When philanthropist Grinnell Willis dedicated the original wing of the Morristown & Township Library a century ago, he expressed hopes it would become “a cool and quiet resting place where old and young, man, woman, and child may freely come and fill their cup to overflowing at this well of knowledge and entertainment.”
It has been all that and more, serving the public in ways the retired textile merchant could not have envisioned.
“We are living in a changing world, with fast tweets and instant one-liners to get your information,” Morristown Mayor Tim Dougherty told neighbors and officials who gathered at the library on Friday to celebrate its centennial.
“Research, and reading, and information, is one of the most crucial things you can do for yourself, and teaching your children and your friends to really look into things, and really read and find out what the truth is,” said Dougherty.”
Libraries like this one are more than just books, said Assemblyman Anthony M. Bucco (R-25th Dist.).
Slideshow photos by Kevin Coughlin:
“Sometimes they serve as a place where people can go to get warm out of the cold. For people that don’t have access to the internet or computers, a place where they can come and do some research, and maybe even find a job,” Bucco said.
Library patrons can find free tax tips, see foreign films, trace their genealogy, join a sewing circle or take comfort from the Downton Abbey Support Group. Radio recreations, game shows, jazz concerts and the occasional Speakeasy keep things lively.
Well-wishers sipped wine and ate pasta and pastries on Friday. Proclamations were read. Library Director Chad Leinaweaver displayed a flag that flew over the Capitol, a gift from Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-11th Dist.), who sent a note recalling his childhood visits to the library.
(Frelinghuysen’s support of President Trump’s policies elicited one or two hisses from guests–a response that probably would have been unthinkable at such a ceremonial occasion back in 1917.)
‘THE COOLEST THING EVER’
Assemblyman Michael Patrick Carroll (R-25th Dist.) remembered marching into the library at age 5 for a major milestone.
“I had just learned to write my name. And that was the key. Once you learned to write your name, you could go back into the children’s section, right through that door there, and get your library card,” Carroll recounted.
Township Mayor Bruce Sisler shared a boyhood recollection of the Bookmobile.
“It was the coolest thing ever,” Sisler said. “My sister and I loved getting out of school, going to playgrounds and seeing the Bookmobile.”
Willis dedicated what is now known as the “1917 Wing” to his late wife; the building replaced the Morristown Lyceum, destroyed by fire three years earlier.
The structure is as sturdy as it is beautiful, surviving explosions in 1994 and 2010. Greater Morristown became acutely aware of the library’s importance when the place closed for extended periods after those devastating events.
For a tax bill of about $150, households in Morristown and Morris Township get access to “a tremendous wealth of information, [with] tons of very friendly and knowledgeable people who will explain to you how to harness, use and understand that information–which Google can’t do for you,” said Geoffrey Brooks, president of the Morristown & Morris Township Library Foundation.
“It’s part of the fabric of our community, a centerpiece, a staple of what makes Morristown great,” Dougherty said.
And the library is a symbol of cooperation, the Mayor said.
Although the Town and Township governments differ politically, Dougherty said neither balked at providing $500,000 apiece for exterior renovations, which the library hopes will be completed this year.
“Thank God we have the relationship we do with the Township, because no matter what, this is the common bond right here,” said Dougherty.
While he often jests about merging the two municipalities, he suggested the library centennial really could be a harbinger of more joint services over the next 100 years.
“If this can be successful,” Dougherty said, “so can other things.”