CHARLESTOWN - The Cross’ Mills Public Library is celebrating 100 years of service to the Charlestown community this weekend. The library has a rich history, which began in 1913.
In 1913, the Christian Endeavor Society of the Cross’ Mills Baptist Church voted to form a library association and to establish a library. With the proceeds of a lawn party they purchased a “low hole” next to the church, deeded the property to the newly-formed association, and gave their energies to providing a free library and reading room for the village of Cross’ Mills and vicinity.
The Cross’ Mills Public Library, as the association became known, built and furnished a new library building for $627.05. Five hundred books were collected for the shelves. Financial support soon came both from the state and the town of Charlestown.
Imagine stepping into a library with kerosene lights and wood heat in winter. Miss Mary Church, the first librarian, would keep track of an average of 20 books taken out each week. She would check to be sure that each patron was at least 12 years old and had paid the $1 yearly fee before being allowed to borrow books each Friday afternoon when the library was open for its regular two-hour period.
Electric lights, an open evening each month for quiet games, books and storytelling, and a woodshed were added. In 1919, Bessie Cross Gavitt began her 40-year tenure as librarian. Other changes followed: a children’s addition, many more books, and greatly increased circulation. But opening hours remained at two per week.
When Lillian Grinnell became librarian in 1960, more land was willed to the library. Soon after, a major addition made space for 10,000 books and Meredith Anderson became the fourth librarian in 1969. Then in 1974, Ann Crawford became the first librarian with a master’s degree in library science. Services increased to include preschool story hours, weekly movie programs, musical events, special exhibits, summer programming for children, and guest speakers on a wide variety of public interest. Book holdings increased to 30,000 and circulating items included puzzles, filmstrips, VCR tapes, puppets, games, records, CDs and AV equipment.
The Charlestown Town Council appointed a liaison to the Cross’ Mills Library Board of Trustees for the first time in 1983. This was Donna Walsh, who by an interesting coincidence is one of two women to serve as state senator and as library trustee. In 1928, one of the founders, Lulu Mowry Schlesinger, had become the state’s first female senator.
Three years later, 1986 saw the completion of an extensive library addition. The Champlin Room, so named because of the generosity of the Champlin Foundations, has become the area’s premiere performance space.
Then, in 1991, the lower level was completed, to become the only part of the building dedicated to unnamed honorees: the volunteers who have played an invaluable role in the history of the library from the beginning.
In 1992, Cross’ Mills Public Library joined the Cooperating Libraries Automated Network (CLAN) and entered the world of computers and cyberspace.
Ann Crawford retired in 2003, after 29 years of dedicated service. Her successor, Ulla Virks, has continued to foster the role of the Cross’ Mills Public Library as a community hub and as a vital link in the statewide Ocean State Libraries network (formerly CLAN). The library is now open 42 hours per week and houses 35,000 items, with circulation per year averaging more than 100,000. Program attendance is more than 12,000 participants per year, and continues to rise. The mission of the Cross’ Mills Public Library is to educate, enrich, and enlighten its patrons; the library hopes to continue to pursue this mission for the next 100 years.
Cross’ Mills Library will celebrate its 100th anniversary this Saturday, Aug. 17 from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. The event will include a special ceremony and anniversary cake to recognize the library’s continued service to the Charlestown community. The library is located at 4417 Old Post Road, Charlestown.