Young Marty Looney remembers being so absorbed in biographies of Babe Ruth, George Washington, Andrew Jackson, and Lou Gehrig that he forgot the time and his mother had to come and haul him home to Wolcott Street for dinner.
David Caron remembers doing a school paper, oh, about 60 years ago on Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo
Sarah Miller and Eliezer Cruz’s 6-year-old son Pablo is making his own discoveries, especially among the science books.
Those older and newly-forged memories emerged Saturday morning as two dozen lovers and users of the Fair Haven Branch library braved the snow to help celebrate the branch’s 100th anniversary.
The branch was officially dedicated in its current location on Dec. 7, 1917, one of libraries created through the initiative of Scottish philanthropist Andrew Carnegie.
City Librarian Martha Brogan caught birthday celebrants up on the history: 2,600 public libraries funded by Carnegie between 1881 and 1919, with 1700 in the United states, 11 in Connecticut, and three in New Haven, with Fair Haven being the only Carnegie library extant in town.
Carnegie gave $60,000 to New Haven, with $20,000 for branches in Fair Haven, the Dixwell area, and the Hill. Fair Haven’s was the first erected and dedicated by Mayor Samuel Campner.
Looney, who today is the president of the Connecticut State Senate, recalled that Campner was New Haven’s first and so far only Jewish mayor. In 1917 the Fair Haven location was likely chosen because the area had already long been a magnet for immigrants and first-generation Americans in need of precisely the services a library offers: newspapers, periodicals, books, and public ilnformation.
The Carnegie gifts required city buy-in, which was $8,000, making the building of the branch cost a total of $28,000. When Brogan asked rhetorically what that amounts to in today’s money, without hesitation Looney suggested half a million.
That’s why you’re a state senator, Brogan riposted.
NHFPL Foundation Board member and longtime library booster Michael Morand delivered a mini-sermon, pointing out that the the branch shares this day of its birth with John Milton, the great English poet whose Aereopagitica is one of the most impassioned defenses of freedom of expression.
“It’s important today [on the branch’s birthday], when free speech and information and with net neutrality under threat,” to recall the significance of public libraries, he said.
Music Haven’s talented teenage chamber players — Sofia Galvan, Isabel Melchinger, Noel Mitchell, and Justin Zlabys — performed happy birthday to the branch with a medley of seasonal tunes and a rousing shortened version of Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 3.
With one of the smallest square footage areas to serve in the system, the branch tallied 53,382 user visits and circulated about 30,000 items, and offered 47 programs drawing 3,600 attendees, according to the library’s 2016-2017 stats.
What are the chances that the historic Carnegie facade might be restored as part of a larger branch expansion and renovation?
That’s included in a ten-year-capital facilities plan that Brogan’s department has submitted to the Board of Alders. She was careful not to raise expectations about that happening in the very near future. “I hope some day we’ll be able to restore it,” she said.
Of much greater certainty is the planting of fruit tree in the upcoming early spring, said Branch Librarian Kirk Morrison. There’s been so much interest in the community garden planted adjacent to the library that beds have expanded. The New Haven Land Trust, which manages the garden, has committed to adding the tree.
Morrison was clear about the future tree: It’s going to be a pear.
Cake was served and wishes made all around echoing Looney’s toast: “Lets all look forward to the next one hundred years for a place that stimulates children and offers comfort for adults.”