Local government’s single most important task is educating the community’s children. Easton has provided tuition-free public schooling since it was incorporated in 1845. The original thirteen school districts gradually melded into one by the early 1930’s when the Samuel Staples Elementary School on Morehouse Road was built in 1931. The original, modest brick building was designed to hold grades one through eight, but like most elementary schools of the day, the floorplan included no library. In many area towns that wouldn’t have been such a tragedy, because many of those communities already hosted a public library that could supply school children with the books that teachers and students needed to supplement their usual classroom texts. But in 1931, Easton had no such facility.
Easton’s first town hall was approved for construction in May of 1937. Prior to that time there hadn’t seemed a pressing need for such a formal structure, after all, most of Easton’s elected officials were farmers and store proprietors who worked from their home or business. But when voters finally approved the $35,000 needed to build the two-story structure, some of the wiser townsfolk convinced the town fathers it was time for Easton to have its very own library, and luckily, Easton being the frugal New England town it had always been, built the new structure on the very same property that held their now six-year old school.
When the new town hall was completed in 1938, the new library took up approximately half of the building’s basement level; directly in front of the space that housed two holding cells for prisoners awaiting transport to the county jail in Bridgeport. Not ideal, but far better than no library at all. The original number of literary volumes housed there: a whopping 309.
Over the next thirty years, the town’s government continued to grow and so too did its need for more space in its town hall. The original courtroom that occupied a good deal of the upper floor was repurposed and divided into more office space, but the library, now burgeoning with nearly 9,000 volumes was bursting at the seams. So, in 1968, a two-story addition to house the library at the rear of the old building was approved and funded.
By January of 1969, the second floor of the new library wing was ready for occupancy and the contractor, while still finishing up work on the first floor, was ready to begin demolition of the existing library space before beginning renovations to repurpose that space to meet the needs of the other town agencies that would take it over. With little money in the budget, and other town employees out plowing the winter snows, there seemed not enough laborers available to begin the library’s move to its new space. That was until the ingenious town librarian, Sally Mueller, and her equally adept counterpart on the Library Board, Sally Merritt, came up with a novel idea: ask the students at Samuel Staples Elementary to do it!
On a cold day in January of 1969, the students from grades one through four bundled up and made the trek down the hill to the town hall. There, one by one they loaded up with books and hauled them up the stairs and into the new library wing at the rear of the building. Book by book, step by step, student by student, the move was made. By the end of the day, the books were dusted off and all in place, nestled neatly in their new bookshelves. The kids had a blast, “A Jolly Game” as town correspondent Catherine Merillat would call it in her article for the Bridgeport Post in early March of that year.
But that wasn’t the end of it. The final resting place for all those books was on the first floor of the new wing and that portion of the building was finally completed and ready for occupancy in early February. So, after nearly a week off from school as the result of the February 8 – 10th blizzard – since dubbed the “the one-hundred-hour storm” – the very same children returned and moved the books down to the first floor one day late in the month. A job well done by a group of six to ten-year old enthusiastic workers who no doubt gained a new and lasting appreciation for one of the greatest assets any town can claim – its public library!
Fifty years have passed since those books were first moved and then eventually moved again once a separate, dedicated building was built on the opposite side of the road, and while the Easton Public Library will always serve the entire community, it’s important to realize that it’s still the children of our community that benefit the most from such a worthy institution.