In 1887, Frederick H. Cossitt died in New York City. The passing of one who had lived his childhood in Granby and then moved on was not much of an event of note in a town that had seen many of its children leave for greener pastures in the 1820s and 1830s. However, Frederick Cossitt had made millions for himself in retailing, and in his will left $10,000 (over $250,000 in 2019 dollars) to the “Corporation of North Granby” for the purpose of building a “free public library.” The residents of Granby were in total disbelief but, after sending a committee to New York to investigate, they found that the amazing rumor was true. The first issue to deal with was the fact that there was no such “corporation” of North Granby. However, the Cossitt children were anxious to fulfill their father’s wishes and so the money was sent to the town. A library building was a common philanthropic gift employed by many businessmen of this age especially those who had moved away and made their fortunes elsewhere.
Thus, at a town meeting held in Granby in June of 1889, it was resolved that a free public library by the name of Cossitt Library of Granby would be established. It was further resolved that the library would be located in North Granby on or near the homestead occupied by the original Cossitt family home.
With money from the bequest available, the town decided in 1891 to build a structure in North Granby across the street from Cossitt’s boyhood home now 377 North Granby Road. They appointed a library board of directors with the authority to oversee the project and gave instructions to the Town Treasurer to deposit the amount of $10,000 with the Iowa Mortgage Company. Amazingly, this was Granby’s first public library. In fact, it was one of the first public institutions in Granby in years (the most recent had been the town green). Interestingly, when the library was built, Granby did not even have a town hall.
A local newspaper article of the time indicated a more grandiose structure was being planned and that the town wanted to spend $5,000 for a brick building with a slate roof. There was also discussion of putting a good-sized hall in the basement for public meetings, dances and the like. The article suggested that the library be located in the southwest corner of Mountain Road and North Granby Road on land owned by Willis Phelps. Mr. Phelps had, at that time, owned a building known as the Phelps Hall where events similarly to those proposed for the lower level of the Cossitt Library were held.
When the library directors met in November of 1889 to consider a location and purchasing a lot, they found that the Phelps property on the corner had increased in value considerably. Two other local families, Judge Edward Dewey and Harvey Goddard had offered free land if the library was located on their property. Goddard lived at 58 Granville Road near Silver Street and Judge Dewey lived at 367 North Granby Road. Willis Phelps continued to hold firm on his price, but on December 27 of 1889, a lot located opposite Phelps Corner was purchased from Julius Hayes, for $200. Although there was an early Colonial house located on that corner, Edward Dewey was paid $44 to remove the old building, dig a cellar hole and fill in the old stone foundation. Through research, it was found that this old home had originally been a Cossitt residence. Thus, the new library would be located where family members of the Cossitt family had resided many years earlier.
In charge of the whole enterprise was one of Harvey Goddard’s sons, George Seymour Goddard, a student at Wesleyan who had returned to his home town and Middletown architect, Jasper Daniel Sibley who designed the building. Mr. Goddard and Mr. Sibley were men of vision. Goddard went on from his new position as librarian of the Cossitt Library to become librarian for the State of Connecticut. He also supervised the construction and development of the present State Library in Hartford. According to discovered records, Mr. Jasper Sibley was paid $153.10 for his architectural and miscellaneous services.
The final plans for the library were described in a newspaper article to be a 24 by 36-foot building with the library on the first floor, all in one room, with light coming in from above. Portable bookcases were to be used with shelves low enough to be reached from the floor. The library was to be raised and a hall built in the basement if enough money could be raised. In May of 1890, the board of directors accepted an offer in an amount equal to $3,370 from TJ Green of Westfield, Massachusetts to build the library building according to the plans and specs for construction of Jasper Sibley Ford. Certainly, Cossitt Library remains a very important institution in the life of Granby today. Even now, it stands out among its surroundings as a rather odd piece of architecture for a farming community. Its Queen Anne style windows, roof and other decorative work would be a good fit for a late Victorian urban neighborhood. Of course, that would have been what the board of directors hoped North Granby would become. They had planted the seed of order and civility among the apple orchards and cider mill and then expected it to grow and bear a non-fermenting fruit.
Please watch for the next installment, “The Construction,” for more history of the Cossitt Library.
Excerpts from this article were taken from Mark Williams’ book, A Tempest in A Small Town and Centennial, a book by Carol Laun and Gladys Godard, celebrating the 100th Anniversary of the Cossitt Library in 1991.