Bill Library, Ledyard, Connecticut

Pre-1884 Library Card issued to Miss Sadie Main

Pre-1884 Library Card issued to Miss Sadie Main

Bill Library, Ledyard, Connecticut

Pre-1923 Postcard of the Bill Library, Ledyard, CT (Public Domain)
Pre-1923 Postcard of the Bill Library, Ledyard, CT (Public Domain)

In January, 1867, Henry Bill, a successful business-owner in nearby Norwich, contacted prominent members of the Ledyard community and gave notice that it was his desire to establish a free library for his “native town.”

Letter to Rev. N.B. Cook, January 12, 1867. From History of the Town of Ledyard, 1650-1900, by Rev. John Avery, published Noyes & Davis, Press of the Bulletin Co., Norwich, Connecticut, 1901 (no known copyright restrictions)

Through the generous donations of books and funds from Henry Bill and his brothers, Ledyard and Gurden, the Bill Library opened Monday, October 7, 1867, with approximately 1,000 books housed in custom-made bookcases installed in the Congregational Church.

The Hartford Courant, Hartford, Connecticut, October 8, 1867, page 8.

A New Library Building

Eventually, the small library in the Congregational Church became inadequate, and plans to build a new library building, separate from the church, was planned. With $3,000 donated by Henry Bill and his brothers, and land donated by Henry Bill, the new building was built on the “Common” across from the Congregational Church. The new Bill Library was dedicated on September 13, 1893, during the annual meeting.and dinner of the trustees of the Bill Library Association.

The Hartford Daily Courant, Hartford, Connecticut, September 20, 1893, page 8

The original building was expanded in 1971 and again in 1982, and is still located at 718 Colonel Ledyard Highway. The library collection contains over 67,000 volumes, and circulates nearly 165,000 items a year to a population of 15,000 residents.

Henry Bill

Born in Groton, Connecticut on May 18, 1824, it was Henry Bill’s desire to “leave a permanent testimonial of [his] great regard for [his] native town,” and so established the Ledyard Library Association with an initial donation of $1,000.  

Henry Billl (public domain)
The Bill Block at the corner of Water & Shetucket Streets., Norwich, CT. Plate from a book published by the Henry Bill Publishing Company.

Henry Bill died August 14, 1891, and is buried in the Yantic Cemetery in Norwich, Connecticut.

Henry Bill Obituary. The Journal, Meriden, Connecticut, August 15, 1891, Page 1

Edmund Spicer

Edmund Spicer, born January 11, 1812, was the first Librarian of the Bill Library Association (1867 to 1890). He died May 1, 1890, and is buried in the Spicer Cemetery in Ledyard, Connecticut.

Sadie Elizabeth Main

Sadie Elizabeth Main born March 13, 1870, daughter to John L Main and Phoebe Frink Main. She married Herbert Richardson (1856-1930) in 1891. Sadie Elizabeth Main died December 18, 1940 and is buried in the Pachaug Cemetery in Griswold, New London County, Connecticut.

Martin Memorial Library, York, Pennsylvania

Martin Memorial Library Card No. 20913 Issued to Mary Anne Sunday

Martin Memorial Library Card No. 20913 Issued to Mary Anne Sunday (front)
Martin Memorial Library Card No. 20913 Issued to Mary Anne Sunday (back)

Martin Memorial Library, York, Pennsylvania

Located at the corner of Market and Queen Streets since 1935, the library had its beginning in 1912 when Milton D. Martin, a local businessman, bequeathed $125,000 for the construction of a public library and another $20,000 to be held in trust for the maintenance of that library. Appointed Board members felt the sum too little to adequately provide for the library. Over the next two decades, legal issues hampered the establishment of the library, including whether to levy a tax on citizens, the library location, and whether the city could legally maintain the library. Public patience wore thin. The citizens presented petitions in favor of the library at public hearings, and letters to the editor questioned whether the “supposed” public library would ever exist. Eventually, the Board resolved all legal issues, and in September 1934, L. Reinholder & Son won the contract for constructions and interior shelving. On November 1, 1935, the long-awaiting Martin Memorial Library opened and hosted over 2,600 visitors on its first day, 480 of which became registered users. Architect Frederick G. Dempwolf designed the brick and limestone Pennsylvania Colonial-style building. The library has been in continuous use since 1935.

