By Terry Rogers
On Wednesday, December 6, Milford Public Library held their annual Volunteer Appreciation Luncheon as a thank you to the many volunteers who give up their time to help keep the library open to the public. The volunteers were treated to lunch catered by An Affair to Remember and the Friends of the Library presented a check to Kay Hudson, Executive Director of the Library, for $14,000.
“I have been reflecting on the years that have gone by,” Ms. Hudson said. “This is the seventeenth year for our Volunteer Luncheon and we know that all of the volunteers have been a part of the library’s journey. When we were in the old building, we would move tables and make a lunch room in order to celebrate our volunteer staff. This is my fortieth year with the library and from the start, I knew there was something special about our volunteers.” Ms. Hudson asked those in attendance to remember the volunteers who were now gone and to acknowledge the special friendships that had developed among volunteers over the years.
Ms. Hudson stated that it truly took everyone to make the library what it is and that she is very grateful that as volunteers left for whatever reason, new volunteers stepped up to keep the library running every year. “It was volunteers who created a community center for the town, not just a library,” said Hudson.
Ms. Hudson read a poem by Linda Ellis entitled “The Dash,” which explains that life is about the dash between birth and death. The poem concludes by asking how each person wanted their eulogy to say how they spent their dash. “My dedication to the library is for my mother who was my hero and my six sisters who taught me to read at the age of four,” Rex Batchelor, who presented the check from the Friends of Library, said. “Because of that, I was light years ahead of other students, not because I was smarter than they were, but because my sister’s were smart enough to instill a love of reading in me. That’s what my dash means to me.”
In the late 1800s, libraries in Milford existed in private homes as well as school buildings, but there was not a public library that was free to residents of the town. In 1882, the Milford Library Association was organized with the goal to open a free public library in Milford. Members of the group included Mr. R.H. Davis, Mr. William F. Causey, Mr. R.H. Gilman, Reverend Harry L Bunstein, Mrs. Lynn Pratt, Miss Mollie Richards, Mr. J.H. George, Dr. George W. Marshall, Mr. William V. Sipple, Mr. William P. Corsa and Miss Lydia M. Hall. The group purchased books and accepted donations to begin the library, renting a room in the Grange Hall. Miss Hettie Davis was hired at the salary of $30 per year to act as the librarian.
The first library struggled financially and many fund raisers were held to keep the library operational. Other than Ms. Davis’ salary, every penny was spent on books. After seven years, the group raised Ms. Davis’ salary to $40 a year and the library moved to the Godwin Building on North Walnut Street, overlooking the yard of the National Hotel. The hotel relied on the generosity of the town and the minutes reflect how volunteers were essential even in the early years. In 1885, William Phillips donated a load of wood and, in 1889, Richard Johnson volunteered to not only install electric lights, but to pay for the electricity for one year. Others donated furnishings and books to keep the library operating.
During the early years of the library, stock was sold to keep it operational, but the organization continued to struggle financially. In 1900, the group approached the Century Club for assistance with their financial difficulty. New stock was issued, but by 1910, the library only had 65 subscribers, down from 250 a few years earlier. By 1911, the library faced a debt of $65.51 and it was decided to liquidate the assets, resulting in the closure of the library. Without a central public library, the town reverted to libraries held in churches, schools and private homes.
From 1912 to 1921, Mollie Adkins Brown operated a library in her home on Northwest Front Street. She made books available to school children who stopped on their way to or from school. She also held story hour regularly and instilled the love of reading in many Milford children. She allowed children to borrow books for reading at home. When she decided to sell her home, she arranged for her books to be stored until the completion of the Community Building on Church Street. Charles Varney, who was president of the Carlisle Fire Company, which would also be housed in the new building, and Mr. Don Holzmueller, agreed to reserve a room in the Community Building for a library. When the building was completed, Mrs. Brown returned to Milford, cataloged her book selection and set up the library in the room reserved at the new building.
An organizational meeting was held on May 31, 1926 where it was announced that not only had Mrs. Brown donated her book collection, her cousin, Mrs. George S. Adkins who lived in Philadelphia, had agreed to donate her library as well, increasing the book inventory by 2,300 books. To provide financial support for the new library, 500 people were asked to donate $1 per year for three years in order to qualify for assistance from the State of Delaware. The library was named the Milford Free Public Library.
Over the years, the library outgrew the one room it was provided at the Community Building and the fire company allowed them to use a communication room as well. However, the library soon outgrew both rooms in the Community Building and many residents wanted a library that would not require them to climb two flights of stairs.
A new building became a reality after the death of Mr. Daniel Hirsch whose will bequeathed funds for the erection and maintenance of a library building. In 1959, a cornerstone was laid on the site of the former home of Mr. John B. Smith who also bequeathed funds for a new library building. Another bequeath by Mrs. Samuel C. Evans also assisted in the building of the new library which was located on the corner of South Walnut Street and Maple Avenue. In 2001, facing the need for additional room, the South Walnut Street building was sold and is now the office of Dr. Norman Seward.
A new, state-of-the-art building was built on the corner of South Washington and Southeast Front Streets. A major fund drive raised more than $2 million for the building and, in 2010, the library was expanded significantly, adding meeting rooms and additional areas for books, computers and study locations. The library now sits on the site of the former Henry Hudson and Windsor homes which were razed in 2000. The library is open Monday through Friday from 9 AM until 8 PM and on Saturday from 9 AM until 2 PM. To learn more about volunteering for the library, individuals are encouraged to call 302-422-8996.
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