Joseph Dow's History of Hampton: The Public Library

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The Public Library

Scarcely was the war ended, when the great task was given the nation, to educate the three millions of emancipated negroes, hitherto kept in ignorance. Various commissions sprang up, societies already existing enlarged their work, the federal government established a Freedmen's Bureau; and, mostly from the North, teachers entered upon the new field. The first volunteers from Hampton were Misses Ellen A. Leavitt and Sarah E. Gillespie, both successful teachers at home, who were soon under commission for labor at Harper's Ferry, on the Governor Wise plantation. While waiting for orders, they exerted themselves, in conjunction with Mr. B. H. Weston, principal of the Academy, to establish a social library in Hampton. Though others heartily cooperated, to these three principally, is due the existence of the library, whose benefits reach to the present day, and whose story we are now to trace.

The movement began early in 1865, and met with such ready response that one hundred fourteen shares were taken at three dollars each. The town gave free use of a room in the town-house, which was fitted up at the expense of the shareholders. The first purchase comprised about two hundred volumes, which number was more than doubled by donations, chiefly from Mr. Joseph Ballard, of Boston, long a landed proprietor and summer resident of Hampton. Before August, the Hampton Library Association was officered, domiciled, equipped and well started on its useful career. Simple rules and a small annual assessment made membership easy, and every Saturday evening saw the library well patronized. Jacob T. Brown was the first president and Enoch P. Young, the first librarian.

Assessments and fines being insufficient, the association instituted courses of lectures, in the winters of 1867-8 and 1870-1, to add to the book purchasing fund; and in 1875-6, the "spelling match" mania, which was epidemic in New England, attacked this town for the same end.

But alas! the library was too limited in its privileges and in course of years it declined. Very wisely, therefore, in the spring of 1881, the association voted to offer its books as a gift to the town, for the foundation of a free public library; very wisely, the town voted to accept the donation and fulfil the trust. George W. Brown and S. Albert Shaw on the part of the association, and a committee appointed by the selectmen of the town, completed the transfer, and framed the regulations, which have ever since prevailed.

The town annually appropriates one hundred dollars, appoints a purchasing committee, pays the librarian as a town officer and prints the financial report, with other town accounts. An attractive room in the remodeled town-house is a favorite resort on Wednesday evenings; and the FREE PUBLIC LIBRARY may justly be reckoned one of the educational institutions of the town. There are now about seventeen hundred sixty volumes.

Assistant Librarians
Terms of Office
Enoch P. Young John P. Towle 1865
Joseph Johnson David O. Leavitt 1866
Samuel J. Philbrick Henry J. Perkins 1867
Lewis Perkins Chas. M. Batchelder 1868
George W. Brown   1869-1871
Henry J. Perkins   1872
S. Albert Shaw   1874-1877
Edward W. Leavitt   1878
S. Albert Shaw   1879-present
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