Continuing our tour of the splendors of rural New England, my mother and I headed down to the northwest corner of Connecticut, where for eleven years, starting in 1939 at age nine, she’d been a St. Luke’s camper then counselor, never missing one glorious summer. Growing up in the dirty concrete streets of Greenwich Village, the nature and beauty of the area was a balm for her soul.
Each year the priests took their charges on a couple of very long hikes from West Cornwall over the mountain to Cornwall Bridge then along Route 7 (cars were a rarity on this now busy road) to splash and picnic at Kent Falls State Park.
She was also a teacher here and lived across the common from the library in 1955. In fact, she moved here shortly after a flooding creek damaged the collection and contributed a number of her own treasured tomes to build it back up.
Driving passed the historical society we came to an idyllic green framed by village offices, two churches and the library.
Brilliant trees above a weathered park bench and verdant meadows with a few brown cows surround a pretty building evoking a colonial barn. You enter Cornwall Library (CL) up a path and steps reminiscent of the ubiquitous dry rock walls of the region.
The tiny foyer manages to squeeze in a spindle of paperbacks for sale, notice board and a rack of brochures.
Once inside the farm theme continues – the whitewashed post and beam style and soaring ceiling lets sunbeams stream in.
Over the granite counters of the main desk we talked to Director Margaret Haske, who bears a strong resemblance to actress Maggie Gyllenhaal. Though five distinct communities, all incorporating the name Cornwall, comprise this small village of 1400, just 80 kids now go to the K-9 school where my mother taught.
Margaret works 35 hours per week and has two part time employees. They supplement this with 20 hours of unpaid staffing – just a small part of the way volunteers and the Friends help out. She handles all the technology and wifi is free as are the five internet terminals in a spiffy black and chrome alcove.
The web site features new materials and a PayPal account for any generous bequests. Facebook links to e-newsletters and promotions and YouTube videos of happenings.
CL is open five days a week and circulates about 15,000 items annually plus has Deliver It CT for ILL. It belongs to the Bibliomation consortium for resource sharing so patrons can download any of 7000 Overdrive ebooks for all ages or borrow any of the 29,000 books, CDs, audios and DVDs here. A Nook e-reader is available for loan and the visually impaired can use VideoEye.
Started as a dues paying organization in a private house in 1869, it became free to residents in 1945. The library moved to the renovated office of a lawyer in 1874 and in 1908 a Mr. Calhoun gave them a graceful stone structure, its home until the trustees realized an expansion was necessary. The association raised over a million in a capital campaign and tax payer dollars added nearly a quarter to that amount so in 2002 they relocated to the current premises leaving the old one exclusively for Town Hall.
The Polly and Frank Calhoun Community Room seats 48 and can be accessed via a back door off the parking lot when CL is closed. Attendees can even go into the bathroom in the main part of the facility, if they eschew temptation and leave the books alone. Equipment includes Acer DLP and DVD projectors for the flat screen TV and a kitchenette.
Free to local non profits, CL gets 25% of proceeds from anyone who uses it to make money, like the Zumba, yoga and Pilates class instructors.
The majority of library funding comes from the Annual Appeal, then the town. Grants and donations, their cut of meeting room proceeds and art sales, a tiny stipend from the state, and drawing on the endowment make up the rest of the budget.
There’s lots of media by the magazine section where tilted stands make browsing a breeze.
The eclectic and comfortable décor has window seats, hassocks and cushioned armchairs. The district’s spectacular scenery is evident in myriad paintings and through plentiful panes of glass. Low shelves feature recommendations and along with potted plants, give CL an airy, uncluttered feel.
At the end of the art exhibit, you can record your impressions on the ledger supported by an antique pedestal.
Hot water pipes running beneath the stained concrete floors bring radiant heating while 63 solar panels on the roof feed energy back into the grid, so even though CL sometimes relies on the power company for lights, electrical bills are a thing of the past.
The Children’s Area is crowded with huge stuffed animals and offers book/cassette kits, board games, puzzles, toys and an assortment of parenting titles.
Youngsters have fun at Toddler Play Group, ice cream parties, family movies, Halloween Trick or Treat or a five day summer day camp in August.
The space is big and bright with colorful autumn leaves draped atop stacks and miniature wood tables and chairs stained in a variety of shades.
Adults can choose from author talks, a newcomer’s tea, fiction and poetry classes, healthcare seminars, writing workshops, Cornwall Conversations, Mahjong evenings, senior socials, a monthly knitting circle, garden tours, a quilt show, 3D printer demonstrations and artist’s receptions.
A winter film series, jazz band for Valentine’s Day, the Après Ski Cocktail Classic, Whiffenpoof alumni concert and Winter Swing are all signature events. Lena Dunham, acclaimed creator and lead actor of HBO’s Girls, lives close by and last year came in to read from her bestseller, Not That Kind of Girl.
Gorgeous professional looking photographs from high school students make the entire place a gallery.
Truly, the library is a sparkling jewel enriching this little hamlet.