Ellen Larned in her History of Windham County describes the social life of Windham during the eighteenth century as “exceedingly hilarious and enjoyable… Good cheer abounded… Merry-makings of every description were frequent. The residents of Windham Green were especially noted for love of fun and frolic, bantering and jesting.” The Windham Free Library is thrilled to be able to continue this time-honored tradition with its annual Jazz in the Garden.
The Windham Free Library had its beginnings in 1896, organized by a small number of citizens as a non-profit association library. The library is housed in a historical building, which was built in 1832 as a bank. In 1879 the Windham Bank moved its operations to Willimantic leaving the building here in Windham Center vacant. When Windham celebrated its Bi-centennial in 1892, the building, still vacant, was converted into a museum for the occasion.
The New York Sunday Tribune, June 11, 1892 described the displays of antique portraits, books, newspapers, samplers, china, silver, clothing, as “never equaled by a similar private exhibition in the history of Connecticut.” It reported that the two rooms of the old bank were lined with antique articles all of which belonged to residents of the town and were invaluable. The account of the bicentennial gives a complete and tantalizing list of that exhibition. Copies of Windham’s Bi-Centennial and a few pieces remain with the Library today for public viewing and appreciation along with many other accounts of local history.
Among the collection of historical artifacts within the Library itself, is the much acclaimed “Bacchus”. Described as the “jolly rotund Bacchus” by town folks of that time, it is purported to have once hung in a tree outside the Staniford Tavern, which was also located adjacent to the Green in the early 1800’s, used as a tavern sign to encourage weary travelers to stop in for rest, socialization and libation. Folklore has it that Prisoners of War carved it as a parting gift for the widowed tavern keeper. Although in restored condition, the carving warrants preservation.
The Library owns another treasure unique to Windham, the Dr. Hunt Office, sometimes referred to by residents and visitors as the “little gem”. This is the tiny gambrel roof building that is now next to the Library. Built around 1790, and originally located near 17 Windham Green, it is believed to have first been used by Shubel Abbe, Sheriff of Windham, and then Dr. Chester Hunt used it an office for his medical practice. In 1948 the building was moved to North Road, placed between the Potter and Lathrop homes, and in 1986 moved once again to it’s present location.
In 2014 the Dr. Hunt office was repaired with a new cedar shake roof funded by the Windham Taxing District. Then in 2015 the interior was preserved with an HVAC system and Plexiglas to protect the stencils. This was funded by a generous grant from the Jeffrey P. Ossen Family Foundation. More recently in 2017 the Windham Taxing District funded a replacement of the 40 year old rusting metal roof on the library building, with a new metal roof in keeping with the historic nature of the building.
Hopefully this brief history of Windham and the library give the reader a sense of pride and commitment on the part of this community to continue the traditions of the Windham Free Library and to continue to serve as purveyors of the history of Windham in the 21st Century.
It is through the generous commitment of the time and talents of the planning committee for Jazz in the Garden, the dedication of Dr’s Andrew and Barbara Gibson to the library and the community, the local artisans, library patrons and contributors such as yourself, that the Windham Free Library is able to look to the future and be able to provide the community with up-to-date services while conserving it’s valued history.
The Board of Directors and staff of the Windham Free Library are sincerely appreciative of your support.