Old Home Days offers library history, popular ice cream social as Warwick marks 250 years
Patriotic mascots lead the Pioneer Valley Marching Panthers during the 2013 Old Home Days Parade in Warwick. Recorder file photo /Trish Crapo
WARWICK (August 24, 2013) — Donna Black of Northfield and dog Oscar greet passersby as John Black drives his 1929 REO Speedwagon through town during Warwick's Old Home Days Parade on Saturday. "That meant a lot to John to drive that for the 250th," Donna Black said later, as the Speedwagon had orginally been a working logging truck in the Warwick area. Recorder/Trish Crapo
WARWICK — “Time has a way of gently passing in the hills of Warwick, especially while reading a good book.”
For most of its 250 years, residents of the little hilltown have had a library in which to find those good books, though those libraries of yore weren’t what we may think of today.
A historical vignette Saturday walked Warwickians through the institutions that preceded the Warwick Public Library that stands today.
Pastor Dan Dibble, in the guise of Reverend Preserved Smith, and Susan Wright, dressed as his first wife and Warwick’s first librarian, Bebe Smith, told of the 1815 founding of the private Ladies’ Library.
The library was open to all Warwick women who paid 25 cents in annual dues, used toward the purchase of classic texts. The library’s purpose, they said, was to enable the women to become “enlightened citizens.”
Fifteen years later, the Warwick Social Library was formed. It would merge with the Ladies’ Library in 1842. The Social Library hosted discussions and meetings in addition to housing books. A debate on temperance and the use of “ardent spirits” lasted for two months, and would prove the lyceum’s last discussion. “Preserved Smith” said the library’s fee of a $1 membership with a subsequent 50 cents seemed to him “exorbitant.” Then, members could take out one book at a time, and keep it for up to six weeks. If their due date came and went without return of the volume, they paid a hefty 6-cent late fee.
After the libraries merged, the new library became open to all residents. Dues were 20 cents, and the library had more than 20 patrons. Librarian William Cobb kept the library in his store, until his death in 1853. In his will, he left a sum of money to the town to maintain the library.
In 1870, the town voted to take ownership of, and financially support, the library, resulting in the founding of the Public Library, which had a collection of 460 books.
Though women had run the library from behind the scenes for more than half a century, said Al Morgan, playing librarian Quartus M. Morgan, the town wouldn’t have a female librarian until Clara Jones took the position in 1880.
“After 34 wonderful years, I had to step down as librarian after an accident in which I lost my right arm,” said Clare Green, playing Jones.
After she learned to write with her left hand, Jones stayed on as secretary of the library.
Then, the library was housed in the Howard family’s summer residence, which stood between the Warwick Inn and the current library. The stacks were moved to the newly built Town Hall in 1894.
Resident Experience Sibley left the town $5,000, half of her estate, when she died. In 1917, the congregation of the local Baptist church had dwindled, and their place of worship was donated to the town for a library. Then, $3,000 of Sibley’s donation was used to remodel the church for use as a library. It opened in 1919.
Through wise investments, the remaining $2,000 grew to $80,000, which was used to add onto the library. By then, the library had collected more than 6,300 books, 14 for each person living in town, and was running out of room.
When Janet Alden married Albert Alden in 1958 and moved to town, the library was one of her first stops in town. In 1971, outgoing librarian Grace Morse asked her if she’d like to take over.
“I said, ‘not really,’” admitted Alden, who played herself Saturday. “I didn’t think I had the education for it.”
Morse helped her along, and Alden would serve as librarian until 1976, when Barbara Fisher took it over and served until 1984.
“My greatest joy was seeing the grade-school kids, who would walk from school to the library every week,” said Alden.
Though she no longer oversees the library, she can still be found there often.
Nancy Hickler took over in 1984, and still serves as librarian 29 years later, on track to be one of the longest-standing librarians to date. She serves about 450 patrons, more than half the town’s population, and is responsible for a collection of more than 10,500 items, including books, magazines, videos, CDs, puzzles and more. In 1991, she told the trustees that the library was again becoming too full, and asked that the town look into enlarging the building. It took 7 years, she said, the project breaking ground in 1997, and the current library was finished the next year.
“Time has a way of gently passing in the hills of Warwick, especially while reading a good book,” she said, repeating the refrain used throughout the vignette.
Old Home Days hosted a variety of activities throughout the weekend, including one that had people waiting in anticipation since February.
On what many called the coldest day of the year, residents took to Moore’s Pond with old-fashioned ice cutting tools, and harvested dozens of one-foot-thick blocks of ice. David Shepardson stored 27 of them in sawdust in a shady area at the edge of his yard. It was to be used to make old-fashioned ice cream Saturday.
Just past noon, Shepardson and others picked up shovels and dug all the way to the bottom of the sawdust storage box. They found a lot of cold, wet sawdust, but no ice. Luckily, they had the forethought to squirrel away a few blocks in several residents’ freezers, and brought those to the common Saturday for the ice cream social.
David Rainville can be reached at:
or 413-772-0261, ext. 279
This story was corrected to accurately list the dates of the librarians' service, adding Barbara Fisher from 1976 to 1984.