A different kind of bridge


On Sunday, June 5, 2016, at 2 p.m., the residents of Arlington, Sandgate, and Sunderland had an opportunity to celebrate the 20th Anniversary of the dedication of the new Martha Canfield Library.

Nestled between the town's elementary, middle, and high school, the library has been a part of this area's cultural heritage since it was established in April 1803, by the Arlington Library Society. The original library consisted of 200 books with 182 of them still a part of the MCL's collection.

Prior to the building of the present library, in 1995/96, the library resided in a building in the center of the Village of Arlington. It was a century-old brick building given to the Arlington Community Club in 1947 by Dorothy Canfield Fisher. Over the next 50 years, a section of the building would be the home to the MCL.

In 1954, Arlington's admired and longtime family physician, Dr. George Russell, donated his collection of Vermontiana to the library. The Russell Collection is one of the most comprehensive collections of Vermont history outside that which resides in Montpelier.

Over the years, wear and tear, along with the need for more space for collections and programs, motivated the library's board of trustees to look for a larger building that would also be more accessible. And that is when I came on the scene, in 1994, when my wife, Verrall Keelan, a library board member, encouraged me to assist the library's board of trustees and staff with the planning, development, and building of a new facility.

The task did not seem to be that difficult, since I had a development company in place since 1993. It was also the time when I had completed the chairmanship of the building committee that oversaw the extensive remolding and rehabilitation of the Fisher Elementary School.

Upon completing the school, it was suggested to the library board that the best place for a new library (almost 10 times larger than the existing facility) would be next to the town's two schools. After a successful town vote, the school board was authorized to enter into a 100-year lease with MCL, for $1 per year.

The firm of Robert Escher, A.I.E., of Dorset, was selected to design the new building. In doing so, Bob was instructed to not make the building appear institutional, but more like a residence. The board wanted to have library patrons feel like they were at home as they sat and read the news dailies, a book, or work at the many computer stations.

Another "mandate" from the board was that the total cost for the 7,000-plus square foot facility must not exceed $600,000. That is all the library had raised in their fund drive. The board was also insistent that the full cost of the library be free of any state or federal funding.

An interesting aspect of the funding was that the library was to be given a $75,000 grant from the Vermont Library Division. The grant was never accepted. The State had insisted that the library have a lease term of 200 years as well as other onerous and costly conditions.

Much of the credit for bringing in the cost of the library goes to the generosity of many local contractors and material suppliers. Furthermore, the interior of the building was solely the provenience of my wife, Verrall and her friend, Drew Hill. They, too, twisted many arms to bring the interior's decorating and furnishing costs to within the dollars given to them.

Twenty years later, the MCML is the pride of so many who were involved. It acts as the major community and communication center, gallery for local artists, and, of course, a museum quality home for the Russell Collection.

Indeed, the library is a bridge. It allows its patrons to witness the historical documents of Vermont, from the 1750s to the 21st Century – and it will continue to do so for generations to come.

Don Keelan writes a bi-weekly column and lives in Arlington.


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