Chilmark Public Library
Chilmark Free Public Library
MAY 18, 2021

Library History

• Chilmark History Film Clips:
History of the Chilmark Public Library with Barbara Stewart in 1994.

This talk was part of the Chilmark Tri-Centennial celebration in 1994.
This is just one part of the Middle Road History DVD, which is available for checking out!


The story of the 124 year-old library which remains ever central to Chilmark's Community mission
Updated by Ebba Hierta 11/10/08, from Warren Baum's 1994 text.


A modest paragraph in the Vineyard Gazette of December 15, 1882 announced the opening of a lending library in the Quitsa section of Chilmark with thirty-three books donated by Alice Stone Blackwell and her cousin Florence Blackwell Mayhew (Mrs. E. Eliot Mayhew). The charge for book rentals was fixed at 3 cents a week. The books were kept on a shelf in the Mayhew Brothers'(later E. Eliot Mayhew's) store across the road from the Mayhew homestead. Expenses of the first library were $32.04 for the building of a bookcase.

Nine years later, under the provision of the Library Act of 1890 which assisted towns that did not have a public library, the town received $100 worth of books from the state. The town contributed $35 to the cost, and what became known as the Chilmark Free Public Library opened on August 15, 1891. The collection of 263 volumes comprised 171 donated by the state plus the entire Quitsa Library. This appears to have been the first public library on Martha's Vineyard.

The original trustees included Beriah T. Hillman, F.H. Reed, and Florence Blackwell who served until 1907 as librarian, and until her death, as a member of the Board of Trustees. Mr. Mayhew had moved his establishment to a larger and more central building next to the Menemsha School. On March 19, 1895 the trustees voted "to have the library moved into the new part of E. Eliot Mayhew's store," and to pay him $10 a year for the use of it.

The new addition was called the Dry Goods Department, referring presumably to the calicos, not the literature. One advantage of the location was that the library was accessible during store hours every week day. However, space was lacking for the ever-increasing number of books, and when the town hall was built at Beetlebung Corner to replace old Woodpecker Hall, the plans included a room for the library.


The librarian's report for 1903 notes that "the past year has been an eventful one in the history of the library. It was moved into pleasant, commodious quarters of its own, and has added to its list of friends. It is an increasing social center as well as mental stimulus. Being in the same building as the Assessors' Department, the hall and kitchen adds to its convenience." Incidentally, Mr. Mayhew's store subsequently burned down.

William L. Foster presented a new set of chairs, Mrs. A.B. Blackwell a revolving bookcase, and the trustees voted to buy "a clock, two pictures, and a mat for the library with money raised by entertainment." Mrs. Mayhew also mentions the "young ladies"; who took turns by the month assisting the librarian. The three steady volunteers were Emily Howland Poole, Lucinda Mosher (Vincent), and Leona Mitchell (Vincent)."

Inez Mayhew was acting librarian following Florence B. Mayhew's resignation, until the appointment of Leona Mitchell in 1908. That year the annual salary was raised from the original appropriation of $10 to $25. Library hourswere 2 to 5:30 and 7 to 8 p.m.on Saturdays. The inventory was approaching 2,000 volumes.

A branch library functioned intermittently during the early part of the century on the North Road in the Albert (later Horace) Flanders house. Fifty books were allowed to be circulated at a time, and had to be returned to the main library en masse before the new ones could be taken out. But with the advent of the horseless carriage and black-top roads, this facility was discontinued.

The library was first catalogued on the Boston Plan; in 1895. This system combined an accession number with a shelf designation. In 1912 the Free Public Library Commission helped reorganize the library, using the Dewey Decimal system of classification which is still the librarian's bible here. Leona Mitchell, who had become Mrs. Robert W. Vincent in 1912, resigned in 1914, to be followed by Margaret Locke. That year charges of 25 cents for the season for summer residents and 2 cents a day, or 12 cents a week for transients were introduced.

Miss Locke left town a year later, and Alberta West Gardiner took up the post for five years. Library hours were fixed at 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Wednesday and 3 to 6, and 7 to 8 p.m. on Saturdays, a schedule that remained in effect for many years.

The year 1915 is noteworthy in library annals on several counts. Its first bequest, of $300, was received, from the estate of William L. Foster, the income to be used for the purchase of books and periodicals. That year, too, the Trustees decided that some of the summer residents should be asked for money to help purchase new books. Fourteen letters soliciting contributions resulted in gifts totaling $15. There was also a traveling librarian in 1915, an experiment that did not last long. In the town report for 1915 the name of Grove Ryan first appeared as having done painting for the library, work which he continued faithfully for more than forty-eight years.

