Cook Memorial Library
93 Main Street | Tamworth, NH 03886
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History of the Cook Memorial Library

Highlights of a Country Library by Jean Ulitz, 1992

Tamworth is unique in its literary background and library history. The Tamworth Social Library, one of the earliest in the state, was founded by Parson Samuel Hidden in 1796 and was supported in its entirety by the pioneer members of this small, wilderness village. Then, in 1891, the New Hampshire legislature approved the Free Library Act, appointing a State Library commission and authorizing benefits to New Hampshire towns for the purpose of establishing free, public libraries. In February 1892, the Tamworth town warrant included an article “…to see if the town will vote to accept the provision of law, chapter 8, section 21-26, in regard to having a public library in town.” At the town meeting in March the town voted first to dismiss the article from the warrant, later voted to reconsider, and eventually agreed to raise $50 to secure the benefits of the Free Library Act. They then proceeded to elect the first Board of Trustees: John D. Boyden, Edward Pollard and Horace Page.

In 1893 Frank Bolles was elected a Trustee and the townspeople approved the raising of $200 for “…preparing a suitable room in the upper town hall for the Free Public Library and for the care, custody, and increase of same.” The Librarian, Mrs. Clinton Cook (Lucy A. Hodge), was voted a yearly salary of $50. Besides her usual duties, she cleaned the library (for which she was paid 75 cents a day) and she started the wood stove fire and kept it going during the cold months.

In September of 1894 a special committee of four trustees, John D. Hidden, John Mason, Francis P. Remick, and Edward Pollard, was formed to receive and act upon a gift of $2,000 from Mrs. Charles P. Cook (Susan Staples, 1823-1910) for the purpose of purchasing land and erecting a building in memory of her husband, Charles P. Cook, who had been a prominent local storekeeper, selectman, and state legislator. The building was to house forever a library for the public, subject to the town’s approval. The contract also stipulated “…that Mrs. Lucy A. Cook (daughter-in-law of Susan) shall continue as librarian, if she desires, so long as she performs her duties acceptably.”

In March 1895 the townspeople accepted with alacrity this fine offer and returned a vote of thanks to Mrs. Susan Cook. They also stated that the “…Charles P. Cook Library Building be opened Tuesday next at 2:00 PM to the public and that the minister of Tamworth be invited to take part in the dedication.” From Marjory Harkness’ Tamworth Narrative, we learn that on that day the deed was presented to the town officials, Reverend Alonzo Nickerson spoke and called the library “a bank of wisdom,” and Larkin Mason (brother-in-law of Susan Cook) said in his dedication speech “…there is not a town on the face of the earth, of the same number of inhabitants (1,000), no larger inventory of property ($250,000) that can show such a record for intelligence and good morals.” Permanent and summer residents gave gifts of books to supplement the small collection housed in this new and very lovely Victorian building, with its stained glass windows and the clock in the small tower.

Some early trustees included Charles H. Dow, H.E. Scudder, Arthur Wiggin, and Horace Page. Records give some indications of expenses in the late 1800’s: 10 cents for shoveling a path through the snow; $4.50 for 1 ¼ cords of wood fitted for the stove by Horace Page; $45 for three years insurance, S.A. Hidden Insurance Agent (money well spent as mentioned below); $1 to Sherman Quiby for filling and varnishing the doors. Thirteen novels cost 35 cents each. A trustee would travel to Boston to order books directly from publishers such as Houghton Mifflin or D. Lathrop and Sons, and the books would be sent via Boston and Maine Railroad at 25 cents per 100 pounds to the West Ossipee Railroad Station.

At the town meeting of 1897 Mary J. Gilman was chosen Library Trustee by acclamation. The election of women to any position was an unusual, even startling, event. In fact, the worried librarian, Lucy Cook, wrote immediately to the State Library Board to be certain the election was legal! Josiah Whittier, Secretary of the Board, wrote back on March 10, 1897 “…Please notice that Section 5 of chapter 118, laws of 1895, clears up the question you ask about whether women can serve as members of the Board of Library Trustees. We are pleased to note the good progress made in your town and the fact that a woman has been elected trustee furnishes an additional assurance that the forward movement along library lines will be kept up.”

As mentioned above, insurance did pay off. Thirty dollars was paid to Library Treasurer, Charles H. Dow “… for all loss and claims for fire which occurred on July 21, 1900” from S. A. Hidden, agent. We have so far found no further record of the fire, neither cause nor extent of damage.
After Lucy Cook’s long and able tenure as Librarian, from 1892 to 1929, her daughter, Sara Elizabeth “Lizzie” Cook (1881-1942), who had helped her mother at the library, became librarian for the last part of 1929. She was followed by Helen Hidden (1893-1964), a dedicated woman who served from 1930 until her death. Elizabeth Spicer became librarian in 1964 and served until 1970, when Marilyn (Mayno) Evans took over. In 1972 Jean Ulitz accepted the position of librarian and served for 20 years.

The History of the Library since 1980 by Jay Rancourt

In 1980 the library was entered in the National Register of Historic Places, and in 1981, an ambitious building campaign preserved the historic part of the library, while  doubling the usable space by adding a children’s area, and a local history room. As Tamworth grew in population, so did the library, with expanded hours and services including: story hours for the children, videos, audiocassettes, large print books, genealogy records and vital statistics.

Jean Ulitz retired in 1992, and the new library director, Betty Parker, began to plan for automation, and installed the first computer. It was used primarily for processing interlibrary loans, providing access to the collections of all libraries in the state. In 1993 additional support was installed under the front (historic) room because of cracks in the plaster, and a long range planning committee was formed to plan for renovation and an addition to the library. In 1996, the library automated and retired its old card file cabinet. In 1998, a grant from International Paper purchased the first public access computer, and plans for renovations accelerated with a community survey, and interviews with an architect. In 1999, a purchase and sales agreement was signed with Ann Behr for a strip of land adjacent to the library, Parker resigned as library director and Jay Rancourt, the children’s librarian, replaced her.

The Tamworth Village Association was formed and proposed The Main Street Project. A library consultant helped Jay and the trustees create a building program, and a capital campaign ensued. We broke ground in June of 2001, and held the dedication ceremony for Phase One of the building renovation in December of 2001, ahead of schedule and under budget. The following year, the NH Library Trustees Association gave Cook “The Library of the Year” award. In 2005, we embarked on Phase 2 of the renovation, making the ground floor into usable space. The Ulitz Center of Genealogy and History features a climate-controlled archive room and a public room to hold the circulating local history materials, a computer for research, and a large table for meetings and research. A large meeting room (75 person capacity) with two adjacent bathrooms greatly enhanced the services the library was able to offer, particularly in terms of programming. The meeting room had both a pull-down projection screen and a large screen TV on rollers. The Friends of Cook Memorial Library purchased a LCD projector. Thus a wider range of programming, including films and slideshows could be presented.