The History of the Franklin Free Library

Records exist showing that a town library was founded in Franklin in 1828 with Dr. John Hozen as its librarian. There is no mention of where this library was located or what its charter might have been. Yet, 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. 

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 Delaware Literary Institute (D.L.I.) Or maybe the building of a library was inevitable given the rich tradition of literary societies that were fostered there. 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 October, 1909, the library had purchased a small law office building 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.

Such was the beginning of the building still used today. It continues to flourish with the help from many members of the community, past and present, who have donated their time and money to ensure the library remains a great asset to the community. 

Remembering  what trustee George Martin had said at the library dedication in 1930: “What we say here today will soon be forgotten, but our gratitude and appreciation should endure.” 

{This is an abridged version of the history of the library which originally appeared in "Through the Years in the Town of Franklin, 1792 – 1992", published by the Oulehoudt Valley Historical Society, Franklin, NY.}