The mission of the Norfolk Library is to “enable learning and literacy, promote culture through the arts, and encourage the sharing of ideas.”
Miss Isabella Eldridge established the Norfolk Library as a memorial to her parents, The Reverend Joseph and Sarah Battell Eldridge, and presented it to the town of Norfolk in 1889. Her hope was that it would be a meeting ground for the community rather than just an institution and it has maintained the character she gave it through all the years of its existence. It serves not only as a storehouse of reading for instruction and pleasure, but also as a meeting site for various clubs and groups.
Mr. George Keller of Hartford was the architect for the building which first opened on March 6, 1889. At the time it was built, the structure went no farther than the north-south corridor of alcoves. The Great Hall, additional stacks, and the back alcove, also designed by Keller, were added in 1911, again the gift of Isabella Eldridge.
The Smith Children’s Room opened in 1985. Its construction was made possible through the generous donations of Abel I. Smith and many members of the Norfolk community. Alec Frost, architect, designed the addition to be in keeping with the original structure. A most serendipitous event was the discovery, by members of the building committee, that stone from the quarry which provided the material for the original building was available. It was given to the Library by the town of East Longmeadow, Massachusetts.
Architectural highlights include the exterior, made of Longmeadow stone on the first floor, and fish scale tile shingles on the second floor. The original fluted Spanish tile roof, which had suffered the ravages of frost and fallen branches, has been replaced by more mundane asphalt shingles. Albert Entress of Hartford sculptureed the gargoyle in the shape of an owl which adorns the front porch, as well as another owl standing over the fireplace in the Great Hall holding a book bearing the library’s motto “Inter Folia Fructus.”
The stained glass windows in the Harden Reference room and the Great Hall were made by Messrs. Maitland Armstrong & Co., of New York City. The portrait of the library’s founder, Miss Isabella Eldridge, was painted by Mrs. Ellen Emmett Rand. A plaque depicting Robert Louis Stevenson was designed by Homer St. Gaudens and presented by him to Miss Isabella on the twentieth anniversary of the founding of the library. The plaque hanging upstairs over the back alcove was created by Tonell. Called “The War of Democracy,” it was made to welcome the French and British Commissions to New York City and was given to the library by Mrs. John H. Flagg.
In keeping with Miss Eldridge’s wish that the library serve as a cultural meeting spot of Norfolk, the trustees made provision for the formation of the Norfolk Library Associates in 1974. This devoted and invaluable group sponsors monthly art exhibits by local artists, an annual book-sale, and several concerts a year.
Speaking at festivities in 1939 marking the fiftieth anniversary of the opening of the library, the Hon. Frederic C. Walcott related the following story illustrating the character of our founder:
Miss Isabella was accustomed to devote part of every morning when in town to watch the workings of the library and meet those who called.
One morning she took a broom and was sweeping the front porch of its fallen leaves when an elderly man of pompous mien, a stranger, called and asked if there was a portrait of the founder. “Yes,” said Miss Eldridge, and showed him inside where her portrait hung.
After admiring the portrait, he turned to leave, thanked Miss Bella and handed her a quarter with this farewell, “My good woman, you are serving a good cause and a noble woman.”
Miss Bella accepted the quarter and turned it in to the library fund.
This library exemplifies perfectly the character and wisdom of Isabella Eldridge. Liberal minded, with an unfaltering, independent spirit, she strove to encourage these priceless traits in others.
Today the library still tries to serve the town as its founder would wish. Its goal is to offer its patrons modern library services in a relaxed and pleasant atmosphere reminiscent of an earlier day.