The Northborough Free Library was founded in 1868. Captain Cyrus Gale contributed $1000 to the start of a public library, which was housed in the town hall. Prior to 1868, there were “social” libraries, church libraries, and an agricultural library. Many of these libraries required an annual fee or membership. The word “free” in the library’s official name indicates that no membership fee is required.
The library outgrew its space in the former town hall. In 1894 Cyrus Gale Jr., the captain’s son, donated the land at 34 Main St. to build a separate library where it stands today. He donated $30,000 for its construction.
Throughout the twentieth century, the library was able to expand hours and increase its collections. Children became an important part of library services, leading to the creation of a dedicated children’s room in the 1950s. Major interior renovations were done in the 1960s, in an effort to create more interior space and make the building more attractive.
In 1975 the Town tripled the space of the library with an addition that cost $613,000, excluding furnishings. By the 1990s it was apparent that with growing library use and changing services, including public computing, that the Town again needed a library expansion. Town Meeting voters approved plans for a further expansion at the 2000 Annual Town Meeting, contingent upon a state construction grant from the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners (MBLC). Our grant application was approved for $2,171,945. With that grant, local funds and private fundraising, we started construction of the expansion in 2007, moving to temporary quarters until January 2009. The newly expanded and renovated library opened to the public in March 2009, with more meeting space, program space, and study rooms, as well as various public computing stations. It continues to serve as a community center and a resource for the educational, vocational, and recreational needs of all its citizens.
1792. The first known library in Northborough was established; the original regulations were written in 1791. There was a fee of $3 to belong. There were 30 original members and 100 books. Up to 3 books could be borrowed at a time. The loan period depended on the distance the member lived from the library, which had to be within 1 mile from the Meeting House.
1817. Rev. Joseph Allen founded a young ladies library. In 1824 Dr. Allen founded a juvenile or Sunday school library.
1826. Captain John Davis and others placed a warrant article to see if the Town would purchase the several libraries in town and form a Town Library. The article was passed over.
1827, 1828. Foundation of the Free Parish Library; incorporated the Social Library (formed in 1792); it became known as the free library of the Congregational Society in Northborough. (The catalogue of books gives the name as the Church of Christ.) Though controlled by the church, it was open to any inhabitant over the age of 16.
1843. School libraries established in the town’s six school districts.
1851. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts authorized free town libraries, though some were already in existence. The term “free” meant that there were no annual membership dues.
1857. Agricultural or Farmers’ Library: 70 shareholders paid $3 each for membership.
1866. Dr. Joseph Allen in his centennial address prophesizes that “A Public Town Library is still a desideratum; but we are happy to announce to our friends from abroad whom we meet here today, that the want is likely soon to be supplied.”
1867. Captain Cyrus Gale made a formal offer of $1000 to the town towards starting a public library on the condition that a town hall should be built and a room furnished for the books. His offer was supplemented by a donation of $250 from the Hon. Milo Hildreth. The town agreed to the conditions.
Northboro’ Library Association was formed to raise funds for the purchase of books.
1868. “The Northborough Free Library” was established by vote, to occupy a room, rent free, in the Town Hall building. Nine trustees were chosen to serve by ballot to make the rules and regulations for the care and management of the Library. They were authorized to accept donations and to make an annual report to the Town.
The library opened to the public on September 12, 1868.
The Agricultural (Farmers’) Library Association voted to donate their collection of approximately 140 volumes to the Northborough Free Library.
1880s. The library outgrew the original room it occupied, and gradually expanded into more space on the first floor of the Town Hall.
1894. At a special Town Meeting, Cyrus Gale, Jr., offered the land and funds ($15,000) to Northborough to construct a separate library building. The offer was accepted, though by the time the building was completed, the cost was more than double the original offer.
1895. The “Gale Library Building” was dedicated on June 12th and opened to the public.
The dedication took place at Town Hall with a program including music and many addresses by attending dignitaries.
1904. Children 12 years of age and older could borrow books.
1908-1909. Replaced oil lamps with electric lights.
1917. The library was used to make bandages for soldiers in WWI.
1918. The library closed for one month to help prevent spread of the flu.
1926. Started collecting money for a future children’s room.
1929. Children 10 years of age and older could borrow books.
1937. The library converted a small room into a reading room for children in grades 1-4. A once-a-month storytelling hour started then.
1938. A severe hurricane came through Northborough, and killed an out-of-town visitor whose car was parked in front of the library. The library sustained damage to the roof, and for nearly 3 weeks the library could not open in the evening because there was no electricity.
1950. Opening of children’s area in a small room of the library.
1942. A letter of invitation was written to the Northborough Historical Society inviting them to occupy and use the basement of the library with periodic displays for the public.
1954. The Trustees requested that the Northborough Historical Society move out so that the library could use the basement space.
1955. Children’s room opened in the basement previously occupied by the Historical Society.
1962. Voted to join the Central Regional Advisory Council in the new regional system.
1962. Major renovation of the main floor.
1969-1971. Additional land was acquired in the rear of the building for library expansion, and with access to Patty Lane also acquired, created a parking lot for the library.
1970s. The Friends of the Library were formed in the early 1970s.
1975. An addition was built on the original library. It was constructed of cinder block and had a cathedral ceiling with whitewashed rafters and ceiling. There was a ramp in the center of the second floor that led to a mezzanine level. The entrance was on the west side of the building; the Main St. entrance was closed. There was a meeting room and a 4-room children’s section off the lobby.
1985. Joined C/W MARS (Central/Western Massachusetts Automated Resource Sharing) network, taking almost a year to enter all the books and other materials into the database. The card catalogue was not eliminated for several years. Northborough was in the second group of libraries to join the network.
1998. Received approval at Town Meeting to fund $50,000 for schematic designs for an expanded library.
2000. Submitted construction grant application to the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners; received approved at the Town Meeting and at the ballot to proceed with renovation and addition to the library.
2007. The 1975 addition was demolished, and construction started on a larger addition, which opened to the public in March 2009. The library relocated to temporary quarters on Lyman St. from the summer of 2007 until January 2009.
2009. The library opened its doors to the newly renovated/expanded library in March.
Timeline courtesy of Jean Langley.