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Bill Memorial Library

Foundations of America

QU201 Prof. Scott Leone

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Bill Memorial Library

The Bill Memorial Library

Original Library

The Bill Memorial Library is located in Groton, CT. On October 15, 1888, Frederic Bill sent identical letters to a group of Groton citizens where he stated that he wanted to found a library to honor the memory of his two sisters, Eliza and Harriet. He selected about 1700 books and provided cases to be put in the upper room of the First District Schoolhouse, which was where the Groton Heights School is now. LibraryIn his selection of the books, he wrote that “in the volumes collected there may be found that which will tend to stimulate a high ambition, strengthen good resolve, cultivate the taste and afford pleasure to all who may read them.” It opened on November 20, 1888 for the distribution of 1750 volumes. However, over the next year Mr. Bill had new plans drawn up for the library. He chose the site that was the summit of Groton Heights overlooking the Thames River. The library was dedicated on June 18, 1890. The Bill Memorial Library was designed by Stephen C. Earle of Worcester, Massachusetts and the building was made of Stony Creek granite. Red Maynard freestone was used for the trim and there was a red slate roof. The Bill Memorial Library is an example of Richardson Romanesque, named after architect Henry Hobson Richardson. the national historical landmark, Trinity Church in Boston, MA, is the masterpiece of Richardson. This revival style uses the 11th and 12th century southern French, Spanish, and Italian Romanesque traits. There is strong massing and round Romanesque arches. In addition there are short columns, varying entrances, and large spaces of blank wall followed by contradicting groups of windows. Lastly, there are towers that are cylindrical and colonial caps in the walls. However, Mr. Bill wanted to enlarge the main reading room and make space for a natural history museum. Additions were made in 1907 to enlarge the main reading room and make space for a natural history museum. A collection of birds was added to a collection of butterflies and paintings. The butterflies and paintings are still in the library today. In 1907, the addition began and the building remained unchanged until 1994 when there was an addition made for a new reference room, offices, and restrooms.

Stephen C. Earle : The Original Architect

Stephen C Earle

Stephen C. Earle was the original architect that designed the Bill Memorial Library. Earle was an architect in the late 19th century that designed many buildings in Connecticut and Massachusetts. He designed many university buildings, commercial buildings, churches and more. Original Library PlansHe was born in Liecester, MA to a well known Quaker family. However, he moved to Worcester when he was 14 when his father passed away. He attended architectural training in the office of Calvert Vaux one of New York’s best architectural and landscape firm. In addition, he studied at the Cooper Union for architectural drawing and perspective. He entered military service when the Civil War started and he served as a medical corpsman. In 1863 he left the war and went back to Worcester to work for the office Elbridge Boyden. However, in 1865 he left for a Europe for seven months. In 1866 he opened up his own office for architecture. Earle undertook the commission for the New Chapel Library at the Massachusetts Agricultural College at Amherst.

Tuthill and Wells Architects LLC : The Modern Architects

The renovations to the Bill Memorial Library continued again in 1994 to add more space for volumes, offices, and public facilities. They discovered a source of Stony Creek granite when they were remodeling the building. Therefore, the addition was also designed using the original details from 1907. Tuthill and Wells Architects LLC administered the building project of 1994. Bruce Tuthill, Peter Wells and Charles King established King and Tuthill Architects in 1986. King retired in 1996 and Peter wells became a full time partner so the name was changed to Tuthill and Wells Architects LLC. They specialize in work on public libraries. They have completed more than 47 libraries in the past 16 years. Renovations and historic buildings count for 28 of their jobs. Usually they renovate the libraries for expanding needs to update their electric equipment or upgrade to current safety and handicap codes. In addition, the firm works to restore old buildings to their original condition.

Mr. Bill

Frederic Bill

Frederic Bill was born in Groton and he attended school locally. He was a teacher in Groton before he decided to retire and travel and sell books in the United States and Canada. He joined his brother Gurdon in the publishing industry in 1856 in Springfield, Massachusetts. The Civil War began in 1861 which started his interest in the manufacture of linen goods with Tracy & Bill Company in New York City. He bought the company from his partner in 1870 and later sold the business to retire. He lived on a farm on the Thames River in Groton until his death. Mr. Bill founded, built, and endowed the Bill Memorial Library in addition to giving support to the Groton Congregational Church, funded Groton Heights School in 1912, and supported Connecticut College, which also includes architecture the utilizes Stony Creek Granite. Mr. Bill's first wife, Lucy F. Denison Bill, died April 2, 1894, and on August 14, 1895 he married Julia Avery, the first librarian. The family name is preserved in the stone mansion at Avery Point, a branch of the University of Connecticut. The Bill library offers more than just books. A taxidermy walrus head, a sword that is believed to have killed Col. William Ledyard, the American commander at Fort Griswold during the Battle of Groton Heights in 1781, who was killed by his own sword by a British officer who he surrendered at the fort, and an ancient Egyptian mummy hand. The mummy hand is the most prized possession. It is said that 20 years ago a group of boys broke into the library and broke each finger off of the mummy making wishes on each one. Four of the fingers were recovered following the incident.

