Durham’s library was founded as the Durham Book Company in 1733, and was housed in various homes in the community.Members paid a yearly subscription to borrow mostly theological, agricultural and travel volumes. It was the second oldest lending library, established one year after Benjamin Franklin’s Philadelphia Book Club created in 1732. However it is the oldest in New England. Even though they were not free libraries, as is the modern public library, they were the first libraries established to lend books, as opposed to private ownership. The library was dissolved in the 1830’s, largely due to the widespread availability of newspapers and magazines. The books were sold at auction; however 39 of the Book Company’s original volumes found their way back to the library and are part of our local history collection.
In 1894 the present library was established by town vote and was at first housed in the Town Hall. A building fund was started in 1899. Mrs. Charles G. Rockwood donated a plot of land “provided that a building costing not less than $3,000 be built.” The “old library” was dedicated on that land in 1902, one of only four libraries in the state erected by the efforts of towns’ people. Amazingly that 1,800 sq-foot building served the town from 1902 until 1985, while the population grew from 900 in 1900 to over 5,000 in 1980. In response to the need for expanded space and service, a “Library Needs Study Committee” was created in 1978. Once again the town’s people responded to the need for an addition to their library and a 5,000 sq-foot addition was opened in 1985. From an original collection of 2,450 books in 1902, the old building’s collection grew to 21,500 in 1983.
Almost from the start of the beautifully expanded library, there was a sense that a larger library would be needed for a community whose population was rapidly growing. This time the wait would not be 83 years, but only 12. For the second time, the people of Durham supported a major expansion: 7,600 sq-feet, which opened in 1997.
1733 Durham Book Company created
1902 Durham Public Library opened
1985 First expansion
1997 Second expansion