It is with excitement and pride that The Friends of the Farmington Libraries celebates its 75th anniversary. There is quite a history surrounding the reaching of this significant milestone.
In November, 1946, having learned that funds from an endowment were no longer sufficient to support the operation of Farmington’s Village Library, the Trustees of the Farmington Village Green and Library Association (FVGLA) appointed a special committee to publicize the library and raise funds. The committee was called the Public Relations Committee, and all of the donors to the cause were called “Friends”. Under the leadership of Lydia Hewes, Chairman, and Sally Conklin Smith, Secretary, the committee raised more than $3,000 in three months, enough to balance the budget, build an outside fire escape on the Village (now Barney) Library, and refurbish the basement. The committee’s first program was in January, 1947, and featured a talk about “Old Farmington Houses” by Mabel Hurlburt.
With that impressive beginning, the group currently known as “The Friends of the Farmington Libraries” was launched. For many years, the committee sponsored an annual open house at the library, attracting hundreds of people with popular themes such as books, travel, occupations, local history, and hobbies. A notable “Italian Festa” themed open house in 1951 featured the wife of Governor Lodge dancing the tarantella for about 400 attendees. The Friends also published a newsletter starting in May, 1947. The second edition, in October, was named “Bookends”. The Friends still produce the publication with that same title 75 years later!
In 1955, fund-raising events to supplement funds received through membership drives began. Then in 1958 the West End Library Association merged with the FVGLA, bringing a branch library plus more “Friends” into the fold. M.I. Cake replaced Lydia Hewes as editor of “Bookends”; in 1961 Lydia stepped down as chairman of the committee and was succeeded by Harriet Barney King (later Lidgerwood). In 1969 the committee changed its official name to “Friends of the Library”.
The Friends held their first used book sale in 1973, on the back terrace of the Barney Library. The sale soon moved indoors and earned about $1500 per year. Kathy Hutcheson became Chairman of Friends in 1974 and served for 14 years. During her tenure, the Friends raised and gave about $20,000 per year toward library services and materials. The Friends produced two cookbooks, sponsored Culture Caravans, and supported the construction of the new Farmington Library in 1981-1983. A memorable open house in 1980 had a Chinese theme and attracted over 300 people to the Barney Library. In 1984 a new event, “Dickens of a Christmas”, a tour of a historical house decorated for the holidays, and sponsored jointly with the Stanley-Whitman House, made its debut. The very successful house tour event ended after 1999 and was succeeded by a home garden tour. Other holiday celebrations were continued at the Barney Library for about another 10 years, often featuring the Farmington High School Chamber Singers.
In the 1990s, the Friends participated in the Farmington Festivals, sponsored Senior Lunches, and hosted authors such as Wally Lamb for special programs. By the late 1990s, the book sale was earning about $15,000 per year, and the storage of books was straining the library’s storage room. The “Book Nook” resulted, and was opened to sell used books continuously in the library lobby. A fall booksale was also added. There was a memorable golf tournament in 1999 in honor of John Grouten, the retiring President of the Farmington Savings Bank. In 2001-‘02 the Friends gave generously to the construction project for the addition to the main library, and in 2010-’11 were major donors to the renovation of the Barney branch.
Currently, the Friends raise and give $40,000-45,000 each year to the library, with funds primarily from membership drives and book sales. The group funds almost all programs held at both libraries. It also sponsors museum passes and funds and manages the main library’s garden, a place of beauty and solice for townspeople. The Friends supports development of special spaces like the Maker Space and various children’s department projects, and contributes to support conservation projects for the main library’s Farmington Room local history collection. The active Friends’ working committee has about 30 members, and has given continuous support to both Farmington libraries over the years.
Happy 75th Anniversary to the Friends of the Farmington Libraries!