On the day I visited Bill Memorial Library, the walk from my car to the main entrance was quick and full of drenching rain. Although the weather was miserable, I paused on the large stone steps, sheltered by a stone awning. I looked out through the rain and down the hill towards the Thames River and imagined what the hill must have looked like in 1890 when the library was built. Once my eyes adjusted to the grey of the day, I could see mist rising from the river, curling its way up towards the building and I was grateful to be on top of that wet, windy hill in Groton, Connecticut. I adjusted my shoulder bag and excitedly opened the heavy door.
Pulling open the large wrought iron doors into the Bill Memorial Library was like stepping into the type of
library you would find in a storybook or a
lovely turn-of--the-century novel.
Bill Memorial Library was founded in 1890 by businessman Frederic Bill to honor the memory of his sisters Eliza and Harriet. The history in the library is palpable as you step into the foyer and are greeted by a sprawling wooden desk that was built by Melvil Dewey’s company (yes! THE Melvil Dewey as in the Dewey Decimal System).
I was so lucky to have the library’s director Wendy Connal give me a tour of her charming library. Intricate mosaics decorate the floor, wooden ceilings shine in the lamp light and enormous fireplaces practically beg you to curl up with a good book.
It was wonderful to have the opportunity to chat with Ms. Connal and see some parts of the library that are not open to the public.
It is my understanding that founder Frederic Bill was a curious fellow. With a background in selling books and transporting literary journals, he enjoyed learning and education. He also enjoyed rare treasures from distant or lost lands and had a surprising collection of taxidermied birds, preserved butterflies and ancient treasures. It was because of his elaborate collection that in 1907 he decided to add a museum room to the library, which is currently being used as a large reading room. The Library still holds some of his precious and impressive cache, and often displays them publicly.
Bill Memorial Library is a gem, and deserving of a visit. If that isn’t enough, the staff is also SO GREAT! I spent some time talking to the Teen Librarian Kate Bengston and learned about all the awesome teen programs that would have other libraries swooning.
Bill Memorial Library holds a tradition of setting up a Haunted Library for Halloween!!!!
This impressive program was developed by their Friends group, Teen Advisory Board and volunteers. All the costumes and props are stored in the basement and, based on the creativity I saw, I must say I will definitely be visiting Bill Memorial Library this Halloween.
Bill Memorial Library has a great selection and the books are displayed neatly. The staff takes care of their library and you can tell that it is loved. However, this beautiful place has not been able to avoid the wear of time. It unfortunately takes a lot of money to maintain such an extraordinary building, and I was sad to see that due to a leaky roof, buckets had been placed around the children’s section to collect the rain. Like many libraries across the country, the Bill Memorial Library struggles with maintaining the building and having the funds to give the community what they need. They are actively pursuing grants and donations from the public to help with restoring and maintaining the library's 130-year-old building.
I really enjoyed my time at Bill Memorial.
You can tell the staff love their work.
I imagine it is discouraging to love a place so much and struggle with a leaking roof but they are making some seriously awesome lemonade out of leaky, old roof lemons. To see beautiful woodwork and an incredible history juxtaposed with buckets of water was unfortunate but my hope for Bill Memorial (and all libraries) is that they are loved, not only by the people that work to maintain them but also by the community surrounding them. We need beautiful places that support learning but also harbor the history and evolution of education for over a century.