Martin Memorial Library (postcard with no known copyright restrictions)

Milton D. Martin

Milton D. Martin (November 23, 1859-December 31, 1912) was a prominent York business owner and local benefactor. Along with his father, Hiram, he manufactured buggies, carriages, and sleighs through the late 1800s. Although Hiram Martin & Son went bankrupt in 1888, Milton D. Martin later opened Martin Carriage Works of York, which eventually had upwards of 500 employees. In 1909, at the dawn of the electric car, Martin transformed his factory into an automobile and truck manufacturer.

Martin Carriage Works Ad, The Gazette, York Pennsylvania, February 3, 1912

In addition to his manufacturing businesses, he was President of the Guardian Trust Company of York, and a benefactor and Director of the York Hospital, to which he contributed funds to build an improved operating room.  

Milton D. Martin (author unknown) (no known copyright restrictions)

Upon his death, Milton D. Martin bequeathed $125,000 for the construction of a public library and another $20,000 to be held in trust for the maintenance of that library. His kindness was extended to his housekeeper of many years, leaving her $8,000, which today equals approximately $200,000. 

Soldiers’ Home Library, Washington, DC

Soldiers’ Home Library

The Soldiers’ Home (now the Armed Forces Retirement Home) was built in 1851 using an endowment provided by U.S. General Winfield Scott. After his victory in the Mexican-American War, General Scott used proceeds gained through assessments on occupied Mexican towns and the sale of captured tobacco to build a home for retired and disabled American veterans. The Soldiers’ Home was built on a 500-acre tract of farm land know as Riggs Farm owned by George W. Riggs, founder of Riggs Bank in Washington, D.C.

In March 1877, an additional building meant to be used as a clubhouse, which was to house a bowling alley and billiards room, was added to the Soldiers’ Home campus. However, as construction began it was decided that the building was too elaborate to serve its original purpose and was, instead, opened as a library and reading room containing over 2,400 volumes. As the majority of the veterans living at the home were illiterate, a designated “reader” with a “good, clear voice” would read aloud the daily news, and other books and magazines. This earned the “reader” $7 a month, in addition to the monthly $7 pension he already earned.

The American Stick style building was razed in 1910.

Soldier’s Home Library, Washington, DC, Pre-1923 Postcard (front) (public domain)
Soldier’s Home Library, Washington, DC, Pre-1923 Postcard (back) (public domain)
From a 1903 Corps of Army Engineers map of the Soldiers’ Home, Washington, DC

Freeport Public Library, Freeport, Illinois

Pre-1937 Freeport Public Library Borrower’s Card No. 4873 issued to Marian E. Holmes

Freeport Public Library, Freeport, Illinois

The Freeport Public Library had modest beginnings in 1874 as a small collection of 250 volumes housed in a spare room at the YMCA, which was located over Emmert & Burrell’s drug store at 111 Stephenson Street in Freeport.  A subscription fee of 75 cents quarterly permitted the subscriber to borrow books every Saturday afternoon and Wednesday evening.   In 1889, the YMCA opened a new building at a site formerly occupied by the First Presbyterian Church at Walnut and Stephenson and made room for the small library. 

The Y.M.C.A. building at Walnut and Stephenson Streets, Freeport, IL, second home of the Freeport Library (Public Domain Pre-1923 postcard)

On February 21, 1901, the Carnegie Corporation provided  a $30,000 grant to build a new public library building.  In 1902, the new public library opened at 314 West Stephenson Street with 19,000 volumes.  Designed by Patton and Miller of Chicago, the new library was the first Carnegie library in Illinois.  By 1924, the library had issued over 1,200 library cards and inventory had increased to over 43,000 volumes.  As the years passed, the city outgrew the West Stephenson Street building, so in 1991 plans were put into motion to construct a new, modernized building.  After years of planning, a new 40,000 sf building was opened on Douglas Street in 2002.  In 2017, the old Carnegie building underwent a $2.3M renovation and now serves as Freeport’s City Hall.

