History of the Tiverton Libraries

The following history is taken, with minor emendations, from A Patchwork History of Tiverton, R.I.: 1976. Bicentennial Edition. Tiverton, R.I.: Tiverton Historical Society.

Click on the tabs below to learn about the history of the Tiverton Public Libraries.

The new 24,000 square foot Tiverton Public Library includes a community meeting hall, cafe, children’s library, teen room and exterior public courtyard spaces. The library is located within close proximity to the Town’s middle and high schools, and it is designed as the primary meeting place and neighborhood focal point for this growing community of 17,000 people. It is designed to meet the sustainability criteria for LEED for New Construction. To read about the building more, click here.

The Union Public Library was founded in 1820 and is the second oldest library in Newport County. Originally called the Union Society, its subscription membership was open only to men, but within two years membership became available to women.  In 1888, it became known as the Union Public Library and in 1896 it moved to the current location at 3823 Main Road in the Historic Tiverton Four Corners District.  It became affiliated with the Essex Library in 1965.
Union Library is open on Tuesdays from 10 AM until 5 PM, and Saturdays from 10 AM until 4 PM.  It is staffed by a Tiverton Library Services librarian and a Union Library volunteer.  There are computers for public use and free access to wi-fi.  There is also a small room dedicated to local history and stocked with historical reference materials.
The library facility is maintained by The Union Public Library Association and all needed repairs and maintenance is funded by the association’s annual book sale held in August.  New association members are always welcome as are new volunteer library assistants. Click here to read more.

Read an article, Rhode Island’s Newest Library by Elizabeth Gallup Myer, on the building of the Essex Library.

Over seventy years ago, on a rainy Monday in May, the cornerstone of the Lydia Smith Baker Essex Public Library was set in place (currently the Essex Public Library). Newspaper stories of the time tell us that, among other things, the stone contained picture accounts of a disaster still fresh in the minds of the citizens of seafaring Tiverton – the hurricane of 1938. The weather was to play still another part in the erection of the building. The chairman of the board of trustees, Mr. George Delano, stated at the laying of the stone that construction should be completed in four months; the formal dedication did not take place for more than a year due to adverse weather conditions.

Today a visitor to the library, situated on Highland Road in the Stone Bridge section of Tiverton, can observe the famous Tiverton sunsets reflecting off the fieldstones of its walls, the same Tiverton fieldstone that the donor of the library, Miss Lydia B. Essex, admired so much that she expressly stipulated its use in the construction of her legacy. Miss Essex, a former schoolteacher, had been a long-time summer resident of the town. Upon her death, she left to the town of Tiverton a two –acre plot of land and approximately forty-two thousand dollars to be used for the construction and maintenance of a free public library in memory of her mother, Lydia Smith Baker Essex.

The gift was accepted at a Town meeting in 1937. Construction began in October 1938 and the cornerstone laid in May 1939. The library was governed by a board of five trustees which were appointed by the Town Council for a period of three years.

The heart of any library historically, no matter how fine its construction, is its collection of books. Miss Essex did not forget this and income from her bequest was used in the purchase of books. The foundation of the past collection also came from Whitridge Hall Library on Lawton Avenue which gave its books to the library. According to the Fall River Herald News of June 19, 1940, there were “books to suit all walks of life and covering a wide variety of interests; books that are out of print and others autographed by famous people and, last but not least, a very fine collection of reading material for children and young people”.

Some of the other long-term librarians included directors Margaret (Waring) Anthony; Mrs. Lilias (Sheffield) Leonard; and Mrs. Elizabeth (Davis) Reed.

North Tiverton Public Library

In 1881 sixteen men conceived the idea of providing their community with a place for entertainment and secular instruction. They took the title of the Garfield Hall Library and Reading Room Association. Two of their members, as trustees, took deeds of a site (located at the southwest corner of Canonicus St. and Main Rd.) and in December, a free hall was finished, with a seating capacity of two hundred and fifty. It was formally opened on Christmas Eve.

On April 4, 1927, the North Tiverton Public Library was founded when the General Assembly granted a charter to this nonprofit organization. Dr. James F. Lima, widely admired and loved by many, and Louis M. Wager, superintendent of schools in Tiverton for many years, were members of the original board of trustees. These men and others like them believed that there was a need for a library at the north end of Tiverton.

The library was first located at the rear of a store at the corner of Hilton St. and Main Rd. It soon outgrew these cramped quarters and in 1930 moved to 155 Main Rd., then to the Pocasset School where it operated until July, 1967, finally moving to 241 Hilton St. It remained there until it was destroyed by fire in 1974. Books for the library that survived the fire were transferred to Essex.

It is interesting to note, that in order to operate the library in the early days, a house-to-house campaign was conducted and the members of the board of trustees were assessed dues to help pay for rent, fuel, and lighting. The library was staffed by volunteer workers under the direction of Mrs. James P. Lima. Miss Katherine Ryder served as librarian throughout its long 44-year history.


Rev. Charles Gordelier Library

The Reverend Charles Gordelier Library, named for its founder, was for the residents of the East Tiverton area. It was situated in the Congregational Chapel on Crandall Road which later became the Crandall Road Central Society Hall. The library and Crandall Road Central Society no longer exist.


Whitridge Hall Public Library

The Whitridge Hall Public Library was housed in Whitridge Hall on Lawton Avenue. The public library was founded between 1965-1980. It was in existence till the Essex Library was built in 1938. “The foundation of the present collection came from the Whitridge Hall Library which gave its books to the new library.” Mary Stimson was a librarian for more then 50 years at Whitridge Hall. Whitridge hall is currently apartments.