Bits & Pieces with Rebecca Lavallee: The Simon Fairfield Public Library

If you have visited the Simon Fairfield Public Library in the last month, there is a good chance that you have been asked to complete a survey and for everyone that you know to complete a survey. I promise, this survey is of great importance, as we once again forage into the deep waters of attempting to renovate and expand our almost 120 year old library. Today, our library is not large enough to house all our materials, it is not large enough to have dedicated study spaces and meeting rooms, and most important, it does not offer accessibility for all patrons. It is time for our building to leave the early 1900s and step into the 21st century.

That being said, back on January 28, 1904, with a grand dedication ceremony, these doors opened into one of the best small public libraries in the Commonwealth. Prior to 1904, the townspeople did have access to libraries, however there was never a dedicated library available. For decades, the books would be kept in various locations, such as homes, businesses and public buildings. In the late 1800s, the Douglas Free Public Library was housed in the “Long SchoolHouse” and held 500 volumes for the townspeople.

It wasn’t until a son of Douglas, James M. Fairfield, who had long left town to make his way out in the world, decided that he would build a lasting memorial to his parents, James M. Fairfield and Phoebe Churchill Fairfield. This lasting memorial became the Simon Fairfield Public Library:

To the Honorable Selectmen of the Town of Douglas, Gentlemen :

In accord with my letter to you dated November 20th, 1903, the conditions therein contained having been accepted by the Inhabitants of the Town of Douglas, in town meeting assembled, I herewith hand you the Deed of the Simon Fairfield Public Library, together with the Policy of Insurance covering the building. I hereby appoint as Permanent Trustees, Charles J. Batcheller, Winfield S. Schuster, Walter B. Fairfield, Aaron F. Jones, James W. Wixtead.

Very truly yours, James M. Fairfield. December 4th, 1903.

The town of Douglas now had a dedicated Public Library, completely furnished and home to over 5,000 volumes. “Now it will be used by the citizens, irrespective of class, color or creed, so long as it remains intact. Its stability indicates that this will probably be several generations.”

I could attempt to describe the wonder of the library as the townspeople first entered it on January 28, 1904, but I don’t believe I could do it justice. Instead, I am going to share with you an excerpt from the Telegram’s January 28, 1904 article “Rich Gift to Douglas. Fairfield Library is Dedicated by Town : Modest Donor Declines to Hear Praises. Speaker of Day a Douglas Product.”

The Simon Fairfield Public Library is an ornamental structure of brick,with freestone trimmings. The depth of the building is 38 feet, and the frontage 64 feet on Main St., opposite the Congregational church. Leading to the front entrance are seven granolithic steps, 16 feet long, and on either side of the loggia are large columns of freestone.The front doors are of heavy oak with brass trimmings, which open into the vestibule finished in quartered oak, with mosaic floor. From the vestibule one enters the delivery room, one of the fine rooms on the main floor; either side of the entrance are large Florentine glass windows. To the right of the delivery room is the general reading room, and beyond is the reference room, in the rear of which is the stack room. In the rear of the delivery room are the stairways and the librarian and trustees’ room. All the windows are single pane plate glass and furnished with venetian blinds. The stack room has the steel adjustable fixtures for the shelves and the children’s room, reading room and reference room are all supplied with adjustable shelves, three feet high, surrounding each room. The finish throughout is quartered oak. The floors are of selected hand pine. The librarian’s counter and the card index cabinets are all arranged for the Brownie card system. The heating is from hot air and the lighting from an independent glass plant.All the furnishings are of quartered oak, attractive in design and elegant in finish.

This grandiose building, donated by James M. Fairfield in memory of his parents, Simon Fairfield and Phoebe Churchill Fairfield, was intended to service the town for several generations, which by today’s definition would be approximately 100 years. This small town library has thoroughly served her townspeople, but now she is old and past her prime. It would be nice to breathe new life into her, making her once again a grandiose building that can serve all of the townspeople.