Freeport Public Library (Public Domain Pre-1923 postcard)

Marian E. Holmes

Marian Elaine Holmes was born in Illinois on May 5, 1889.  She married Lloyd Eugene Holmes (1886-1930) and had one son, Stanley Campbell Holmes (1929-2005).  After being widowed in 1930, she and Stanley moved to Florida where she was a bookkeeper and secretary.  She died in Panama City, Florida in 1966.  

War Service Library of the American Library Association

1918 War Service Library Bookplate

American Library Association’s Library War Service

In 1917, the American Library Association established the Library War Service to provide books and services to American World War I soldiers stationed at home and abroad, as well as, military hospitals and prisoners of war. 

To raise money for the library fund, the bookplate, designed by C.B. Falls, was distributed to department stores, banks, and other places to be purchased for $1.00 by the establishment’s clients.  The purchaser could place their name and address on the bookplate, which would be pasted into a book that has been previously donated to the War Service Library.

Through public monetary and book donations, the ALA established at least 43 camp libraries and distributed approximately 10 million books and magazines, including braille books to soldiers that lost their sight in battle. The ALA also hired over 234 trained librarians to staff the camp and military hospital libraries through the grants from the Carnegie Corporation.  

New York City book campaign – Photo by: Abel & Company, Inc – From the U.S. Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division (public domain)

The camp library buildings were designed by architect E. L. Tillman and were equipped to hold approximately 10,000 volumes, and came with a small vehicle for library related tasks such as transportation of books.  Some camp libraries were equipped with fireplaces to provide ambiance and “a touch of home and civilization.” 

Camp Lee (Virginia) Camp Library, Pre-1923 Postcard (public domain)
Interior of the Camp McClellan (Alabama) Camp Library, Pre-1923 Postcard (public domain)

The Library War Service remained active through 1919, after which the library services became military-managed.  

Charles Buckles Falls

Charles Buckles Falls (1874-1960) was an American artist, and illustrator.    He is best known for his poster and advertisements for the U.S. military and American Library Association during the first World War.

Biblioteca Centrală de Stat (The Central State Library), Bucharest, Romania

Biblioteca Centrală de Stat (The Central State Library) (Pre-1923 public domain postcard)

Biblioteca Națională a României (BnaR) (The National Library of Romania), formerly Biblioteca Centrală de Stat (The Central State Library) located in Bucharest, is the largest library in Romania. Over its 100 year existence, the library has had several names depending on the political regime at the time.  

In 1986, construction on a new building began, but came to a complete halt during the Romanian Revolution of  December 1989 resulting in the overthrow of communism and the execution of communist leader, Nicolae Ceauşescu and his wife, Elena.  In 2009, the Romanian government renewed construction and the new library building containing 14 reading rooms opened to the public in 2012, and currently holds approximately 13,000,000 volumes.

The original building located in Old Bucharest at Strada Ion Ghica and Strada Doamnei currently houses an antiques center.

Gale Memorial Library, Laconia, New Hampshire

The Gale Memorial Library, Laconia, New Hampshire

The Gale Memorial Library, Laconia, New Hampshire (front)
(Public Domain – Pre-1923 postcard)
The Gale Memorial Library, Laconia, New Hampshire (back)
(Public Domain – Pre-1923 postcard)

The Gale Memorial Library is located at 695 Main Street in Laconia, New Hampshire.  The Richardsonian Romanesque-style building was funded by a local banker, Napoleon Bonaparte Gale, who, knowing the importance of public libraries, bequeathed $100,000 for “a substantial and proper building of brick and stone for the Public Library,” as well as a hospital and park. Designed by Boston architect, Charles Brigham, and constructed between 1901 and 1903, it is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Napoleon Bonaparte Gale

Napoleon Bonaparte Gale (1815-1984), was a successful Laconia banker. 

Missouri Penitentiary Library, Jefferson City, Missouri

Early 1900’s Missouri Penitentiary Library Card

Early 1900’s Missouri Penitentiary Library Card (front)
Early 1900’s Missouri Penitentiary Library Card (back)

Missouri Penitentiary Library

Missouri Penitentiary, Jefferson City, Missouri (Public Domain, Pre-1923 postcard)

Called the “Bloodiest 47 acres in America,” the Missouri Penitentiary in Jefferson City opened in 1836.  It was Missouri’s primary maximum security prison and the oldest operating penal facility west of the Mississippi River when it closed in 2004.  

