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Amazing Work!

This is Bob Gasparetti's workshop, where our maple tree that did not survive construction is being transformed into the laptop bar off the Commons area in the new building. He is doing such a great job!
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Wonder Poster _catch the wonder

MHS Collection laying in state

“Legacy of a Library” by Shawn Harrington, Digital Archivist, Manchester Historical Society

The Mark Skinner Library has stood at the corner of West Road and Main Street in Manchester Village since its opening in 1897, a testament to the strength of the founders who created this Manchester institution. Mrs. Henry Willing (Frances Skinner Willing) announced her plans to build a permanent library in the village in 1893, and began by purchasing the land from David K. Simmonds, owner and editor of the Manchester Journal.  Mrs. Willing was the daughter of Illinois Judge Mark Skinner. Her grandfather, Vermont Gov. Richard Skinner, was the son of General Timothy Skinner, who was born and educated (including law school) in Litchfield, Connecticut, before taking up residence in Manchester in 1799.  The Skinner family had strong political and philanthropic ties to both Chicago, Illinois, and Manchester, always returning every year to the family home just south of the Equinox Hotel. Once the land for the library was secured, D.K. Simmonds moved his home –literally – across West Road (in 1964, the home became the Reluctant Panther Inn), and preparations for the project were in full swing by the spring of 1895. The library’s inaugural board consisted of eleven members; all but four were Vermont residents. Judge Loveland Munson, Samuel G. Cone, Franklin H. Orvis, Jesse N. Hard, Allen L. Graves, Eli J. Hawley and D.K. Simmonds represented Manchester, with Mrs. Francis Willing, Henry Willing, Edward S. Isham, and Ambrose Cramer of Chicago rounding out the board. No expense was spared for this project, from its fine oak furniture and wood trim to the pieces of art collected from all over the world that adorned the interior.  Opening exercises held July 7, 1897 were attended by prominent citizens and visitors and were presided over by Rev. Dr. P. S. Pratt of Dorset. The event included a performance by the Misses Hoyt, a ceremonial address, and a poem read for the occasion by Ms. Sarah Cleghorn. At the library’s opening, there were over 12,000 titles in the catalog, including much of Judge Skinner’s personal library. The library was a private entity, and thus Mrs. Willing supervised nearly every aspect of its operation, from new titles in the catalog (by her mandate, books could only be purchased with the income from library card fees), subjects of said titles (she specifically relayed her dislike of French fiction and drama), to days and hours of the library’s operation. She further decreed that all subjects in the catalog would be consistent with her own father’s personal library, prioritized in order as follows: Political history, physical geography, and natural history of Vermont, New England and America.  As no part of the endowment was to be used toward buying books, she supplemented with gifts and other expensive publications.  Additionally, any budgetary deficit incurred from library operations was met by her personally. Mrs. Willing was in poor health, and though she could not visit the library often, she corresponded with the librarians regularly until her death in 1903, which was followed shortly by her husband Henry’s in 1904. They had both provided generously for the Mark Skinner Library in their wills, and the library ran unchanged for many years after. In the summer of 1905, the Willing family suffered the tragic loss of Francis’s daughter, Evelyn P. Willing when she and her fiancée, New York City’s deputy police commissioner Harris Lindsley, died in an automobile crash. They were passengers en route from Manchester to Williamstown, Mass., when the vehicle they were in was struck at a railroad crossing by Rutland Railroad passenger train 366, traveling from North Bennington to Bennington. The two young lovers, who were to be married the following week, were killed instantly; the driver and another passenger escaped unharmed.  The Mark Skinner Library was transformed into a funeral parlor, with the bodies of Ms. Willing and Mr. Lindsley laying in state under the watch of a New York City Police honor guard before finally being laid to rest in the Willing plot in Dellwood Cemetery.  The historical success of the Mark Skinner Library is firmly rooted in the people of the local community. Judge Loveland Munson served as president for 24 years until his death in 1921, Claude Rich for 42 years, G. Murray Campbell from 1963-75, followed by Oscar Johnson’s 21 years of service. The librarians were no exception – following the first two librarians, Clara Hemmenway and Clara Chamberlain, Mrs. Eleanor Eggleston served from 1908-1919 followed by Anna Buck whose tenure of 48 years, 1916 – 1967 saw the library through eight U.S. Presidents, two World Wars, the Korean War and the Civil Rights movement. Gail Rice served from 1982-2001, bringing the Mark Skinner Library into the 21st century. Ellen Boyer succeeded Mrs. Rice in 2001, taking the Mark Skinner library from a private institution to an open and free library supported by fund-raising, taxpayers​ and its endowment in 2003. The board of MSL has town appointed members to represent the community interests. The world has changed in the past 117 years, and the library has had to adjust accordingly to the times. By the mid 1940s, the library was compelled to make a public appeal for funds, which was promptly met. A substantial contribution that ended this campaign was made by Mrs. Parmelee Prentice, in memory of her late husband, Ezra Parmelee Prentice.  Mr. Prentice, the nephew of Edward S. Isham, married Alta Rockelfeller (daughter of John D.) in 1901. Their daughter Mary, whose married name was Mary Porter, was a well-known local philanthropist and also made significant contributions to Mark Skinner Library during her lifetime. MHS Collection MSL circa 1905 Anne Eliza Isham (Lizzie), daughter of Edward and cousin of Ezra Parmelee Prentice, was a member of the original Committee of Administration, and perished on April 15, 1912, while traveling from Paris to New York aboard the H.M.S. Titanic. She was one of five First Class women lost at sea; her memorial in the Isham family plot stands across the drive from Alta Rockefeller Prentice and her husband Ezra at Dellwood. Today the Mark Skinner Library is a free public institution, where computers and books on CD share the room with leather-bound books, their stamped library plates noting the names of their donors – Munson, Orvis, Hawley, Skinner, Willing, Prentice – on shelves where the books are part of the history. In the fall of 2014 Manchester’s public library, with its vast catalog of literature, multi-media and staff, will move to a state-of-the-art facility in Manchester Center.  After 117 years, Francis Skinner Willing’s original vision will take on a new life and a new name rooted in a rich legacy sowed long ago.  The Manchester Community Library will launch a new era of experience in imagination, functionality, learning, and will be a gathering place for generations to come.  The Manchester Historical Society will have a home in the new library, where it will continue its mandate to collect, preserve, interpret and present the story of Manchester, Vermont, through the research collection, exhibitions, programs, and publications. We look forward to seeing you, soon!

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