History of the Stockbridge Library
One of the earliest libraries in western Massachusetts was founded in Stockbridge. In July 1789, twenty-five residents signed a charter forming the Berkshire Republican Library. A number of important figures in the town’s history were original founders, among them, Theodore Sedgwick, Timothy Edwards, the Reverend Stephen West of the Congregational Church, and Erastus Sergeant, son of the missionary and the first physician in town.
A juvenile library was founded in 1826 and contained about 160 volumes. A library in Curtisville, now Interlaken, had been established in 1814, giving Stockbridge three libraries in the early part of the 1800s.
From 1822 until 1861, little is known of the history of the libraries or the disposition of the books. In 1861, Nathan Jackson, a Tyringham native who was educated at the Stockbridge Academy, offered $2,000 toward a library, provided the additional sum of $2,000 could be raised by the town. Despite the Civil War, Stockbridge citizens responded by contributing another $2,500, and four hundred people gave books. The Stockbridge Library Association was formed in 1862 to accept the gifts.
Mrs. Dwight gave the site – a corner lot at Elm and Main streets – and J. Z. Goodrich erected the stone building at his own expense. In July 1864, a year after Jackson’s death, the library opened with three thousand volumes on its shelves. It was one of five libraries built during the Civil War. According to bookplates of the era, the library seems to have been known as the Stockbridge Social Library or the Jackson Library. One-half of the original gift was invested as a permanent fund for the purchase of books.
An upper room in the library was originally for the use of the Congregational Church: but in 1902 the town appropriated $4,200 for alterations, and the present gallery replaced the upper room.
In 1937, Mary V. Bement gave funds for an addition to the library as a memorial to her parents. Her great-grandfather, Asa Bement, whose portrait hangs over the fireplace in the Bement Room, had been an early resident of Stockbridge and one of the founders of the Berkshire Republican Library. The new Bement wing was designed to match the original Jackson Library. The library building fund, part of which was a $10,000 bequest from Joseph Choate and part from Ellen King’s estate, was used for the lobby connecting the two wings. An open house was held in February 1938 for the formal opening of the new library, which was designed with a special area to hold its historical collection.
Since then, the library itself has undergone many changes to keep pace with the town’s needs. Since its founding, the efforts and achievements of its many benefactors, board members, and directors have been responsible for the positive progress of the library.