Dummerston library marks centennial


DUMMERSTON -- In a neatly handwritten record of the March 3, 1914 Dummerston Town Meeting, there is a vote to "accept the books given by Lydia Taft Pratt and to be kept in the Library at West Dummerston."

A century later, those who volunteer their time to keep the Lydia Taft Pratt Library alive have set aside Saturday for a celebration of the ongoing importance of a free, small-town repository for books and historical records.

Dummerston's library encompasses just one room in the town's Community Center. But it is, in the words of supporter Jean Momaney, "a wonderful room."

Though rain is in the forecast, Saturday's 100th anniversary events are scheduled to happen whether there is "rain, snow or sleet," Momaney said.

In addition to the library's annual book sale and a silent auction beginning at 10 a.m., there is a parade up West Street scheduled for 11 a.m. Organizer David Patriquin acknowledges he has "no idea" about the parade's exact size, but he expects the event to include fire apparatus and some fun for kids.

Also expected are vintage vehicles and Dummerston Elementary School's marching band, organizers said.

"We don't have a big Main Street or anything in this town, so you can't really have a parade down Main Street," said Patriquin, chairman of the library trustees. "But you can have a little parade on West Street."

The day's scheduled events also include a remarks from Dummerston's Selectboard and Historical Society; the library's annual geranium sale; children's games; refreshments for sale; and a 1 p.m. presentation of the family puppet play "Punschi" by Sandglass Theater. That performance will happen under a tent on the Community Center's grounds and carries an $8 admission charge; reservations are available by calling 802-257-4673.

The library has been at the Community Center for less than 20 years. But the institution's history stretches back much farther, and there are roots even deeper than the 1914 action by town voters.

Documents submitted by the centennial's organizers say Dummerston's "earliest library could well have been in existence before 1800. Jonathan French, the first librarian, kept a small book collection in a trunk under the deacon's seat."

A Dummerston Social Library was founded in 1808, according to "Where the Books Are," a 1996 book by Patricia Belding. Members "had to live within 15 miles of the library to qualify for membership, and each paid certain fees: $2 to join and 25 cents annually."

The Lydia Taft Pratt Library is named after a woman who taught at the Bridge School in West Dummerston. Though Pratt eventually married and moved to Greenfield, Mass., she later willed her school library "to form the nucleus of the collection named after her in 1913."

Voters at the 1914 Town Meeting, in addition to accepting the book donation, appropriated $25 for the library and also appointed five trustees. But there was no building chosen for the new institution, and the library for several years was housed in the residences of various librarians.

In the early 1920s, the library moved to West Dummerston Grange. Momaney recalls visiting that site in her youth.

"I can still smell the books. I can just visualize what it was like. It was a very small room, probably about a third of the size of this," she said, gesturing around the current library.

Lydia Taft Pratt Library stayed put until the 1990s, when both the grange and the school in West Dummerston were closing.

"The grange was folding, and the town had voted to close the school and consolidate with what was called the East School at that time," Momaney said.

The school building was turned over to the town, "and a group of people here did not want to see the building sold. They got organized," Momaney recalled.

As a result, the school became the Dummerston Community Center, for which Momaney is a trustee. The library moved into that facility -- its current home -- in 1995.

Patriquin said the free library still attracts a "steady clientele." He has some concerns about the facility's long-term stability due to Dummerston's aging population, but he notes that the very same population also supports Lydia Taft Pratt library consistently.

"An older population reads a lot," Patriquin said. "Our older population really is what maintains the patronage of the library."

Patriquin may count himself among those loyal patrons. The former physician retired 14 years ago, and he is happy to be able to dedicate his reading time to something other than medical literature these days.

"I use the place all the time. I read two books a week," he said. "That's the best thing that happened to me in retirement. I can read anything I want, every day. It's opened up a lot of new worlds to me."

Mike Faher can be reached at mfaher@reformer.com or 802-254-2311, ext. 275.


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