Cossitt Library is celebrating 125 years April 2016 to March 2017. A series of historical articles about the library and North Granby will be featured here.
The latter part of the 19th century saw a “generation of giants” emerge from the one-room schools in the farming town of Granby. Among them were William Mills Maltbie, Chief Justice of the Connecticut Supreme Court; Tudor Holcomb, prominent tobacco grower, dairy farmer, philanthropist; James Lee Loomis, insurance executive, banker, author; Edward W. Dewey, state legislator, County Commissioner, County Sheriff; William Scoville Case, lawyer, author, Connecticut Supreme Court Justice; and George Seymour Godard, Connecticut State Librarian.
George Godard was a direct descendant of Daniel Gozzard (Gossard, Goddard) who came from England to Hartford, in 1646. Daniel’s son, Nicholas Gozzard, was granted land in the Salmon Brook section of Simsbury (now Granby) in 1683. His probate inventory in 1692 mentions a homestead in what is now Granby Center. Eventually the Goddards came to North Granby and purchased the land around and including Crag Mill. They operated the gristmill at the Crags and later added cider and saw mills.
As in all small and somewhat isolated communities, families intermarried. The Godards married Cossitts, Holcombs, Hayes, Cases and other local families, until land ownership, industries and family relationships were thoroughly entwined.
By 1858, Harvy Godard was operating the mills at the Crags. He married Sabra Beach and they raised six children in their home at 58 Granville Road. Oren Harvy born 1859, Porter Beach 1861, George Seymour 1865, Fred Munyon 1868, Oliver Clifton 1871 and finally a little girl, Grace Minerva who was born in 1874 and died before her fourth birthday.
Harvy owned several farms, large tracts of woodland and the saw, grist and cider mills. Shingles from Godard’s Crag Mill covered many of the roofs in the Farmington Valley area. Harvy Godard helped organize the Grange in Granby and was the master from 1875 to 1893, as well as serving as the first master of the State Grange for four years. According to the Encyclopedia of Biography, “He was a man of strict integrity, of generous and social nature and temperate to the last degree.”
Young George attended District School 6 on Granville Road. He described it as “the little one-room school house in Granby where my father and his father and his father went to school.” With his brothers, George helped his father with the many chores of farm and mill.
He developed a love for libraries and books as a young boy. Godard recalled that it was before 1873 when “I drove into Hartford with my father and visited the State Library. I was surprised to find so many more Connecticut documents than we had in our collection in our attic at home. My interest was noticed and appreciated by Dr. Charles J. Hoadly, State Librarian, who from that time became one of my best friends.”
In 1877 12 year-old George was quite ill with a fever. His mother described the rather peculiar medical treatment he was receiving, in a letter to another son, Oren, away at school.
While still in his teens, George taught school in Granby for three terms in 1882-83. He was named a state scholar at the Sheffield Scientific School of Yale College in 1884.
Godard went to Wesleyan Academy in Wilbraham, Mass. to prepare for college, and graduated in 1886. He then attended Wesleyan University in Middletown. During his junior year, 1889, the Cossitt legacy to build a public library in North Granby was received. George Godard was chosen to be on the first Board of Directors for the Cossitt Library, was the first librarian, serving 15 years, and remained on the board serving as president from 1918 until he died in 1936.
Postponing his senior year, Godard gave a full year of his life to the building and organization of the library. It was a measure of his ability and a tribute to his talent, that the older men on the Board entrusted this 24 year-old student with almost total responsibility for the library.
Godard competently researched library construction, interior arrangement, planning, selection of books, organization and management. He was involved in every facet of the project. The neatly documented record books of Cossitt Library illustrate the remarkable organizational skills of this man.
He wrote numerous letters, made endless book lists and cataloged, labeled and shelved the books. There were no computers, copiers or fax machines. Everything was transcribed in the precise handwriting of George Godard.
The books he selected “show both his diligent labor in filling the library with a wide selection of important literature, and his efforts to expand the cultural environment of North Granby. He employed ‘scientific’ cataloging techniques he had learned at college; searching around the region for complete sets of periodicals to which he was subscribing (including three professional educators’ publications for Granby schoolteachers); had printed a double-entry catalog so readers could ‘send for’ books from home; kept detailed statistics of numbers of readers, circulation per reader, and types of books most read; and badgered the board of directors and the architect about everything from designing an inviting reading room to building horse sheds, so readers would stay longer in stormy weather.” (Mark Williams)
Despite his heavy involvement in the library, the ambitious Godard also applied for the job of census taker in 1890. Even after George returned to college, he kept the job of librarian. His assistant and future wife, Kate E. Dewey, actually worked in the library.
Godard received his BA from Wesleyan in 1892, attended Northwestern University in Illinois in 1893 and during his vacation, served as a guide at the Chicago World’s Fair. In 1895, Godard received a Bachelor of Divinity from Yale and continued his studies for his Ph.D. until 1896 when his father died and he was called home.
He married Kate Dewey the following year and they had three children: George Dewey in 1899, Paul Beach in 1901 and Mary Katharine in 1903.
Godard entered the most illustrious phase of his career in 1898, when his old friend, Dr. Charles J. Hoadly, asked George to be his assistant. When Hoadly died two years later, Godard (only 35 years old) became the third State Librarian in the history of Connecticut.
Under the direction and leadership of Godard, the State Library was reorganized and its activities were widely expanded. He found a wealth of material not cataloged nor indexed and a lack of protection for the state’s historic treasures. He was a historian as well as a librarian and earned the title of “Preservation Godard.”
He gathered early Connecticut church records, probate records, military history and other important documents. He compiled an inventory of all printed data on the state found throughout Connecticut. He was innovative in his use of a photostat to copy original papers. He was tireless in his efforts to save the history of the state. During his tenure, every book was indexed, the library was open to all, and every item was available.
The State Library soon outgrew its space in the State Capitol and a separate library was approved in 1907 and completed in 1910. Godard supervised every detail of the new Connecticut State Library building, just as he had done with Cossitt Library.
George Seymour Godard died Feb. 12, 1936 and an unprecedented outpouring of tributes and accolades attested to his renown. Letters, now bound in two large memorial volumes, came from local, state and national political leaders; from librarians all over America and overseas; from historical and genealogical organizations; schools and universities; colleagues, friends and old neighbors in Granby. The letters are not just routine formal condolences; most of the writers knew Godard as a friend and wrote notes of personal memories.
His funeral was held in his beloved State Library and Governor Wilbur L. Cross said, “Connecticut has suffered a loss so great it can hardly be estimated.”
George Godard wrote a fitting summary to his life in a letter to a friend shortly before he died. He wrote that his years at the library were the best of his life and “I have been happy every day.”