The Rowayton Library: A Renovation Fairy Tale

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By Cynthia F. Johnson, Rowayton Library Director, originally appeared in the June 2008 edition of Connecticut Libraries.

Once upon a time, there was a little library. . . Well, actually, the time was 1903 when a group of public-spirited citizens organized a little library and housed it in a room in Craw’s Hall at 101 Rowayton Avenue. This little library opened with just $154, a three month loan of 100 books from the state - to be faithfully exchanged monthly after that - and 25 books from the Bodley Book Club.

It didn’t take long to realize that this was a working proposition, so in 1905, the Association of the Free Library & Reading Room of Rowayton was officially incorporated. This little library remained at Craw’s Hall until 1926 when the Reliance Hook and Ladder Company in Rowayton moved to a new building, and the little library could move into the first floor of the old firehouse at 145 Rowayton Avenue.

Forty years came and went, and the little library was bursting at the seams. That brings our story to The Barn. Yes, the little library moved into the barn of the old Farrell estate on Highland Avenue. It was 1966, and Sperry Rand had been using The Barn as the place to secretly develop the first business computer – Univac - technology on the move. Then, Rand moved out and the little library moved in.

Forty more years came and went, and the little library was again bursting at the seams. Of course, part of the charm of The Barn is the fact that it is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. It is a beautiful Tudor-style building originally constructed in 1912 to house the Farrell family’s carriages and stables. Therefore, residing in a Historic Place, the little library couldn’t expand its space, and it didn’t want to move again - so its board of trustees decided to renovate.

The little library huffed and it puffed, it economized, utilized, and yes, maximized its space! And today, the little library, the Rowayton Library is an inviting recreational and educational resource for its little seaside community. The end.

Well, actually, this isn’t really the end. It is hard to compare a construction project of any size to a fairy tale, but when you put together a committed board of trustees, a dedicated staff, a visionary architectural firm, an experienced general contractor, state and local government grants, and, most important, community financial and moral support, there can be no happier ending than the new Rowayton Library.

Post Script: The renovation lasted six months and passed quickly. We were temporarily located (another move!) into space on the same property (thank you 6th Taxing District,) and two-thirds of our collection was placed in storage. We renovated, we moved back, and we opened - and we hardly skipped a beat. Our patrons could find us; we met their needs with the help of interlibrary loans from reQuest; we provided reference through iCONN; we presented programs through staffing with the Weed & Seed program from the Norwalk Mayor’s Office and with the use of the 6th Taxing District’s Community Center. It took patience, trust, and hope on the part of the staff and the community, and we are all rewarded, day-by-day - with new lighting, new carpeting, new walls, new shelving, the look and feel of fine wood furnishings, the appreciation of the stone and mortar, the rejuvenation of our prized artwork, and a children’s room that adapts to their needs. This little library is now shiny and new, grounded in our culture and traditions and outfitted with the technology of this new century, standing ever ready to serve this little seaside community.