Dedicating the Cossitt Library

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An early photo of the Cossitt Library.

In the Winter of 1891, a committee worked on plans for the dedication of the new library, which was scheduled for Thursday, March 26, 1891. Due to the overwhelming interest in the event, it was held at the First Congregational Church. The program included musical selections by a “double quartette” (an eight-piece ensemble) and prayers offered by the Reverends James Crofut and Dwight Moses. The celebration also included several speeches, including the major address by the Honorable William C. Case, former Speaker of the Connecticut Legislature. Case began his eloquent speech stating, “In the whole history of the town there has been no similar occasion; in the whole history of the town there has been no event of equal importance and interest.” He included a brief biography of the man who “remembered the soil from which he sprang.”

 “Frederick H. Cossitt, the founder of this library, was born in Granby, December 18, 1811, on the place diagonally across the highway from this library building, where Mr. Willis Phelps now lives. His boyhood was mostly spent in Granby, though for a time he lived with his father’s family in Westfield, Massachusetts, where he attended the academy. He returned with his parents to the old Cossitt homestead in Granby, where his father was born and where his grandfather still lived. Here he remained until 1826, when his father died. Shortly after this, his uncle, George Germain Cossitt, then at Clarksville, Tennessee, requested that young Frederick should commence the business of life under his instruction. At the age of 15 he bade Granby a farewell, which was practically final.

“From 1826 to 1842 he engaged in business in several southern states and in the latter year moved to Memphis, Tennessee. There he carried on a successful wholesale business in dry goods. He remained (in business) in Memphis until 1861 and there the energy, integrity and the administrative ability of the man triumphed and assured his success in life.

“He always felt a great interest in Memphis and among his papers after his death was found a request that $75,000 should be given to that city for a Public Library. His children have complied with his request and the library building is now in process of erection.

“New York became his permanent home in 1859 and until his death, September 23,1887, his was one of the busiest and most useful lives in the highest business circles of that city.”

Judge Case also spoke of the elevating influence of books and urged his audience to read books somewhat above them. He mentioned the effect that the few books of his early boyhood (notably The Pilgrims Progress) had upon him. He also made a strong plea for good novels, because they open the world of imagination to the reader.

“The opening of this library,” said Case, “marks an era in the intellectual history of this community. Granby is indebted to the thoughtful generosity of one of her sons.”

The final presentation, Story of a Town Library was made by C. M. Hewins. Catherine Hewins was the librarian at the Hartford Young Men’s Institute, which is today’s Hartford Public Library. The following year, Hewins oversaw the library’s change from a private, subscription service to a free public library, and the Hartford Public Library was born. Suddenly the library went from only 600 paying members to thousands of patrons with free access.

Catherine Hewins

Miss Hewins is most often credited for her contributions to children’s library services. Hewins’ programs for children, along with her scholarly articles and lists of recommended children’s books, influenced generations of children’s librarians as well as publishers of children’s books and bookstores. Before her time, library services to children barely existed. When she began her career, children younger than 12 years old were often not allowed to visit libraries. Despite this, one of her most significant accomplishments before the end of her career was her success in adding a children’s room in 1904 before the end of her career at the Hartford Public Library.

The idea of having a children’s room at a library was very influential. Soon after, other libraries followed her example and began the addition of children’s rooms. She also hired Hartford Library’s first dedicated children’s librarian in 1907. For more than fifty years she contributed to the expansion of children’s library services across the U.S. It was indeed an honor to have her attend this dedication at this critical time in the formation of the public library system in Connecticut. In 1995 she was honored by being added to Connecticut’s Women’s Hall of Fame for her work with children’s library services.

After the closing benediction, all present for the dedication were invited to view the new library, where a supper was served in the New Hall from 6 to 9 p.m. Many members of the Cossitt family attended the ceremony. Frederick H. Cossitt’s daughters (Mrs. Helen Cossitt Juilliard and Mrs. May Cossitt Dodge) and their families came from New York.

 This was only the beginning of a close and warm relationship between the Cossitt family and the Cossitt Library that continues to this day.

Major elements of this article were taken from Carol Laun and Gladys Godard’s book Centennial, Frederick H. Cossitt Library 1891-1991

Historical photos from archives of the Salmon Brook Historical Society