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Since 1892 the Westerly Library and Wilcox Park have been a resource - and a refuge - in the heart of downtown. As the organization celebrates its 125th anniversary this year, Jim Hummel looks at the special partnership the library and park, both privately held but open to the community, have with the community.
Click here for more information about the Westeryl Library and Wicox Park.
On one of the prettiest afternoons of the summer, more than a dozen children gather under a sprawling magnolia tree for a program called Art in the Park.
The setting: Wilcox Park in the heart of downtown Westerly, a 15-acre oasis that is hosting this, and dozens of other programs and community events over the course of the summer.
At the southern edge of the park is Westerly Library, founded - in 1892. Together, the library and the park have been a focal point - and a resource - for Westerly and surrounding communities for more than a century.
26:21 I was in awe, I got lost…
The library’s executive director - Brigitte Hopkins - had the same reaction many do when she first visited several years ago for a job interview: a sense of amazement.
25:45 I feel that way every day I come in from the parking lot, I have to walk through the park and I always kind of stop. Half the time I take a picture. I have the same picture.
What many don’t know is the library and park are privately held: only 25 percent of the operating budget comes from the town of Westerly and neighboring Stonington, Connecticut. The rest: from an endowment, grants and donations.
27:42 Most libraries are municipal libraries, some have private portions to them, so they maybe have associations attached. But they’re not completely private, we’re fairly unique in Rhode Island :57
33:51 You know you think library and a park, they’re so different but they’re not really. They’re intellectual spaces, they’re spaces where people can think and get ideas and learn, learn about nature, learn about themselves: 34:06
It began in the late 1800s when Stephen Wilcox, a local business owner and inventor, stepped in after the town had unsuccessfully been trying to erect a Civil War monument.
30:17 What Stephen Wilcox did was call a public meeting and said I have purchased property and I will also provide monies toward a Civil War memorial and public library only to be matched by the citizens of the community. And they raised the money in record time: 17
That community support was a precursor of what was to come over the next 125 years. What you see today - in the library and throughout the park - is the result of that generosity. The main building has undergone a series of additions and renovations that create unique spaces inside - from reading areas and a computer room, to an art gallery with rotating exhibits upstairs, and a teen room that was formerly a book storage area - plus a third-floor terrace room with an outside deck.