such purpose. Mrs. Hoag and Mrs. Chamberlin were to serve on the committee. Second adjournment.”

The Dairyman offered its suggestions for a building in a January 11, 1907 article, “Every farmer should draw one or two loads of stone (to construct the building) for this purpose from the village quarry. The library should be called the Pioneer D.L.I. Memorial Library to honor the memory of the early patrons and founders of the school, prominent clergymen, and principals of the D.L.I. These names should be inscribed on a tablet placed in the entrance of the building.”

The turning point in the library’s founding came at a VIS meeting held at the home of Cora Chamberlin in the spring of 1908. At that time the Excelsior Society offered to give books, money and furniture to the project. By October, the Society had located a room for the library in Mrs. Bennett’s building, “The Beehive,” on the corner of Main and Water Streets. The room was rented for that purpose on December 1, 1908, for one year at a price of $115 a year.

On November 20, 1908, the library came into legal existence. At a meeting held in the offices of Mr. Lewis F. Raymond, a Society member and prominent Franklin lawyer, the Library Association was formed with the election of officers to a board of trustees. Those elected to this first Board were L.F. Raymond, President; Amelia Jennings, Vice President; Minnie Mann, Recording Secretary; Cora Chamberlin, Treasurer; and Joseph Eveland, Trustee. The State charter was received on December 4, 1908.

Cora Chamberlin is frequently noted as the village’s first librarian, but she started her service at the library as an assistant to Maria Wilde, when the latter was appointed librarian at the organization’s meeting held on December 5, 1908. Wilde stepped down from the volunteer position some time before the library’s first annual meeting in 1910, when Cora Chamberlin is noted as the librarian and Edith Forsythe as the assistant. In October of 1910, the librarian became a paid employee — fifty dollars a month — to oversee the work of the library whose hours were from 4 P.M. to 5 P.M. on Thursdays and Saturdays and Tuesday evenings. The library appears to have first opened on Saturday, January 20, 1909. Thirty-nine books were taken out that day.

Some wanted the library to be used primarily as a means of educating the public. The editor of The Dairyman and library trustee, Joseph Eveland, wrote in April 2, 1909, “The continuous reading of fiction is to be deplored. It is like the use of an intoxicant: the more you have the more you want.” This point of view was further supported later in the year in a newspaper story on the library. “Libraries are maintained primarily for educational purposes. All persons, especially the younger ones, should limit themselves in the reading of fiction… Indeed we can say with a good deal of emphasis that much of our best reading matter is not fiction.

In June of 1909, E.A. Mackey, who had his offices where the law office of Marcley Hilderbrand is today, decided to move across Main Street. By October, the library had purchased the building which he had occupied and which was owned by Eliza Rutherford for five hundred dollars, two hundred of which was payable at the closing. Once again the fledgling institution was indebted to the Excelsior Society which donated the necessary funds. Even though the village library had an average circulation of about five thousand books per year as late as 1921, the State Traveling Libraries had begun to stop in Franklin also. During the 1920s, Franklin maintained a branch in Treadwell.

A new library building was being considered as early as January 13, 1925, when a gift was given by the Order of Eastern Stars “…to be used for a permanent building.” At a special meeting on September 15, 1928, Lewis Raymond read a letter from “a friend of the library” proposing a gift of such a building to Franklin. A committee, headed by library trustee George Martin and appointed to study possible sites, reported on October 12, “This committee recommends the former site of the Old Congregational Baptist Church, now the public park adjoining Stone Hall.” Despite that suggestion, on the insistence of the “friend”, the board approved the purchase for three hundred dollars of the lot of Czar Mackey, where the building stands today. By November, the lot was purchased.

