New Hampton History: For the Love of Libraries

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Please enjoy the following article presented by Gordon-Nash Library Director Jerrica Blackey P’19. This article in the history series discusses the pursuit of establishing two local libraries by New Hampton School alumni.

At the turn of the 19th century, a library was considered an essential meeting place to access and discuss literature. For the town of New Hampton, luck would have it that Stephen G. Nash spent his youth in town and attended the New Hampton School, or what was then known as the Academical and Theological Institution at New Hampton, graduating in 1838. Attending the Institution also meant students were either among the societies of the Literary Adelphi, the Social Fraternity, or the Germanae, where each held their own small libraries. Judge Nash dreamed of a town library where both the student and the local patron could peruse its stacks together. He set forth to name a corporation of friends to run what would become the Gordon-Nash Library named for his parents and funded through his estate upon his death.

 

The Start of a New Library

While only his wife knew the full extent of his gift, the $50,000+ given to build and open the library was in the end an incredible gift. According to the History of the Gordon-Nash Library “In the 1880’s only seventy-six public libraries in the U. S. boasted more than three hundred books each and in 1887 (one year before the lot for Gordon-Nash Library was purchased) the first professional library training was started in New York City. When the library opened in 1896 (June 25) it housed approximately 6,000 of Judge Nash’s books and bound magazines, 4,000 books belonging to the literary societies of New Hampton Literary Institution and some 200 books belonging to the Biblical Institution, some 10,200 books” (Matthews 23).

A Neighboring Library

Ten years prior to Judge Nash’s significant bequest, Minot-Sleeper Library was built in Bristol (a stone’s throw away from New Hampton) by none other than two graduates of the Academical and Theological Institution at New Hampton.

Also, a judge, Josiah Minot (Class of 1833) and Col. Solomon S. Sleeper (Class of 1831) were natives of Bristol purchased the land and gave the town $1,000 to build a library. Minot-Sleeper Library opened in February of 1885. Both founders would not live to see nearby New Hampton erect Gordon-Nash Library; however, it would be hard to imagine that the three gentlemen did not know of one another. Minot practiced law in Concord and Sleeper remained a local businessman for many years until he moved to Boston. Minot was friends and the law partner with President Franklin Pierce from 1844-1852. Col. Sleeper, after returning from the military, worked at Emmons Raymond & Company then S. S. Sleeper—a wholesale grocery trade located under Faneuil Hall and then Market Street for 53 years as well as being a representative in the Cambridge legislature.

We know that the Institution celebrated alumni reunions during commencement celebrations and at various other times (including dinners in Boston). One can only imagine these gentlemen enjoying each other’s company as they gathered to discuss old-times and current events—with a dash of literature thrown into the mix.

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