History of Your Library

photo of the original Stevens Memorial Library on Main Street

Back to The Past

Ashburnham’s first library was established in 1793 through the sale of shares at two dollars apiece. This library managed to be self-supporting through the contributions of its members (and aided by share sales, financial and material donations, and book sales) until 1833, when it was disbanded. Its contents were distributed among its members. In 1850, “the [private] Ladies’ Library Association was organized and a collection of books of approved character was continued by renewals until 1884” (Stearns 534).

Ashburnham Town Meeting had established a public library in 1882, which was first housed in the post office and then moved to the Selectmen’s office. This library had extremely limited hours (Saturdays only) so as not to disrupt the Selectmen’s work. When the Ladies’ Library Association ended its work, remaining volumes in its collection were donated to the town, which spurred the town to appropriate $350 for new books. The town continued to support the library for several years, and when former Town Clerk George Stevens passed away in 1887, the town embraced his request that a public library be built on the corner of Main and Water Streets. Furthermore, Mr. Stevens’ estate donated $10,000 to provide for the library’s construction and furnishings, and the grateful town decided to name the library after its generous benefactor. Moving quickly, the town was able to open the doors of the Stevens Memorial Library to the public on January 9, 1891.

Ashburnham immediately embraced its library, providing limited but regular financial support, and the library’s number of users increased each year. Before long, a deposit collection was placed in South Ashburnham better to serve residents in that part of town. Gifts of money, books, and magazines were regularly bestowed upon the beloved library, and the Trustees scrambled to keep the building in good condition, purchase additional shelving at regular intervals, and meet the needs of a diverse town. Due to its location, the library was able to build strong relationships with the local schools, which were at that time within walking distance. Classes visited the library regularly, and older students spent their evenings studying at the library. In the 1940s, a “picture book corner” was developed to meet the increased demand by preschoolers and their families.

Over the years, the library has always emphasized finding innovative ways of engaging the community. In 1952, upon recognizing a dearth of recreational opportunities within Ashburnham for its youth, the library placed a game table in the children’s area. In 1959, the Stevens Memorial Library first joined a regional system to expand materials access. It began circulating films in 1963 (thanks to its relationship with the Fitchburg Public Library), and began circulating record albums in 1968. The first computer was purchased for staff use in 1987, and a public use computer was introduced five years later.

It is this legacy of service that continues to drive the Stevens Memorial Library today. Its focus remains on seeking new and more effective ways of serving its community. As it has since its beginning, the library looks to collections, programming, and other supplementary services to creatively fill any need it can for the town of Ashburnham. As the Board of Library Trustees noted in their 1913 annual report, “The public library of a town ought to be the centre [sic] of influence for the people and trustees will endeavor, as far as money permits, to make the Ashburnham library a means for benefiting and uplifting the community.” This remains the mission that drives the library and will continue to do so for another several centuries.

[1] Stearns, Ezra S. History of Ashburnham, Massachusetts, from the grant of Dorchester Canada to the present time, 1734-1886 : with a genealogical register of Ashburnham families. Ashburnham, MA : Published by the Town, 1887.

[1] Holden, Raymond P., and Barbara B. Holden. Ashburnham, Massachusetts, 1885-1965. Gardner, MA : Hatton Printing, 1970.