Subsequently, it was learned that the “friend of the library” was, in truth, the Honorable Henry W. Cannon, native of Delhi, who had attended the Delaware Literary Institute. Cannon’s grandmother, Marietta Jennings White, in whose memory the library was donated, had lived in Franklin from 1812 until her death in 1888. At the dedication services held for the new building on Friday, January 17, 1932, at 2 P.M., the library was presented by Judge Raymond on behalf of Mr. Cannon who was unable to be present. In his speech accepting the library, secretary George R. Martin recalled that Marietta Jennings White, an aunt of Amelia Jennings, “…was a constant reader of books in the Town Library and in her life she knew every book.”

In addition to the $11,000 needed to build the library, Cannon also gave $1500 to purchase books and $5000 to be set aside for maintenance and repair of the building. Whigham & Berray had charge of the work that was done by the Tweedie Construction Company of Walton; Finch & Whitney of Franklin did the electrical work; and David Signor, also of this town, and his crew did the painting.

It is interesting to note that during the Depression years of the ’30s, library circulation reached a high of 15,899, even though membership sank to a low of seventy-nine.

An important step in the library’s development was taken on November 9, 1960, when Franklin became part of the Four County Library System. Teaming up with libraries from Broome, Chenango, Delaware, and Otsego counties, town residents have been provided many benefits over the years, including:

  1. Obtaining of the exchange collection, a rotating series of books picked out with the help of volunteers to supplement the permanent books;
  2. Interlibrary loans;
  3. Access to cassettes and videos;
  4. Advice and help in running the library.

In fact it was a “Mr. Roberts” of the system who, on October 14, 1964, first suggested holding summer programs in Franklin.

In March of 1969, after the fire at Franklin Central School, the library was used as a temporary classroom. The school had a telephone installed in the building during this time, and, after the school was rebuilt, the library decided to continue this service.

The building was also used as a temporary home of the Ouleouhdt Historical Society in the ’60s and ’70s.

Microfilming of the old Dairyman and Franklin Register newspaper collection, which has proved such a valuable research tool, was carried out in the late 1970s thanks to the cooperation of the library with SUCO, the NY State Historical Society, and the O’Connor Foundation.

The idea for the “Friends of the Library” was first proposed in 1978 as a means to increase circulation. No action was taken until Dorretta Rich and Lettie DeSilva attended a workshop in early 1980 and reported back to the board what they had learned regarding the organization of such a group. A committee was formed to establish “Friends” for Franklin’s library and, by September, the association was a reality. The purpose of the “Friends” was then and remains still “…to aid the library in such areas as repairs, publicity, and membership; to act as a link between the library and the community; to make the facilities known in the community; to increase membership and make the library’s service to the community more meaningful.”

On September 22, twenty-five people attended the first organization meeting of the “Friends of the Franklin Library”. It continues to be an active group, staffing the library on Saturdays and providing invaluable financial and volunteer assistance. The “Friends” conduct an annual book sale on Old Franklin Day to help support their activities.

In August of 1988, the library joined the computer services of the Four County System. This allows easy access to books that are available in all member libraries. Franklin residents can “special order” any books of interest that cannot be obtained locally.

One of the areas in which the Franklin library is strong is Civil War related material. Over the years, through purchases and especially donations, many such books and reference materials have come to the Town. Librarian Linda Burkhart started to catalogue this material in 1988. The project was completed in 1989, giving researchers around the state access to the Franklin material.

The story of the library would be incomplete without calling attention again to the generosity of the many people who have helped maintain the Franklin Free Library. The list of all the individuals involved would be far too long and the possibility of overlooking someone far to great for us to even attempt to mention every name.

Perhaps it is sufficient to remember what George Martin said at the library dedication in 1930: “What we say here today will soon be forgotten, but our gratitude and appreciation should endure.” The same sentiments ring true today for all those people who have made sure that the Franklin Free Library is a strong and vital source of learning and reading pleasure for the citizens of the area.

{This history originally appeared in Through the Years in the Town of Franklin, 1792 – 1992, published by the Oulehoudt Valley Historical Society, Franklin, NY.}