Lincoln Vermont and the Lincoln Library
The Lincoln community is located on a high plateau of rolling hills nestled against a western slope of the Green Mountains of Vermont. The land is heavily forested and gradually slopes toward the New Haven River. The River begins as a rushing mountain stream to the south of Lincoln. It meanders northwest through the villages of South Lincoln, Lincoln Center, and West Lincoln as it flows its course and joins the Otter Creek a few miles north of Middlebury. Many springs and brooks water the land and swell the River.
The Lincoln Town Charter was granted on November 9, 1780, by Governor Thomas Chittenden to Colonel Benjamin Simonds and 65 partners. Simonds named the new town Lincoln to honor General Benjamin Lincoln. General Lincoln commanded Colonel Simonds's militia at the Battle of Bennington in August of 1777 and was credited with hastening Burgoyne's defeat by cutting his lines of communication at the decisive battle at Saratoga two months later. After the Revolution, General Lincoln ran against George Washington in the first presidential election.
The first settlers found Lincoln was located in a forest of spruce and hardwoods. Much of the forest was logged during the 1800s. During the heyday of logging, there were as many as 15 mills along the New Haven River within Lincoln Center and the nearby villages of South Lincoln and West Lincoln. Many dairy farms were later established in the area. When farmlands in the Midwest were brought into production in the early part of the last century, it became clear that Vermont's rocky soil and mountainous terrain could not sustain competitive farming. As farms in Lincoln and all over Vermont fell into disuse, the forest reclaimed much of its old territory. Eighty years ago Vermont was 20% forested. Today it is 80% forested.
The population in Lincoln reached a peak of 1,368 in 1880. South Lincoln, Lincoln Center, and West Lincoln each had its own post office until June 1968. The Lincoln area is now served by the Bristol Post Office ten miles to the west. The present population of Lincoln is approximately 1,200.
Other than a general store, one pallet mill, and several home-based businesses, there is no major commerce or industry in Lincoln. Farming activity is limited. Most of the roads are still unpaved. People choose to live in Lincoln either because they grew up in Lincoln or because they are attracted to its beautiful setting in the shadow of the magnificent 4,006-foot high Mount Abraham.
Organizations of many kinds have played a large role in Lincoln's community life. Many were outgrowths of the churches in town. In 1889 the Ladies Aid of the Lincoln Baptist Church, under the leadership of Annette Thayer Morgan, established the Ladies Aid Library in the Good Templar Hall in Lincoln Center. Dr. Joseph Dodge was appointed Librarian and President of the Library Board of Trustees. By March of the following year, the library had almost 500 volumes in its collection. When the Good Templar building burned in 1924, most of the books were saved. A room was rented from Hannah Morgan to store the collection until it was moved to a lower level room in Burnham Hall, the newly completed center used for much of Lincoln's social life.
The flood of 1938 wiped out nearly the entire library. Through the efforts of the Ladies Aid, the library collection was rebuilt to about one thousand volumes by the time Linda Norton became the Librarian in 1969. By 1980, such boons as the $1,000 bequest by Frederick Negus in 1971 and the purchase of the Overlake Day School books when it closed its doors helped increase the collection to 3,000 volumes. By June 1998, the collection had swelled to 7,500 volumes, which were crammed into every cranny and nook in the library's tiny space.
One June 27, 1998, the New Haven River flooded again. Most of the library's collection was destroyed. The only books remaining were those out on loan and those up on the highest shelves. The Burnham Foundation generously allowed the library to use the upstairs of the Hall as temporary headquarters. Lincoln's residents rallied together and decided to turn calamity into opportunity and build a new library. In July 1998, a gathering of about fifty Lincoln residents, with the financial back of an anonymous gift of $100,000, formed a group called Friends of the Lincoln Library. The group's task was to undertake, on behalf of the Trustees and the Lincoln community, the daunting project of building a new facility.
"Losing the Library," an account of the flood by Lincoln author Chris Bohjalian, which appeared in The Burlington Free Press two days after the flood, The Boston Globe Magazine on October 11, 1998, and the April 1999 issue of The Reader's Digest, stimulated contributions of books and money from people all over the world.
Many volunteers came to help. They set up shelving, hauled books, typed, sorted, catalogued, covered new books, held book sales and fundraisers. Debi Gray, one of the volunteers, was soon hired as Assistant Director to help Library Director Linda Norton with the huge task that lay before her.
By fall, a beautiful 4.5 acre site for the new library was purchased at an ideal location well away from the New Haven River and yet still near the center of town. The services of Northern Architects were engaged in February 1999. A construction contract was signed with Naylor and Breen in September. Ground was broken that same month, and construction began in late November.
On June 15, 2000, construction of the new Lincoln Library was complete. On June 24, people gathered at Burnham Hall. Children brought their little red wagons. The wagons were filled with all the children's books and paraded down River Road to the new Library. On July 7, the rest of the collection was moved. On July 17, just a little more than two years after the flood, the Lincoln Library reopened with 12,000 volumes in its collection. The celebration and public dedication ceremony took place on August 5 of that year.
Currently the Library has 16,000 volumes. Library Director Linda Norton and Assistant Director and Children's Librarian Debi Gray are the only remunerated staff except for a part-time custodian. Many of the day-to-day tasks involved in running the Library are done by steadfast volunteers from the community.
The Lincoln Library has become a community center for Lincoln and the surrounding area. Many people contribute their time and talents to create the 200 or so programs the Library offers each year for young and old. These programs include two story times each week for young children, magic and chess clubs for older children, and the "Summer Reading Program" for children. There are home-schooler programs, craft classes, health and informational programs, and nature and science programs for all ages. Literary discussions and programs for senior citizens are held monthly. The Library sponsors other programs, such as RSVP Bone Builders osteoporosis exercise program and the Pilates exercise program.
The cost to build a new Library and purchase the land was $680,000. Generous contributions from the residents of Lincoln and from many people who do not live in Lincoln enabled building the new Library. The building and land costs were covered entirely by donations.
The Lincoln taxpayers contribute one-third of the Library's annual operating budget. The size of the endowment fund needs to be increased substantially to help sustain the Library's growth and operation. Fundraising is essential. If you would like to make a contribution to the Lincoln Library, contact the Library directly or the Vermont Community Foundation.