Inmate mugshot, Thomas J. Barker (Inmate Photograph Collection, Missouri State Archives, no known copyright restrictions)

Library Rules

  1. Write on Library Card at least twenty numbers precisely as they appear in catalogue.  For example:  4-25, 29-30, 37-9, 54-5 denotes that there are several copies of the same book in library.
  2. In moving, each man must take all books charged to him to new cell. 
  3. Each cell will be furnished with a catalogue.
  4. Each man will be charged and held responsible for all books received.  Changing books from cell to cell is forbidden.
  5. Each man is entitled to one book each week
  6. The librarians will note any injury done to books and report the same at once to the chaplain.  The man to whom the book is charged will be held responsible.
  7. Books will be changed once each week, as follows:





  1. Mechanical and special books from No. 5816 to No. 5950 are issued to those only whose positions in the institution make it necessary.
  2. Reference books from No. 5951 to No. 6083 do not go out of library except by special permission.
  3. Each man will be furnished with a Bible and such school supplies as may be necessary on application.
  4. The library is under the control of the Chaplain.

W. R. Painter

From the 1917 Mexico Weekly Ledger, Mexico, MO

William Rock Painter (1874-1947) served as Prison Chaplain and Librarian from 1901 to 1908.  He served as Missouri State Lieutenant-Governor from 1913 to 1917, and Interim Warden of the penitentiary in 1917.  As Warden, he advocated education to combat illiteracy and abolished “silent meals” in the cafeteria, believing that silent meals should only be used as punishment and not a rule of behavior for inmates.  Painter went on to become a leader in the Democratic Party in the Missouri State Senate serving from 1917 to 1929.

Hugh Stephens

Hugh Stephens (1877-1960) was an American businessman, heir to the Tribune Printing Company and publisher of the Daily Tribune. His wife, Bessie Miller Stephens, along with members of the Tuesday Club, a literary club founded in 1895, helped establish a subscription library in Jefferson City, and later, with the help of a grant from the Andrew Carnegie fund, a free library.

The Public Library, Fairbanks, Alaska

The Public Library, Fairbanks, Alaska (Public Domain pre-1923 post card)

The Public Library of Fairbanks located at 901 1st Avenue in Fairbanks, Alaska, was built in 1909, with funds provided by Philadelphia philanthropist and cartographer, George Coupland Thomas (1884-1955), who made his fortune publishing atlases, maps and tourist guides.  Prior to that, the city of Fairbanks had limited library services provided by the Episcopal Church.  The log building served as the public library until 1977, at which point the Noel Wien Public Library opened.  In 1978, the building was designated a National Historic Landmark due to the historic conference that took place on July 5 and 6, 1915, when the building was the site of a meeting between Alaska Native leaders and the U.S. federal government, during which native land claims were discussed.  It was not until the 1971, when the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act was enacted, that those matters were resolved. 

The Forbes Library, Northampton, Massachusetts

Forbes Library, Northampton, MA (pre-1923 postcard – public domain)

The Forbes Library, also known as “the castle on the hill,” due to its solitary location, opened on October 23, 1894 at 20 West St, Northampton, Massachusetts.  Judge Charles Edward Forbes (1795-1881), a desiring a public library for the citizens of Northampton, left in his will a large sum for “purchase of a site and erection of a building for the accommodation of a public library, and for the purchase of books etc. to be placed therein for the use of the inhabitants of the said town of Northampton and their successors forever.”

William C. Brocklesby (1841-1910), who had designed a number of buildings at nearby Smith College, was commissioned to design and build a “fireproof building” to house the new library.  Brocklesby designed a Richardsonian Romanesque, three-story stone building with an all steel frame and a stone, slate and copper exterior. The large building could accommodate over 400,000 volumes.  The library underwent a complete renovation between 1998 and 2001 and is listed on the Register of Historic Buildings.  The Forbes Library is also home to the Calvin Coolidge Presidential Library & Museum.