A Brief History (1911-1997)
William Gove Bixby (1829-1907), a lifelong resident of Vergennes, left most of his estate to build and maintain a public library that would serve the five towns of Addison, Ferrisburgh, Panton, Vergennes, and Waltham and be governed by a self-perpetuating board of trustees. Designed by Frederick Frost of Trowbridge and Livingstone and built by W. Shelton Swallow, both firms from New York, the cornerstone was laid on September 21, 1911. On August 1, 1912, the 3,530 volumes plus public documents, government reports, and unbound magazines of the City Library were transferred to the newly opened Bixby Library, and dedication ceremonies were held on October 1, 1912. At the dedication, President John M. Thomas of Middlebury College said:
The free public library is one of our great modern democratic institutions. It is supported by all for the uplift of all....This library should be a working tool for this community, entering into every part of its life, industrial, educational, civic, and religious.1
On November 4, 1912, Bixby Library was first opened for the circulation of books, and every day until November 12, students and their teachers from the elementary and secondary schools visited to sign up for library cards and check out books--a total of 239 students. In addition to providing materials for circulation and places for quiet reading or study, the library was a community center. During World War I, the basement rooms were used by the Red Cross and, thereafter, were available to local residents for rest and relaxation from 9:00 a.m.-9:00 p.m. daily. By the tenth anniversary celebration on October 5, 1922, an annual circulation exceeding 30,000 was reported, a figure that increased to 39,903 in 1931.
Constructed of yellow tapestry brick, with Indiana limestone columns and Vermont stone foundation, Bixby Memorial Free Library is designed in classic Greek Revival style around the central rotunda, with a stained glass dome overhead and four sets of three hollow steel columns covered with scagliola (to resemble marble) at the four corners of the rotunda on the first floor. Entering the building through heavy oak double doors, a patron stands under the rotunda, the large reading and reference room on the left, the children's room straight ahead, and the main desk, stacks, mezzanine, and Lois Noonan Vermont Room to the right. A marble staircase rises on both sides above the front entrance, leading to the second floor rooms and inner balcony. Accessed by three pairs of double doors in the reference room, the west-facing porch overlooks Otter Creek and the Adirondacks.
While contents of the two first floor display cases are changed monthly, permanent exhibits include the Bilhuber Indian artifacts, local arrowheads, and military artifacts from the American Revolution and Civil War. Nineteenth century portraits, including one of William Bixby, paintings by Vermont artists, etchings by Luigi Lucioni, local engravings and lithographs, and historic photographs are hung throughout the building. "The Young Trumpeter," sculpted by Margaret Foley, models of historic ships, and other works are found on the first floor. Two collections, one of cup plates and one of paper weights, are displayed to the left and right of the entrance to the reference room.