Restored Wilton library recalls 100 years of service

A hundred years ago, on Sept. 22, 1908, David A. Gregg presented the town with a new library building, one that cost him $100,000 – the building now known as the Wilton Public and Gregg Free Library.

In his speech, Gregg said, “Before I built the library building, I had a little money that I wanted to invest, and having had a varied experience in making investments, I was anxious to place this money where it would not be lost; where the principle would be safe and the interest good and sure.”

He added, “It occurred to me that a library for the town of Wilton would be as safe a place as I needed to look for; that the principle would be safe and the interest good to all those who cared to accept it.”

On Saturday afternoon, more than 100 people gathered in the ornate rotunda of that library to celebrate its centennial and the completion of a $1.2 million renovation and restoration project.

Resident Michael Dell’Orto portrayed the ghost of David Gregg, appropriately dressed in a conservative gray suit and red bow tie. He read selections from Gregg’s original speech.

One part of that speech fit well with the day’s ceremonies.

Concerning why he had spent so much on the building and little on more books, Gregg said, “I am willing that others should have a part of the laurels that go with donations; I am willing that others should have the pleasure and satisfaction of putting in a helping sistance is not needed, or will not be properly appreciated by the people of the town, simply because I took the initiative in putting up the building.”

The library, considered one of the finest in the state, is called “The Jewel of Wilton,” and it took the donations of many people to restore it to its original grandeur.

Other speakers included U.S. Rep. Paul Hodes; State Librarian Michael York; Richard Rockwood, chairman of the Wilton Board of Selectmen; and Gerry Wroe, vice chairman of the library board of trustees who served as master of ceremonies.

Hodes spoke about “the sheer beauty of the building that lifts our spirits” and noted that “free libraries go hand in hand with education,” giving everyone “the ability to have access to ideas and information to help them meet the new challenges.”

He told the assembled people, “What a great job you have done.”

York spoke of the changes in libraries since 1908, the lending libraries that existed before then and the expansion of libraries across the state between 1900 and 1915.

“I’m glad to see you are marking 100 years of service to the town,” he said, since service is what libraries provide.

Rockwood, who grew up in Wilton, said the voters’ contribution to the project – $300,000 over several years – “was a mere pittance of the total.”

He said that at the start of the project, librarian Carol Roberts had come to town officials asking for help. She said three areas needed to be addressed: a new boiler, since the boiler room was the only warm room in the building; the drainage around the outside, since there was water in the basement; and “lastly, we need an elevator,” because she had to help the elderly on the steps.

“I thank all who helped,” Rockwood said, referring to all who saw “the necessity of preserving this wonderful heritage.”

Wroe then rededicated the library to the people of Wilton “for present users and for generations to come.”

Many of those present spoke of the great party, the beauty of the building and the immense amount of work that had been put into the restorations, work that enhanced the original without changing it.

“I always knew it was a nice building,” lifelong resident Lynn Draper said. “I knew that when I was little, but I didn’t really know how nice until I was an adult.”

She looked around at the rotunda full of people: “And it’s ours.”