The following piece about the history of the Bridgewater Memorial Building at 25 South Street was written by Carlton D. Hunt, Ph.D. in 2021.
The Bridgewater Memorial building has significant historic importance. Its architectural and historic significance is described in the Massachusetts Historical Society (MACRIS file BRD.210 April 1983). A public library and Memorial Building were conceived circa 1878 as a fitting memorial to the 36 Bridgewater citizens who gave the ultimate sacrifice in the Civil War.
Why and how did the Memorial Building become the Bridgewater’s library?
The answers lie in the Town Meeting records from 1878 through 1882. In March 1879, articles pertaining to formation and housing of a public library were placed on the Town Meeting warrant. Article 14 was “To see if the Town will accept the library report” from a group of citizens and “form a library Board of Trustees” (TM 1879-03-10, Vol 8, Article 14 & 15, P120). Article 15 was “to see if the Town will provide room for the library in the Town House.” Article 16 asked “if the Town would appropriate money for the support of a library.” A fourth article (17) asked, “if the Town will grant the use of the Town House for entertainments for benefit of the public library.”
Town Meeting minutes of 1879-03-10 (Vol 8, P127) document the vote to accept the Preamble and Bylaws as prepared by the Public Library Committee, to accept the library and choose Trustees for the same, and “voted to proceed to ballot for trustees, three for three years, three for two years, and three for one year.”
A subsequent vote gave full power to a committee made up of the Selectmen, the school committee, and three Library Trustees to provide a room for the Library. An initial appropriation of $300 was approved for the committee/library use.
The Town Meeting then voted to continue deliberations on March 15 (TM 1879-03-15, Vol 8, P129). During this continued Town Meeting several actions were taken regarding the votes of March 10th.
Considerable anxiety over the library must have developed during the five-day interlude. Witness the first vote recorded after reconvening Town Meeting rescinded acceptance of the Library Preamble and Bylaws previously passed. The second vote was for reconsideration of the vote to accept the library. The concerns raised are not articulated in the minutes, but the motion put forth by Rev. T.F. Wright and voted in the affirmative informs history as to the likely issues.
The motion and vote essentially postponed acceptance of the library until such time the Trustees “… present suitable by-laws for the regulation and government of the Library …” and directed approval by a legal Town Meeting within one year of the March 15, 1879 meeting. Reading between the lines it appears the citizens did not like the way the Library was brought about and wanted to ensure its operation had defined rules.
Rev. Wright further motioned during the March 15, 1879, Town Meeting the “Town grant free use of the Town House for past and future entertainments in behalf of the public library.” Acceptance of this motion essentially made usage of the library free to citizens. Note the Town House refers to the building known today as the “old” Town Hall.
A vote was also taken to modify “hold office” to hold office for “three years” thereby establishing the alternating three-year terms (TM 1879-03-15, Vol 8, P130) currently practiced for electing the nine Bridgewater Library Trustees.
The March 1880 Town Meeting record includes the by-laws (TM Vol 8, 1880-03-08, P133-137) developed after the March 15, 1879 Town Meeting vote. Thus completing the formation of the public library. The March 1881 Town Meeting warrant included an article to see “what action the Town would take in relation to building a Library Hall and raise any money therefore (“By request”).
This meeting passed a resolution “to proceed at once to construct a building for the purpose of commemorating our citizens in times of national peril and providing a suitable hall for the library and for such objects of history or scientific interest as may come into possession of the Town” (TM Vol. 8,1881-03-08, P181). Town Meeting then accepted a motion of Rev. T. F. Wright to form a committee of five with “instructions to obtain plans, estimates, subscriptions, and all necessary information and report to a future Town Meeting.”
Approximately one month later (TM Vol 8, 1881-04-04, P189), Town Meeting voted “to accept the Memorial Building Report presented by Rev. Wright; to thank the Hon. Artimas Hale for the generous gift of $2,000 to support the purpose; to thank Mr. C. E. Gilbert of Boston for his offer of a gift of a building lot; to purchase the Sanger lot on South Street for $2,000; to adopt the plans submitted by the committee for the building; and to raise $1,500 for this purpose.”
Twelve days later, a Town Meeting warrant included articles related to the purchase of the Sanger lot and location of the Memorial building thereon. Article 2 of the warrant was to rescind the vote to purchase the Sanger property; other articles included acceptance of land proposed as a gift from Caleb E. Gilbert and subsequent actions (TM Vol 8, 1881-04-16, P193). The Article to rescind the previous vote to purchase was motioned by Charles Robbins. The minutes record considerable discussion ensued, and a vote taken. The motion failed: 68 yeas, 91 nays. The meeting immediately adjourned thereby establishing the location of the Memorial Library.
Construction of the library building proceeded quickly as attested in the August 1881 Town
Meeting record (TM Vol 8, 1881-08-31, P201). This record conveys the laying of a cornerstone as 7x4x1 inch copper box in the walls of the foundation on August 31, 1881. The record further records the box manufactured by Fairbanks was deposited in the foundation on the easterly corner of the structure, laid in cement back of the granite, and covered with a stone. The record further chronicles who was present at the cornerstone laying and the contents of the box.
The final note reviewed for this history was the March 1882 Town Meeting vote to fund various Town functions including the Public library (TM Vol 8, 1882-03-06, P218).
© CDHunt, September 10, 2021