In 1792, a local subscription library (called the “Farmers’ Library”) was established in East Guilford, which later became the Town of Madison. The catalog of the library the following year lists about 260 volumes. During the 1860s, interest waned, and the dwindling book collection was auctioned off to members.
However, in 1874 the East River Reading Room was opened and in 1878 the Madison Library Association was also organized. Membership was $1.00 a year; non-members could pay 5 cents per week per book. The collection was housed in various locations until 1895 when it was lost in a fire. Although there remained only 18 books (those checked out at the time of the fire), the Library Association was operating again in the corner of a local shoe store within a year.
The inadequacies of this situation were resolved in 1900 when Miss Mary Eliza Scranton offered the Madison Library Association the use of a new, completely furnished library building, which she had built on the corner of Wall Street adjoining her family’s old home. The offer was accepted, books moved in, and in 1901 the Association dissolved and the E.C. Scranton Memorial Library was incorporated.
The original library building was designed by Henry Bacon, an eminent New York architect who later designed the Lincoln Memorial. A New York firm of “contracting designers” oversaw the architecture, construction, decorations, and furnishings, the total cost of which was about $30,000.
Miss Scranton offered the position of librarian to Mary L. Scranton with the condition that she first acquire the necessary training. The Library’s benefactress also gave annual gifts of $1,500, which increased slightly through the years until 1913 when she established a trust fund of $56,875, the income to be used for library expenses. At this time, Miss Scranton also deeded the building and grounds to the corporation.
In 1900, the Town of Madison declared the newly formed association to be a free town library and agreed to contribute $100 annually for expenses. This continued until 1949 when the Town gave $600 to meet rising expenses for which income from the endowments was inadequate.
By the 1960s the building had become outmoded and crowded. The book collection had swelled from the original 1,200 volumes to about 40,000. To adequately meet the demands of a rapidly growing population, the board successfully raised a little over $126,000 for a two-story wing and a renovation of the original building, which was completed in 1965. Library use continued to increase, and the building was once again expanded in 1989.
Today the Scranton Memorial Library’s physical collection has grown to 116,000 items and serves a population of approximately 18,000. The Town of Madison annually provides 85% of the total operating budget of 1.4 million.
RECENT HISTORICAL RESEARCH
Scranton Library has commissioned several historical studies as part of its renovation and expansion project.
They include an in-depth report on the Hull Building, which was demolished in March 2019 despite intensive efforts to save it. The building, which had a brick facade, was in fact a wooden structure whose floors could never support library stacks and were not level with the existing library.
More recently, the library commissioned a Historic Resources Inventory (HRI) covering Madison’s downtown block. It meets standards set by the U.S. Department of the Interior, which has jurisdiction over parks and historic places. The HRI has two parts: a historical narrative. and a compendium of 23 separate inventory forms, one for each building in the study area.
Madison Center Historical Resources Narrative – June 2021