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History of Stowe Free Library

The first library in Stowe, Vermont was a subscription library established in 1828.  The funds for the subscription library were raised from fees collected from local families until there was enough to purchase 150 of mostly non-fiction (history, biography and travel) books (Wilkins, 1987).  The subscription library was heavily used but was eventually phased out around 1849 as the limited collection became worn out and replacement books were difficult to buy (Bigelow, 1988).  

Fifteen years later, in 1865, Stowe had the distinction to be the first town in Vermont to be given appropriations under state law for library purposes.  The following year, by special town meeting in May of 1866 the town voted to accept a gift of 51 books which summer visitors presented to the town and to appropriate $100 to purchase additional books.  This action established a public library, the Stowe Free Library.  No further appropriations were given to the Library until 1868 when townspeople voted a onetime appropriation of $200. In 1869 townspeople voted to appropriate $100 each year thereafter to the Library for the purchase of books, an appropriations action that has continued  (Bigelow, 1988). 

Periodically the town added to the collection, created committees to make purchases, and employed a librarian (Wilkins, 1987).   However, a building was not designated exclusively as a library so Warren I. Atkins, thought to be the first town librarian, kept the books in his grocery store. George W. Jenney and his wife took over for Mr. Atkins in 1870, operating the library out of the rear of their store on Main Street until 1904.  (Bigelow, 1988).  The collection grew over the years (Wilkins, 1987) with gifts of money and books from patrons. 


In 1871 the Vermont Historical Magazine provided a description of the building: “The main building is constructed with dimensions of 60 x 32 feet. The end facing towards Main St. with wings on the east and west sides so as to give the whole building a beautiful proportion. It is supplied with an elegant veranda in front. Reaching quite round to the wings, this is supported by twelve fluted columns of Doric style. In the center of the main building is a spacious hall, where children and youth may play and exercise and from which they may pass to the yard, in the rear of the building. The wings and the main building on either side of the hall are finished off into elegant and spacious school-rooms, with adjoining rooms for clothes, recitations, etc. The largest room is in the second story and extends the whole width of the main building, and the entire length except what is occupied for entrance and clothes room, which is reached by winding stairs, with elegant railings from either side of the vestibule. The belfry and dome are of a style and form peculiarly adapted to the size and shape of the building and give it a good finish. It is presumed there is not a better school house in the state, it is so pronounced by gentlemen from abroad who have seen the best ones, for a single district a better one may not be found” (Bedell, 1955)


Between 1893 and 1896 a second flat roofed story, was built on the east wing.  By 1901, when the first class of six students graduated from the public high school, the second story over the west wing was added (The Village School, n.d.).


In 1904 the library was moved to the Akeley Memorial building (Town of Stowe Auditors, 1905) where modern furniture and fixtures were provided.  It was here that Mrs. Carrie E. Straw, Head Librarian from 1919 until her death in 1933, implemented the Dewey Decimal System of Classification. The Library shared the Akeley Memorial Building, at first, with the post office, two lock-up cells, and town offices.  The Library remained at the Akeley Memorial Building until 1981 (Bigelow, 1988).





No longer meeting the educational standards of the time, the school closed in 1973 and a new Middle and High School was completed outside of the village.  Thanks to a bequest from Helen Day Montanari and the diligent work of local preservationists, the building, once known as “Old Yeller”, due to the yellow color it was painted, was restored for the Library (Belding, 1996). 

In 1981, when the Library outgrew its space, it moved into the former Stowe High School, now commonly known as the Helen Day Art Center Building (Belding, 1996).  The building was originally built as a three room Greek revival school house, on land donated by William Henry Harrison Bingham (W. H. H. Bingham) in 1861.  The cost of the school with site and adjoining grounds was a just over $5,000. The three rooms on the first floor housed the first through eighth grades. In the single room on the second floor was a tuition high school managed by the District prudential committee until 1893 (The Village School, n.d.). 

When the Library moved forty (40) town residents volunteered to help move the books and the Library was opened to the public on April 1.   The circulation increased dramatically as many residents revisited their old school and left with books in hand (Bigelow, 1988). The new space allowed for not only more room for patrons and books but also additional programs and services (Sakash & Van Blarcom, 1982). The building was renovated in 1993-1994 doubling its size, funded through local support.  Another addition was undertaken in 2002, funded through a grant from the Freeman Foundation of Stowe (Smith, et al., 2004), for much needed room as a result of high use by patrons and tourists.  In 2006 a non-profit organization called the Friends of the Stowe Free Library formed.  Known as “the Friends” the group provides support to the library by raising funds for community events, increasing the collection and providing other support as needed.  


 The library is operated as a municipal department of the Town of Stowe and, as such, is about 90 percent tax-supported with the remaining income from endowment interest, fees, fines, gifts, and the proceeds from the Friends of the Stowe Free Library annual book sale.




Bedell, R. (1955, July 30). CHRONOLOGY of the STOWE HIGH SCHOOL. Retrieved from Stowe Historical Society:

Belding, P. W. (1996). Where The Books Are:Where the books are: The history and architecture of Vermont's public libraries with photos and anecdotes . Barre: Potash Book Publishing.

Bigelow, W. (1988). History of Stowe Vermont (From 1763 to 1934). Stowe: Stowe Historical Society.

Sakash, P. F., & Van Blarcom, J. C. (1982). Annual Report of the Auditors: Town of Stowe Vermont For the Period of July 1, 1980-June 30, 1981. Town of Stowe: Stowe.

Smith, T., Brownell, C., Chase, S., Courtney, J., Johannesen, R., Stead, N., . . . Maison, C. (2004). Stowe Free Library Long Range Plan Fiscal Years 2005-2009. Stowe: Town of Stowe.

Town of Stowe Auditors. (1905). annual Report of the Auditors: Town of Stowe Vermont for the year ending Feb. 14, 1905. Stowe: Town of Stowe.

Wilkins, M. M. (1987). History of Stowe to 1869. Stowe: Stowe Historical Society.

****This is a portion of a 40 page thesis written by Kelley Spear for her Masters in Public Administration.  Kelley Spear is a 13th generation Vermonter and a 7th generation Stowite.  Her mom's maternal grandmother was Alice Snow who was a teacher and then ran Snow's General Store (now Stowe Cider).   Her mothers' patriarchal grandmother was Agnes "Ma" Russell who ran one of the first ski boarding houses in Stowe in the lower village - Neat article on her in the March 2004 Skiing Heritage Journal.  

Terry Spear family's (Kelley's Dad)  moved to Stowe from Hartland, VT in 1951 to the farm - now known as The Spear Farm.  Paul & Ryan Percy farm the land now but the land is either owned by the land trust or Stoneybrook. 

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What the world of tomorrow will be like is greatly dependent on the power of imagination in those who are learning to read today.Astrid Lindgren