Peacham Library Celebrates its Bicentennial in 2010

Josette Lyders, April 21, 2010

The library in Peacham was founded on August 9, 1810 by a group of students of the Caledonia County Grammar School (Peacham Academy) as a resource for their debating society. They named their library “The Peacham Juvenile Library Society.” For an original fee of $2.00, an individual could become a proprietor.

For forty-five years, the Peacham Juvenile Library Society continued as it had begun, serving its member proprietors. There was no actual building for the library throughout its first one hundred years. The book collection moved from store to store in the village of Peacham Corner.

In 1855, for purposes of establishing a circulating library for the town, the Peacham Juvenile Library Society obtained a charter from the State of Vermont. Act 108 of the General Assembly Acts of 1855–“An Act to Incorporate the Peacham Juvenile Library Society”–was approved on November 14, 1855. By a charter change registered in Montpelier in 1972, the name of the library became “Peacham Library, Inc.” Today, the library is one of the very few remaining corporations chartered by the Vermont Legislature in the mid 19th century.

The collection evolved from its original size by fees and donations over the years. Thaddeus Stevens, an early student at the academy who had gained national prominence as his career advanced, offered what we now know as “challenge grants” several times starting in 1854 to encourage support for the Peacham Juvenile Library Society. These were very successful efforts, and at his death in 1868, Stevens also left a $1,000 bequest to Peacham, the interest of which would go to the library.

Gaining a stronger financial footing in the late 1800s, the library went on to purchase a building in Peacham Corner in 1909. In 1914, with a gift of 1,000 volumes from George Harvey, a Peacham native and US Ambassador to Great Britain in the 1920s, the library collection had grown to over 3,500. By 1944, it was at 6,170. Tragically, the library building burned to the ground on January 27, 1959, with only a few books salvaged. However, in time for its sesquicentennial observance in 1960, the library was rebuilt and the new building was dedicated on August 10, 1960. Donations of books from residents, public and private organizations, and other libraries in the area became the start of the new collection.

On April 7, 2001, with a $65,000 bequest from Horace Gilmore, a long-time Peacham resident; with a $25,000 grant from the State of Vermont; and with donations from the townspeople, an addition to the library building was dedicated. It nearly doubled the size of the library and included a lovely gallery area to be known as “The Gilmore Gallery.”

Peacham Library continues as a public benefit corporation, whose purpose is now to enrich the Peacham community by providing free access to library materials and information services, and serving as a focal point for the town for many events, regular coffee hours, children’s programs, community meetings, art exhibits, movies, and more. Currently, the library has over 9,200 volumes it its collections and over 500 registered patrons.


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