In the early 1950’s my grandmother bought a property in Sandgate, so as a child I spent many happy hours swimming in the Batten Kill River in neighboring Arlington, VT. Fifteen years after selling the cottage my mother and I went back for a nostalgic tour of the area and stopped in at The Martha Canfield Library (MCL), yet another attraction in this quintessential New England hamlet where Norman Rockwell lived for years.
Down the hill from the middle and high schools, MCL conveniently shares a lot with the elementary school and the playing fields. The handsome pale yellow building meets the ground at an angle, so on the right end scarlet shrubs cascade down the landscaped incline while an almost flat cement path serves as a wheelchair “ramp” on the left.
Up the stairs on the patio, a bench lets you enjoy the bevy of bushes and flora. Embedded in a rounded rock in the center, a plaque reveals it’s Jean Woodman’s Garden.
Forming a buffer against icy winds, a small entryway papered by notices has a free book cart and leads to a tiled two story lobby lit by a chandelier and furnished with an antique secretary, an arrangement of arrowheads under glass and a lovely portrait of their founder.
You can borrow reading glasses, pick up well designed bookmarks and handouts or buy pretty hand drawn note cards and ten cent (!!) greeting cards at the circulation desk where we met friendly Phoebe. One of the volunteers vital to the ongoing success of the institution, she and my mother Carol were soon chatting about NYC and VT in bygone years.
Founded as a society in 1803, the library first dwelt in the railroad station, next it moved to its namesake’s home. In the 1940’s part of a house deeded to the Community Club was set aside for books so they shifted over, but after outgrowing those quarters, in 1996 construction on this facility was finished. Martha’s Book House, now occupying their previous premises, is the main venue for booksale income, though items are also sold in a small nook off the foyer.
MCL’s website highlights new titles for all levels and has reviews, including some by members. There’s a monthly e-newsletter, the VT On-Line Library for reference and journal databases as well as local newspapers and Mango language learning. The Vermont Department of Libraries brings customers Universal Class with over 500 online choices and since they belong to the Green Mountain Library Consortium, users can download audio and e-books via Listen Up! VERMONT.
The facebook page has job postings, slogans and promotions for events here and in the vicinity.
Wifi is free and juveniles have two computers while adults have four – two of which are found in an alcove just outside the young adult area.
Dedicated to the Jaffee family’s passion for reading, adolescents access the internet from four terminals lining a wall decorated with posters. Nearby, a long table lets friends study together. By the YA magazines, cushy chairs and a plump hassock are great for lounging and bean bags are scattered about. Jigsaws cram into one tall rack while board games fill another.
I spoke to LA Peggy Hanson who was very informative. She mentioned this section was originally nonfiction but is now very popular among students and quite busy outside of school hours. Luckily doors here and in Youth keep the library quiet.
Peggy extolled the virtues of their volunteers and said they are an integral part of everyday operations. Five staff the front desk in shifts of a few hours each per week, and some organize functions and solicit monies that help make the library such a fine resource for citizens.
Along with the town of Arlington, bordering Sandgate and Sunderland contribute to the coffers as does interest from an endowment. Fundraising, donations and The Canfield Advocates Group’s efforts to find grants and corporate partnerships (among other things) supplement the budget.
Everywhere greenish light, tinted by the meadows outside and the flower pots on ledges, filters in, mellowing the atmosphere.
A case offers new DVDs and books by a paperback exchange. MCL is open Tuesday to Saturday and only charges fines for videos. There’s ILL, delivery for shut-ins and reading groups. Residents can attend the Sunday Afternoon Series, the Dessert Party and Auction, seminars on ancestral research, crocheting and knitting circles and a workshop on how to make memory albums.
The small set gets Santa visits, and on Tuesday mornings, Preschool Story Hour with two to four fables, songs and finger play centered on one topic e.g. autumn leaves. Anyone who works at the library can lead them and occasionally they’ll have tale telling sessions for Happy Days Playschool.
Inside Children’s, coats and hats hang on hooks above collapsible cloth containers of board books. Stuffed characters perch by panes above piles of plush pillows for programs and Book Express kits for teachers and homeschoolers. These plastic boxes have 10-12 titles and activities on a specific theme like Tools and Machines. Furry animals nestle in rocking chairs and big soft puzzle pieces and cupped hands provide movable seating in the aisles. Enticing materials are propped atop low shelves abutting the games corner and in the display openings on higher ones.
Tables and chairs come in two sizes, neither appropriate for older folks😉 Craft supplies have their own cupboard and milk crates hold paperback picture books.
The main adult space is what my ideal front parlor would be – expansive views of fall’s brilliant hues on the nearby mountains cozily observed from a smart leather armchair. Volumes are stored beneath window seats and multipurpose consoles topped with plants present recent periodicals while back issues are stored in cubbies underneath.
Mysteries, biographies and science fiction are kept on the sunny top floor across from a wood railing enclosing its four sides.
Through a door I can make out the Dr. George Russell (the model for Rockwell’s The Family Doctor) Collection of Vermontiana, which has rare village, county and state annals dating from the 1700’s. Farm ledgers, genealogies, diaries and stagecoach records are just a few of the historical documents, but after postmaster James McCabe’s ten year archival stint it’s been run by volunteers so you must have an appointment or come on a Tuesday (unlike me) to see it.
Down two flights (or take the elevator), the Canfield Gallery (whose first director was Phoebe’s husband, artist Julien Sheres) is widely respected throughout the region. Exhibitions change monthly and showcase area potters, shutterbugs and painters who hold receptions on the first Saturday afternoon of the month. During the winter holiday season it becomes a craft fair – perfect for unique, quality gifts. Here I encountered a patron appreciating the scenic works of David Frey Utiger.
Also in the walkout basement, the pleasant meeting room has an upholstered love seat and patterned curtains. Its kitchen has an ample fridge, gas range and lots of cabinets. Though free for nonprofits like the Girl Scouts, people can rent it for baby and bridal showers and someone once hosted a tea here.
What an appealing place with such nice staffers, both paid and unpaid, running it!
Thanks so much to Phoebe and Peggy for being so hospitable and to Phyllis, the volunteer, who relayed my request for permission to take photographs of this charming library and to Phyllis, the director, who granted it.