1790’s – 1909 – Acquisition and Restoration of Building
2 Knowles Road was constructed in 1799 by Cyrus Bill and Daniel Tracy as a general store. They likely employed carpenters from Tracy’s shipyard at the mouth of the Mine Brook to erect the structure, using ship’s timbers and ship’s knees on the interior.
It served as a store, dwelling house, millinery/bonnet-bleaching establishment and private school through various ownership until in 1848 John Stewart sold the building to Nelson Hurd, whose heirs quitclaimed to Laura H. Selden in 1893. She deeded it in 1898 to Delia A. Rounds of New York who, in 1908, donated it to the Middle Haddam Public Library, Incorporated to create a free library for the local community. The Public Library and Reading Room of Middle Haddam had been using the facilities of the North Room of the School House (the present Christ Church parish hall) with the hope of eventually obtaining a permanent home.
Mr. Russell Dart of New York City, a descendent of the Hurd family, donated $1,000 to the project on the condition that it would be used to restore the building “into its old time attractive condition.”
It had been one of the quaint old landmarks of the place, connecting us with the old days of Middle Haddam before the time of railroads when our little village was busy with the loading and unloading of West India vessels and when shipbuilding here was an important industry.1
Other members of the Hurd family also donated a “considerable sum.” Plans were prepared and the restoration was undertaken during the winter of 1908-1909. At this time, shed dormers and four exterior knee braces to support the overhanging gambrel end were added.
Maintenance of the building was accomplished through the interest from funds which were given to the library in the early 20th century by Elizabeth Peckham, Louise Whitmore, Russell Dart, and Ida Johnson. Thus, the Middle Haddam Public Library, as we know and love it, began – with a sensitively restored building, 1,300 volumes, a maintenance fund, and great enthusiasm from the local community!
1909-1965 – The Children’s Wing
The library operated as a free library supported by local donations and staffed by volunteers for over half a century.
It grew from 1,300 volumes to more than 9,112 volumes in its first fifty years. From the early 1950’s, the entire Middle Haddam School population visited the library every other week to select books for recreational reading.
In 1963, an extensive feasibility study was undertaken, and it was determined that a building expansion was necessary to house the library’s growing collection – especially of children’s books, which was increasing approximately 250 volumes per year and was expected to reach 4,000 volumes by 1973.
Architect Norris Prentice, known for his aesthetically sensitive historic restorations and reproductions of colonial-style architecture, was chosen to design the plans and supervise construction of a 24′ x 18′ “children’s wing, ” with lavatory and utility area in the basement. The cost of the project was approximately $14,000, and was raised by local contributions. The addition was to be seamlessly integrated with the 18th century structure, which was accomplished by its proportion (less than half the size of the original building), colonial cape style, and careful attention to period detail.
“The addition that we dedicate today stands in most harmonious relationship with the older portion of the building so that already, though the marks of its newness are not yet fully gone, a stranger would perhaps not even notice the gross disparity in age between the two sections, as he would almost certainly find nothing in the total form unpleasing to the eye.’12
1965 – Early 2000’s -Children’s Section Moved
The library functioned uneventfully as a recreational lending library, supported by its patrons, for the next 35 years. Then the Board was increased from 5 to 11 members – all with varying ideas for “improving” the library.
In the early 2000’s the Board decided to move the children’s section from its dedicated wing to the upstairs – removing the stacks to create a community room. This was met with objection from many, especially those who served on the original building committee and attended the dedication of the wing, as well as children (now grown) who used and enjoyed the wing for its original purpose.
Now, most of the children’s section is located in the lowest half of the building, moved in 2008.
The Middle Haddam Library building was constructed as a store in 1799. situated on teh northwest corner of Moodus Road (Route 151) and Knowles Road, it is a 1 1/2 story, gambrel-roofed structure, with its facade entrance in the southern gambrel-end. Constructed with a post and beam framing system, it is sheathed in clapboards and rests on a random course granite ashlar foundation. Shed dormers have been added on the east and west roofs; the west ell, designed to architecturally compliment the original structure, was added in 1965. A fascinating example of late 18th century Commercial style architecture, this building’s form is unique in the Middle Haddam area. The east and west sides have broadly overhanging eaves and the south end displays a broad framed overhang between the first & second story level. four knee braces presently support this overhang; however, these are not original. Photographic evidence indicates that they wer added ca. 1909, when the property was renovated for use as a library. Other remaining features include 8/12 sash in many of the windows (some of which contain original glass) and a large paneled dutch door in the facade entry.
Cyrus Bill and Daniel Tracy leased this land in the spring of 1799 with the stipulation that they be allowed the “liberty to erect a store thereon”. At the time, Tracy ran a shipyard at the mouth of Mine Brook and may have himself been involved in the construction of this building. Tracy soon left the partnership and was replaced by Seth Overton, who operated the store with Cyrus Bill under the firm name of “Bill and Overton” during the early 19th century. In 1815 the building was purchased by Jesse Hurd, another prominent area merchant. It was used as a commercial establishment until ca. 1825 when it was converted into a dwelling house. In 1908 the property was sold to the Middle Haddam Public Library, Inc.
One of four buildings constructed around the turn of the 19th century at the intersection of Knowles and Moodus Roads, this structure is located within the Middle Haddam Historic District in a neighborhood comprised primarily of late 18th century houses. It is a fine example of late 18th century commercial development.
The Middle Haddam Library is a fascinating example of late 18th century commercial style architecture. Originally built as a store by Cyrus Bill and Daniel Tracy in 1799, Tracy soon left the partnership and was replaced by Seth Overton.
Over the years the building has been used as a general store, a school, a millinery establishment, and a residence.
A commercial establishment until 1825, it was converted first to a dwelling and in 1908 was donated by Delia Rounds, the former owner, to the local library committee.
It is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
Today the Library houses some 15,000 items, combined of books and DVDs. The Middle Haddam Public Library’s collection is unique. The Library has character, reflecting the interests of the community and perception of its librarians down through the years.
The main floor is devoted to Fiction, Mystery and our DVD collection. You will find some of the latest best sellers here, as well as a solid representation of still living literature. Connoisseurs of mysteries will find here not only the latest but the classic best. Children have a room of their own, stocked with materials for reading – or just looking – for every age group.