Brooks Memorial Library to mark a storied birthday

A half-century after the town's Victorian-era Brooks Memorial building was bulldozed, its 1967 replacement is standing strong

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BRATTLEBORO — Long-time locals recall how, back a half-century when Joni Mitchell was penning lyrics about paving paradise, the town bulldozed its Victorian-era library to put up a parking lot.

Then again, that brick gingerbread house of a building isn't remembered for its ornamentation, even with redwood trim that came from California, the state where the late businessman George Brooks made enough money to become the library's benefactor. Instead, it was known for being overcrowded.

That's why townspeople applauded the 1967 grand opening of a new Brooks Memorial Library — just a stone's throw away (although with a two-story plate-glass fa ade, not something to test) from the old one.

"The old library was really grand — a temple to learning, a cathedral to culture — but that can be intimidating," current library director Starr LaTronica says. "I love that this building is so visible and says to everybody, 'Come on in.'"

The public will have its chance when the 224 Main St. location hosts a 50th birthday celebration a half-century to the day of its unveiling.

The fact the date of both the past and present-day events is Saturday, Sept. 23, is one of several similarities. In 1967, for example, Corwin Elwell presided over the festivities as town manager. In 2017, he'll stand beside his son, Peter, who has succeeded him in the post.

Then comes the story of Brooks Memorial's two most attending service station attendants. Fifty years ago, Carlton Monroe would walk from the old gas pumps across the street to weed the entry flower garden in memory of his wife, a former library assistant.

Ronald Read, for his part, invested his paychecks from another local station into stock certificates he tucked away. When he died in 2014 at age 92, Read left the library $1.2 million — twice the $600,000 price tag to construct the building in 1967.

People who attend Saturday's event can see the bequest's first fruits, be it new carpeting, a reconfigured local history room or addition of a teen study area.

The public also can partake of the following program:

- From 10 a.m. to noon, a children's celebration will feature local Circus Minimus creator Kevin O'Keefe and birthday cake.

- Community events will include music at 1 p.m. by acoustic performers Sharon Leslie and Daniel Kasnitz, remarks at 2 p.m. from Corwin and Peter Elwell and former library director Jerry Carbone, a talk at 3 p.m. by syndicated "Ask Amy" advice columnist Amy Dickinson, and dancing at 4 p.m. with the Wyld Nightz Trio, with more information available at the library's website, brookslibraryvt.org.

The 1967 opening and Saturday's sequel are far removed from the original library's 1887 launch, which featured a scholarly oration so long its transcript required an entire newspaper page of small type. That said, the shared foundation of all three events still stands strong.

"The George J. Brooks Memorial Library," leaders wrote in their 1967 opening program, "will continue the plans of its founder and, it is expected, with greatly increased facilities will enter a new era of public service."

Kevin O'Connor is a Reformer contributor and VTDigger.org correspondent who can be contacted at kevinoconnorvt@gmail.com.

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