MIDDLEFIELD — This year marked the Levi E. Coe Library's 125th year, and library staff celebrated by traveling back in time with several public programs.
The final program is “The World of Rare Books” on Nov. 29 at 6:30 p.m., funded by a grant from the Coginchaug Valley Education Foundation. Michael C. Dooling will present an overview of the rare book world and bring several examples. Registration is required through the library.
The library is named after the prominent Meriden judge and bank owner who donated it – Levi E. Coe. It was unveiled on June 6, 1893.
“People knew that something was being built here, but they didn't know what it was, it was a secret,” said Jessica Lobner, the library’s current director. “They sent invitations to everybody in town to come (to the site) and nobody knew why they were coming and what was in here.”
When residents arrived, Coe gave a speech, everyone got a tour, and they celebrated with a strawberry festival.
This past summer, the library commemorated June 6, which is also Coe’s birthday, with a strawberry festival.
“This small building has been erected for you in hopes that it will not only be of benefit to you, but will stand and be of service to many generations,” Coe said at the library’s dedication.
Coe also expressed desire to see social gatherings, reading clubs and “benevolent work” at the new library.
Coe and his wife Sophia Hall, both Middlefield natives, lost two sons — one at birth and the other at 14 months. The library was a gift to the town and also a tribute to their sons.
At the start, the library had about 250 books, all donated by Coe with some directly from his personal library.
The library was originally only open on Saturdays, from 2 to 4:30 p.m. The first librarian, Lucretia Rockwell, was paid $1 a month.
In 1917, electricity and a furnace were installed in the library, and in the 1920s, the library’s trustee bought the vacant Episcopal Church property next door, which was named Library Hall.
Around 1970, a decision was made to expand the original library building, connecting it to Library Hall, for about $175,000. The new wing was dedicated in 1974.
In 1994, the Mid-Lea Garden Club helped library staff create a Shakespeare Garden in the rear of the building. It includes a bust of William Shakespeare and flowers and plants mentioned in his writings. The garden club still maintains the space.
And about three years ago, the library became part of Libraries Online, Inc., a material-sharing system that suddenly gave its patrons access to millions more books, ebooks, and DVDs.
“That was definitely the best thing I think we've done since I became director,” Lobner said.
Lobner said these days, the library’s circulation and program numbers are “through the roof” and they’ve never been busier.
“I feel like we have a really great library for such a tiny town, and we are able to provide so much because we care so much,” Lobner said. “We all work so hard just to make this place the best it can be. I think people in Middlefield feel our love for this library and they love it in return.”
The library also celebrated the anniversary with a program titled “Dressing from Corset to Gloves” in November. Kandie Carle taught attendees about the fashion, life and etiquette of the Victorian Era and showed them how a woman attending the library’s dedication in 1893 would have dressed.
The Coes moved from their hometown of Middlefield to Meriden in the fall of 1853, where Levi Coe was elected treasurer, and eventually president, of the Meriden Savings Bank. He was also an officer and active leader with many town and state agencies and a judge for many years in the probate, city, and police courts of Meriden.