In the 1970s, I was asked by the Milton Century Club to do a presentation about the Milton Library. I used, as a basis for my report, an article written by the late Mrs. John B. (Agnes) Hazzard entitled History of the Milton Library. This history was found in her possession at the time of her death and then later given to the Milton Historical Society. Mrs. Polly Stuchlik, librarian administrator at the time, furnished much information in the form of various records and papers pertaining to the library. Also, interviews with Mr. William (Bill) Welch and Miss Sara Atkins (both deceased now) provided bits and pieces about the early days.
Using the above resources again, I found that the Milton Library had its early beginnings in January 1875, when the Milton Library Association was organized; and in 1883, when it was incorporated. Officers were: President, John Cord Hazzard (also surveyed the town); Vice President, Noah W. Megee; Secretary, John Ponder; Treasurer, Dr. James A. Hopkins; Librarian, Louis B. Chandler; and Assistant Librarian, John B. Welch (Bill Welchs grandfather). There was just one bookcase filled with about two hundred books. The bookcase had glass doors on three-quarters of it and wooden doors on the remaining fourth. It was placed in Welchs Drug Store in the corner by the chimney and the first Milton Library was in business.
In December 1913, the library became part of the Milton New Century Club and was located in the J.O.A.M. building (Junior Order of American Mechanics) at a site which is today an open space next to the Sussex Tavern. Miss Agnes Lacy (Mrs. John Hazard) was librarian. Books were donated by the members and a membership fee of $1.00 per year was charged.
The library then moved from the J.O.A.M. building to the second floor of the Palmer building, known as the Shockley and Reed Building and more recently where Ricks Fitness and Health, Inc is located. The library was located on the southern-most end with entrance gained by means of interior steps. Below the library was the old Milton Post Office.
In 1920, again the library moved- this time to the Odd Fellows building on the corner of Atlantic and Chestnut streets. Librarians during this era were Mrs. Frank Lacy, Mrs. John B. Hazzard and Miss Sarah Atkins. Miss Sarah told me that at this time, the library and the Century Club worked together very closely and that the Century Club members were usually the members of the library commission as well as the librarians. The women met once a week in the library, helped out with the bills, and made floats for various parades with the theme usually being the library. Miss Sarah said during this time that many of the books were culled and sent to the Seamans Library in Philadelphia (at the suggestion of Richard Draper). She mentioned that she had to build a coal fire whenever the library was open, which was twice a week, and that she always stopped at Mrs. Lottie Wagamons (Bill Wagamons mother) to get newspapers and start a fire.
The original bookcase had traveled from Welchs Drug Store to the other library locations but ended its days at the Odd Fellows Building. According to Mr. Bill Welch, a car ran into the library and damaged some of the shelves-one of which was the old bookcase.
Later papers, written by Mrs. John Fisher, revealed that since the Century Club had become inactive for a while, the Milton District Library Commission had asked the Milton Lions Club for support; and they, along with the town and state, very generously did so. The Century Club in later years worked closely with the library, and does to this day.
About 1946, the library was open Wednesday evenings from 7:00 p.m. until 9:00 p.m. and Saturdays 2:00 p.m. until 4:00 p.m. The cost of a card (good for three years) was ten cents with the fines being five cents a week for books kept over two weeks. Mr. Joe Jefferson became head of the Library and was followed by Mrs. Polly Stuchlik. It is interesting to note that since its inception, all the services and work done there was on a volunteer basis. When new shelves were needed, the shop class at Milton School built them. When the school districts combined, and the new Cape Henlopen District emerged, the library then paid its own rent; and the work was no longer volunteer- the money being provided by library taxes. The budget was about $7,100 and this paid salaries, postage, telephone, books purchased, etc. Books were selected by Mrs. Stuchlik with requests being honored. Also, it was possible to get books from the State Library.
A new library was desperately needed and the original proposed site was on Mulberry Street, next to the Mary Marvel property. Because of engineering problems, this site was not feasible and another one was chosen. Federal Revenue sharing funds were acquired from the County Council and the present location on Union Street was bought. After extensive and imaginative renovations were completed, the dedication of the new Milton Library was held on July 22, 1980. The County now managed the library. The hours were greatly increased and the space tripled.
Mrs. Ruth Marvel became the first Director of the new library. On October 20,1987, the Governors Room on the second floor, named in honor of the five governors from Milton, was dedicated and more space, apart from the library proper, was available for meetings, programs and other activities. Mrs. Marvel, after nine years of service, retired on July 31, 1989, and Mary Catherine Hopkins became Director on August 1, 1989.
The dedication of the second upstairs room was held on September 15, 1990. The Conwell Room, as it was named, occupies the space that at one time was the office area of the late William W. Conwell, who built the imposing structure in 1912-1913. It and the Governors Room are now in full use for the public.
As 1991 rolled around, the library again underwent renovations and presented to the public its newly-painted and newly-carpeted first floor complete with a Toddler Room addition.
Disaster struck during 1993. On Monday, May 17, 1993, the library building was closed due to damage from the Union Street bridge replacement. During the remainder of the bridge replacement, and until the library building was repaired, library services were provided in the Milton Civic Center Building next door. The Milton Public Library Building was reopened with a Grand Opening on Friday, September 16, 1994. Since then, library services and patron usage has increased tremendously.
The Milton Library has come a long way since 1875. At that time, there were only 200 books available, and its only function was to lend books. Now, fiscal year 1999 data shows the library to have a circulation of more than 47,000 from a base collection of more than 24,000 library materials. Its functions are many and varied. HOLLINET, an integrated automated library system, since June1997, has provided a county-wide access to materials in all libraries as well as allowing access to a number of on-line databases for meeting information needs. Programs for adults as well as children are presented. Space is provided for tutoring and meetings. Copies and laminating are provided for a small fee. Computers are available for patron use. Also, orientation programs and library tours are planned and presented for the younger school age children.
As you can see, the Milton Library is indeed a busy place, and we are indeed fortunate to have the support and help of the Friends of the Milton Public Library, the Milton Lions Club, the Milton Century Club, RSVP Volunteers, and many concerned individuals who live in the community.
By Jeanne M. Sposato
Former Library Staff Member
Updated January 2000
Mary Catherine Hopkins
Milton Library Director