History of the Area

Fort Griswold

The New London harbor on the Thames River was a port for many privately owned army ships that fought against British supply vessels and merchant ships during the Revolutionary War. They were licensed according the rules of Congress by the State of Connecticut. They captured more and more British shipping each year as they increased in numbers. Hannah’s rich cargo included supplies for British officers that were stationed in New York City and helped notify events that were going to occur. It was captured and marked the peak of the exploits in the New London harbor. New London is home of the New London Ancient Burying Ground  and the New London Cemetery which include headstones that are made of Stony Creek granite. The warehouses in New London were also flourishing and bringing a lot of money to the ship owners and merchants. However, they were a possible target for the enemy. Officials stated that there was a need for barricades around the harbor but construction was slow. In 1781 the structure was the largest on the New London side and it was named Fort Trumbull. However, it was unfinished and very vulnerable from land. East of the Thames River on Groton Heights was Fort Griswold. Fort Griswold controlled the harbor and the country side around it. When the British were interested in distracting Washington from marching south they created a diversion by attacking New London and destroying the “Rebel pirate ships”. Benedict Arnold was in charge of the expedition and he was a native of Norwich, Connecticut so he knew the harbor well. On September 6, 1781 the British Regulars were on both sides of the river’s opening and the people of the town were forced to leave. A few ships were able to flee but most of them were trapped. Arnold led 800 men into the city and they destroyed goods and supplies that were there. The fire caused buildings and ships to also go up in flames. Approximately 143 buildings in the town were destroyed. The Battle of Groton Heights began when the British force of 800 that were on the east side of the Thames River were slowed by the woods and swamps. New Jersey loyalists who were responsible for moving the artillery were not able to keep up with the Regulars who were able to come close to Fort Griswold that morning. However, the fort had been armed with approximately 150 men under the control of command of Colonel William Ledyard. They chose to defend the fort against the superior force that was coming. The British commander, Colonel Eyre, sent a flag to surrender. However, Ledyard refused. Therefore, the British immediately advanced to Fort Griswold. Fort GriswoldWhen they reached the ditch they were faced with an artillery barrage which eliminated many of their men. As the troops continued on and tried to enter the southwest bastion they were held back and Colonel Eyre was extremely wounded. Hand to hand combat and musket fire were used as the men reached a cannon and turned it against the garrison. Long spears were used and the Major was killed. Some of the Regulars reached the gate and managed to open it while enemy force marched in. Colonel demanded his men to stop the action but both sides continued. The results of the rest of the events are debated between the Americans and the British. Americans say that after Ledyard let go of his sword in surrender he was killed with it and a massacre began. Before this, less than ten Americans had been killed, and more than 80 of the garrison were dead and more than half were wounded. The British does not mention this massacre and the battle had only lasted about 40 minutes. Following the battle Major Montgomery was buried in the parade ground of the fort. The rest of the British that were killed were placed in unmarked graves and the wounded were carried to the river. The Americans that were wounded were placed on an artillery cart that lost control and crashed into a tree which caused a lot of pain. The men were then transported to Avery House. The house stood for over two hundred years at Latham Street and Thames Street known as the Ebenezer Avery House. It was purchased by Stanton Avery from California and donated to the Avery Memorial Association in 1971. However, the surroundings of the house became different from the time which the Avery House was built and the Park and Forest Commission decided to have the house taken apart board by board and re-assembled to its present position at Fort Griswold. It is restored and furnished by The Avery Memorial Association and it includes antiques of the period. The house is used on the weekends and during the summer for the enjoyment of its visitors.Those who were prisoners that were able to walk were placed on a ship. The attempt to destroy the fort failed when a patriot distinguished the fire. Arnold reported the casualties at 51 deaths and 142 wounded but more of the wounded men died aboard the ship. Fort Griswold became the military defense in at least four more wars. The water battery had to be assembled a few times but the fort kept its original form. Groton is home to the Monument to Col. William Ledyard who was killed in 1781 in the Battle of Groton Heights. The monument is present in the Ledyard Cemetery. Groton is also home to the Groton Public Library which is made of Stony Creek Granite.

The Current Library

Current Library

There are currently around 21,000 things in the adult and children’s collection. The main room contains current best sellers, current non-fiction, classics, large print books, video tapes, DVDs, and books on tape and CD. There are newspapers, magazines and paperbacks in the reading room. Also, the children’s room consists of popular and classic fiction, non-fiction, picture books and books on tape. There is a reference room that allows for quiet study, reference, the public access computers and young adult collections. In addition, there is a genealogy and local history room for research. As a member of the Connecticut Library Consortium, the Bill Memorial Library takes part in cooperative buying, interlibrary loan, continuing education workshops and other activities. Lastly, the Bill Memorial Library is a Connecticard Library, a book return delivery through Connecticar and a participant in iConn, the statewide database.






Last Updated on Monday, 07 November 2011 17:40  


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Flesh and Stone

Flesh and Stone - Stony Creek and the Age of Granite - buy at Amazon.com
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Uncirculated: Shrink wrapped in clear plastic from original Italian publisher, 1999. Ships with fresh samples of sparkling Stony Creek pink granite for historians, collectors, geologists and classrooms. Additional samples available upon request.