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A Brief History of the Oliver Wolcott Library

The Litchfield Library Association was founded in May of 1862 and in July of 1862 changed its name to the Wolcott Library in honor of a generous donation from J. Huntington Wolcott, grandson of Oliver Wolcott. The Wolcott Library was a reading room for members to browse newspapers, periodicals, books and reference materials. In June of 1870, the Litchfield Circulating Library was founded where members could borrow books to take home. In 1887, Mrs. Mary J. Buel became the first paid librarian.

Oliver WolcottIn 1901, both the Wolcott and Litchfield Circulating Library moved to the Noyes Memorial Building at the corner of South Street. On July 5, 1902, free borrowing privileges were instituted and a marked increase in circulation followed. More than 12,000 books circulated between July 5, 1902 and June 4, 1903, and 748 borrower’s cards were issued (from a town of 1,120 people).

In June of 1901, the Litchfield Circulating Library and the Wolcott Library became one. The first librarian for the newly combined library was Miss Katharine Baldwin from 1902 until 1922. The Library operated continuously in the Noyes Memorial Building until its move in 1966.

In 1964, the Litchfield Historical Society agreed to exchange the Oliver Wolcott, Jr. House for the Noyes Memorial Building. In June of 1964, a committee was formed and chaired by Mr. H.C. Seherr-Thoss to plan for the proposed addition to the Oliver Wolcott, Jr. House. After many trips to New York, Boston, and other cities to interview architects, Mr. Seherr-Thoss recommended Eliot Noyes and Associates of New Canaan to design the wing for the new library. Construction began in 1965 and in 1966, the Library moved to its new location on 160 South Street where it remains today. Also in 1966, the Library Board voted to change the name from the Wolcott and Litchfield Circulating Library to the Oliver Wolcott Library in honor of both Oliver Wolcott, Sr. and Oliver Wolcott, Jr. On February 23, 1966, the Oliver Wolcott Library opened in its current home.
 

Architecture

The Oliver Wolcott Jr. House was built by Elijah Wadsworth in 1799. Elijah Wadsworth sold the estate to Frederick Wolcott in 1800 Oliver Wolcott, Jr. acquired the house in 1814 and enlarged it considerably in 1817. Mrs. Oliver Wolcott (Elizabeth Stoughton) was known for being a gracious hostess and the fame of her parties reached as far as Washington, D.C. and England. Parties were frequently held in the ballroom on the second floor. It is said that President George Washington danced his last minuet in Litchfield in that ballroom. The ballroom was restored by the Society of Colonial Wars and can be viewed upon request.

WolcottAmerican architect and designer, Eliot Noyes studied at Harvard University receiving his master's degree in architecture in 1938. From 1939 to 1946, he served as the Director of the Department of Industrial Design at MOMA in New York and then founded his own architectural and industrial design practice in 1947. He favored open spaces and clear geometry. His use of modern design combined with the historic nature of the 1799 House remains a testimony to his gift of architectural design.

Source consulted:
Swift, Elizabeth H. A History of the Oliver Wolcott Library, Litchfield, Connecticut. Oliver Wolcott Oral History Project: May 7, 1974.

 

160 South Street, P.O. Box 187 Litchfield, Connecticut 06759 | Ph: 860-567-8030 | Fx: 860-567-4784

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