At ‘This Place in History’, we’re in Vergennes with Executive Director of the Vermont Historical Society Steve Perkins.

“We are going into what I think of as one of the most beautiful libraries in the state of Vermont, the Bixby Memorial Free Library. How was it built? Why was it built? It’s gorgeous. So let’s go check it out.” began Perkins.

“This building was built in 1911 and opened in 1912. It was definitely the first dedicated building used as a library and it was built as a library. We get that question where people ask if it was something beforehand and it was not,” said Executive Director Masha Harris.

“William Bixby was a gentleman from Vergennes. He inherited money from his sister. He passed away in 1907. He ended up passing away without any family and left the majority of his fortune to build the library,” explained Harris.

“When you walk into the library, you are in our lobby or atrium. And you see these gorgeous columns and a lot of marblework. But, when people first walk into the library, the first thing they usually do is look up because we have this dome. It’s original glass. I believe it’s from England. And then you walk in, you also see the circulation desk, which is right behind us,” said Harris.

“Is it the original circulation desk in the library?” asked Perkins.

“It is the original circulation desk. You can see it’s set up from back in the day when the stacks were closed and you weren’t allowed to go in and find a book yourself. It’s set up so that the librarian would ask what you needed and go back. One thing that’s fascinating is that the shelving goes all the way down. It’s structural. It goes down into the basement and is part of the support of the building,” answered Harris.

“One thing that’s fascinating to me, this is kind of quirky history, is that this used to be the only public restroom for women in town.  And that was a major function of libraries way back in the day. For men to go to the restroom, they could just go down an alley. But if a lady came into town and it’s so rural here, this was a place that they could actually go. That is interesting to me.”

“So like any library, it’s much more than a place to get books. What else happens here?” asked Perkins.

“We do a lot of programming both for adults and children. We also have a very good collection of archives and some artifacts, records dating back to the 1700s probably, and lot of local history of things from the Monkton Ironworks and a lot of old documents.”

“We have a vast collection of Vermont-related books and a lot of them one-of-a-kind or out of print. So, I would say if you’re a history buff, call ahead and let us know you’re coming. We’re happy to help you out and it will save you some time, too,” concluded Harris.

At ‘This Place in History’!

For more from our ‘This Place in History’ series, click here.

To view a map of Vermont’s roadside historical markers, click here.