Bennington Free Library History

The Bennington Free Library was established in 1865 by Trenor W. Park and Seth B. Hunt, on the corner of Main and Silver Streets in Bennington. Originally no more than a room on the second floor “fitted up as a library” the library was run by the Young Men’s Association, established in 1865.

Membership in the association was open to all for the sum of one dollar and entitled its members to borrow one book at a time for a two-week period. The library shared the top floor with a reading room and a lecture hall, while the first floor, used for offices and commercial space, provided income for the library. In 1897 the Town of Bennington voted to appropriate funds in support of the library, at which time library materials were made available free of charge.

In the Fall of 1892, the location being judged too small and dimly lighted, library operations were moved downstairs and expanded to three rooms, including a library proper and two smaller rooms. The new location took advantage of the ambient light, and featured three large windows, including a large bay window to the East, now in the Vermont History Room. On overcast days, 23 electric lights furnished sufficient light for patrons to use the collections.

Over time the Bennington Community outgrew its small library and in 1936 a new library was constructed adjacent to the original. Given in memory of Trenor W. Park by his son, Trenor L. Park, the new library was built on the Park family homestead. The architect for the new library was Herbert Turner, a descendant of the original donor, Trenor Park. The architect, anxious to produce a building that would inspire, chose significant architectural details reproduced from buildings in Bennington or surrounding communities. The bricks were made from clay taken from the same beds used for the old Seminary in Bennington, and were laid in a deliberately irregular manner. The lantern is a precise reproduction from the Old Bennington Court House, and the windows were copied from the Palladian windows of the Hawkins House in Shaftsbury and the Robinson House in Old Bennington. When completed, the architect was satisfied that the building appeared to have been built in a much earlier era, and those of us lacking a background in architectural design could easily be fooled into believing the library was built in the mid-nineteenth century.

As the number of library patrons grew, the library was expanded and renovated to provide much needed space in the late 1980s. A bridge between the nineteenth and twentieth century buildings was constructed, and the original library building was returned from use as a commercial property to the use for which it was intended. The renovation provided space for a Children’s library, a central entrance and circulation area, handicapped access to the building, as well as public meeting rooms. The current library attracts over 1,500 patron visits each week, and houses over 65,000 books, periodicals, and research materials in a variety of formats. In addition to its growing reference and circulating collections, the library has copies of the Bennington Banner dating back to 1903 on microfilm, a large collection of movies, word processing and public access Internet stations. Patrons interested in learning to conduct research on the Internet or create an email account are encouraged to sign up for a half hour of instruction, free of charge. In 1996 the Hemmings Motor News Vermont History Room was dedicated, its collections comprised of research materials relating to the history of Bennington and the state of Vermont.