Library History and Archives

The Library's 1887 Location

The Library’s 1887 Location

An Overview of the Essex Library Association and How It’s Supported

People usually take it for granted that their local library is fully supported by tax dollars. Although that is the case for the majority of public libraries in Connecticut, the situation here in Essex is somewhat different.

Most of the public libraries in Connecticut were started in the late nineteenth century by groups of civic minded individuals. The Essex Library Association, for example, was formed by a handful of private citizens in 1889. Its original collection consisted of approximately six hundred volumes, housed in a few rooms on the second floor of a building in Essex Square where the Talbot’s store is currently located.

In 1897 the Essex Library received a bequest from the estate of Captain Joseph Tucker that included a portrait of himself, three paintings of ships he had commanded and $5,000. The Library still owns the paintings, which are displayed in the 1889 Room and main reading room. The money was used to construct the Library’s first permanent home just off the Square at 3 South Main Street, a half-timbered Queen Anne style building that still stands.

New Library Entry

The New 2006 Exterior

By the late 1950’s the Library had outgrown this facility. A new structure that was three times the size of the original building was finally erected in 1980 at its present site on West Avenue. Twenty years later, the Library was, once again, experiencing growing pains. The building was expanded to roughly twice its size and completely renovated in 2006.

For the first few decades of its existence the Library was open to members only, who paid $1.00 per year. In 1924 the Town of Essex began contributing to its support, at which time borrowing privileges were made free for all Essex residents. The Library retained its status as an independent association, however, which could be joined for a minimum contribution of $2.00 per year. Members were entitled to “…one vote in the affairs of the Association.” The minimum contribution required to be considered a “member” of the Association is currently $35.

Essex Bicentennial Quilt – Digital Exhibit

Our newest exhibit replicates the Essex Bicentennial Quilt in digital format. The quilt is on permanent loan from Essex Historical Society and is displayed in the library’s 1889 Conference Room.  This exhibit includes photos of each quilt square and descriptive material from the project Red Book.

You can also visit our digital collections of materials curated from the Library’s history.

Captain Joseph Tucker and the Wreck of the William Layton

Captain Joseph Tucker (1824-1896) was an Essex native and prosperous sea captain who married into the Post and Hayden families. Upon his death, Tucker gave the Library three paintings and a generous bequest that enabled the establishment of the library at 3 Main Street. Tucker endured harrowing adventures on the high seas, including a shipwreck that left him and his crew lashed to floating debris and without water and provisions for six days before being rescued. (Read the exciting tale in the Captain’s own words here.