Wilton Library marks 120 years

Wilton Library History Room/
Wilton Historical Society photos

When a small group of  people met at the Ridgefield Road home of artist Henry Thomson, they could hardly have imagined the impact their discussion would have on the future of Wilton more than a century later. That evening, May 10, 1895, Thomson and his guests established the Wilton Library Association. The project had been in the works for three years, at the behest of Ellen Scofield Betts, but it was not until that May evening that the proponents had a home for their library — the Wilton post office — and a librarian who doubled as the postmaster.

Some 120 years later the library has grown from a collection of 120 books to a virtual community center offering not only thousands of books but materials of all sorts, including CDs, DVDs, audiobooks, e-books, and a panoply of digital offerings for all ages. The library also presents art exhibitions, concerts, lectures, public discussions, and literary and educational programs, and most recently has set on a course to nurture the creative spirit of its patrons with the Innovation Station, an incubator for projects ranging from the artistic — electronic embroidery and die-cutting designs — to the scientific, including computer coding, 3D printing, and robotics.

“We serve as a function to keep feeding intellectual curiosity,” Executive Director Elaine Tai-Lauria told The Bulletin recently.

That curiosity is stimulated in different ways, as the library means different things to different people.

“It’s fabulous therapy in between families and meetings,” one patron said as she relaxed with a magazine before the fire in the Virginia Adams Reading Room. “It has great art exhibitions, great concerts, great discussions. The librarians are super-helpful. It just brings me comfort.”

A gentleman sitting by the windows looking out on the courtyard said he had been to the library only four or five times, adding that he liked it “better and better” with each visit. He particularly liked the depth of the physical space, explaining “it has an impact on my thinking.”

Celebration gala

The Wilton Library Association will celebrate its 120th anniversary, and all that it means to the people of Wilton and beyond, with a gala evening on Saturday, April 2, from 7 to 11 at the Silver Spring Country Club in Ridgefield. The evening will also be a tribute to the late Virginia and Thomas Adams, recognizing them for their many contributions to the library during their lives in Wilton.

Invitations for the celebration were mailed last week. There will be be dining and dancing to the music of Wilton musician Bob Riccio, and a silent and live auction with auctioneer Ira Joe Fisher. Some of the items up for bid are a family day at the Bronx Zoo, a personalized two-hour walking tour for six in New York City, a CSA membership with Stoneledge Farm & Fresh Egg Delivery, four One-Day Hopper tickets at Disney World, golf and lunch for four at Rolling Hills Country Club, tickets to the Yankees and Giants, and a private wine class for 20.

The event is a celebration, said Robin Axness, the library’s development director. “We are celebrating the contributions of Tom and Virginia Adams, we are celebrating the library and we are celebrating our patrons.”

Since the gala is not at the library, the gala committee, headed by co-chairs Michele Klink and Priscilla Thors, will bring the library to Silver Spring through table decorations that celebrate literature of all sorts. Instead of table numbers, there will be table names such as Harry Potter, The Wizard of Oz, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Alice in Wonderland, Hamlet, Great Expectations, Sherlock Holmes, and The Three Musketeers.

Tickets for the benefit begin at $225 with opportunities for priority seating and reserved tables. People also may visit the library’s website at www.wiltonlibrary.org and click on the “120th Anniversary Gala” button on the home page to reserve their spots. Guests are asked to RSVP by March 24.

Tom and Virginia Adams

Tom Adams had agreed to be honorary chairman of the gala, but his death late last year caused the gala committee to change things just a bit, choosing to honor both him and his wife.

Virginia Adams was president of the library association from 1970 to 1976, which was an especially important time. The library moved into its own building in 1918 — now the Bank of America — but more than 50 years later it was bursting at the seams, and Adams guided the association to form a building committee and break ground for a new building in 1974. On April 14, 1975, the current library building opened. Twenty-five years later, the Virginia Adams Memorial Fund was established to plan for an expansion, which was begun in 2004 and completed in 2006.

After Virginia’s death in 2000, Tom Adams continued to be a supporter, “leaving an indelible mark on the history of the library,” Tai-Lauria said.

As a trustee of the Shoff Foundation and the Ambler Trust, he provided the library with a reading room named for Virginia, and several key initiatives that provided better access to the library for all. Through his intercession with the Shoff Foundation, he helped bring the library into the 21st Century by underwriting the library’s Innovation Station makerspace and, just this past fall, the dedication of the Children’s Library jungle-themed entrance.

The library

Wilton Library is not a public library, it is a library association. It gets some funding from the town, “but without donations from everyone, there would be nothing on our shelves,” said Janet Crystal, marketing communications manager. Being an association library “allows for more flexibility and creativity,” she said.

The library’s first fund-raising event was a Mother Goose tea in 1894, and the association has been assiduously raising money ever since. One of the most enduring fund-raisers for the library has been the Candlelight Concert series, established in 1947. The most recent concert is this Sunday at Wilton Congregational Church.

The library has performed many functions for Wilton. Without school libraries, in the 1950s Wilton Library was the only local resource for schoolchildren. Service to the homebound and story times for children were established in the 60s. The library became one of only two in Fairfield County to be open on Sundays in the 70s, and the History Room was created in 1981.

The library got its first computer for public use in the 90s and its website went online in 2000. In 2005 the library established Wilton Reads!, to draw the community together around the subject of intolerance.

The Hot & Cool Jazz and Connecticut’s Own concert series began in 2007. The Wilton Farmers’ Market began in the library’s parking lot in 2009. ESL classes began in 2010.

When the Committee for the Future was established in 2001 to steer the library to become the “Heart of the Community,” it could not have had an inkling of how that would come to be in 2011, when thousands of townspeople gathered in the library in the wake of Hurricane Irene and a freak October snowstorm, refugees from homes with no power. This would be repeated as power outages plagued the town after Superstorm Sandy two years later.

“Friendships are made here,” Tai-Lauria said, reflecting on those events.

The library’s gala is made possible in part through the support of the Amadeo family. Presenting Sponsors for the event are Gregory & Adams and Fairfield County Bank. Michael Kaelin/Lockwood & Cummings LLC is a Platinum Sponsor; Gold Sponsors are the Davatzes family and GE Capital; Silver Sponsor is Orem’s Diner. The media sponsors for the evening are The Wilton Bulletin and Wilton Magazine.

For more information, sponsorship opportunities and to register, visit the library’s website or call Robin Axness at 203-762-6323.