AFTER 1920

Following the end of the first World War, "entertainments" became an important means of fund-raising on behalf of the library. Stanley King "and friends" put on benefits in August 1919 and 1920, each of which netted sufficient funds to purchase 30 to 40 books. Another benefit staged in the twenties included as performers Wilfred Huntington, Isabel and Sidney White, Arthur Besse and students at the Rice School, with dancers from CampTashmoo. Marie Illava performed "Trees," composed by another summer visitor, Joyce Kilmer.

The librarian's swivel chair was occupied by three different persons between 1920 and 1930. Sarah Louise West (Sullivan) served from 1920-1922, Lavinia Rogers (Eustis)from 1922-1924, and Lucinda P. Vincent underwent her first tour of duty from 1924 to 1929. The annual salary had by now reached the munificent sum of $50, which was raised to $75 in 1932. The number of books topped the 5,000 mark. Amy West succeeded Lucy Vincent in 1920, serving for 15 years. Lucy Vincent then returned for a second term which lasted until the end of 1962, establishing a record for the longest-serving librarian which still stands. The library's 1962 inventory approximated 11,000 bound volumes, of which No. 51 was "Stories of the Sea" compiled by James Fenimore Cooper, published by Houghton Mifflin in 1862, which was in the original Quitsa Library.


The library moved once more, out of its cramped quarters in the Town Hall to its present home. A building originally constructed in 1790 for Captain William Tilton, was purchased from the Katie West estate in 1953, enlarged and renovated, and opened to the public in the summer of 1956. In 1963 a barn-like structure was added to the east end, to accommodate what became the "adult room."


With continued growth, the library faced a shortage of space. In 1990, the Friends of the Chilmark Library, a volunteer group, was formed to solicit funds for a major expansion of facilities. The group incorporated, to become a 501c3 charitable organization. Many friends responded, and in three years, close to $150,000 was raised. The town of Chilmark contributed from its budget, and the town's building and library committees oversaw the construction of a major addition, together with substantial renovation. Access for people with special needs, and, for the first time, a public washroom were added. Once more a small army of volunteers was mobilized to move the books to their new location.


The library faced challenges with new space needs for technology, youth services, and more. A space-needs assessment by the Trustees, Friends and Director, with input from staff, and the support of the generous Walter Scheuer led to a new design plan. The library applied for and received a grant for 1.1 million dollars from the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners in June 2001, as well as generous support from the Chilmark community and many friends. This project was spearheaded by the Trustees and Building Committee. The architectural firm was Durland & Van Voorhis, of New Bedford. Construction began in March 2002, and was completed in June 2003.

The library addition and renovation has added on a meeting room, new space for youth services, staff work areas, comfortable seating for readers, and public Internet computers. The historic Tilton house is on a new, sturdy foundation, and has been restored. Landscaping by the Friends Group creates cheerful colorful garden beds, and Carlos Montoya adds inspired native plantings to the library's grounds year-round.


As of January 2006, the library contains close to 30,000 books as well as a substantial collection of audio-visual materials and periodicals. Close to 6800 people have library cards, with some 58,000 items circulated in the past year. The library is open five days a week year-round.


Martha C. Sanford was librarian from 1963 to 1974 and Dorothy McGuinnes from 1974 to 1988. Following Miss McGuinnes's retirement, Catherine A. Thompson took over. Catherine Thompson served until June 2006. Gladys Flanders was a steadfast volunteer to Dorothy McGuinnes and others, until she retired at the age of 90. Katherine Norton was assistant to the librarian from 1974, until her untimely death in 1991. Kristin Maloney became librarian/youth services librarian in 1991 and also serves as assistant director. In June 2006, Ebba R. Hierta became the head librarian/library director.


Since 1997, the Trustees are:
  • Norman Freed, Chairman
  • Jane Slater, Vice Chairman
  • Janet Weidner, Trustee


The library adopted an automated circulation system in 1996. The hardware, software, and technical conversion, were provided by the Friends of the Library and the community. The Web site was created in 2000. While keeping its small-town character, the library offers the public access to the Internet, wireless Internet access, state-sponsored databases, fax machine, scanner and a photocopier.


The Chilmark Free Public Library provides weekly programs for the Chilmark School. The students come over for book appreciation, author talks, storytelling, library use and reference skills. This arrangement helps the children's emergent literacy with various media, life-long learning and appreciation of the community library.


The construction project groundbreaking was on March 6, 2002. Construction was completed in June, 2003. With close to 50,000 people visiting in the past year, the library's first three years in the new facility have been successful in meeting the needs of the community.

The new facility will be an asset to the community for years to come. The support of many is appreciated. For giving opportunities, please contact the Friends of The Chilmark Library .


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Chilmark Free Public Library
P.O. Box 180
Chilmark, MA 02535
Phone: 508-645-3360
Fax: 508-645-3737