Victor Kruglov is extremely excited the Everett C. Benton Library has opened its doors to the public.
The fourth grader at the Wellington Elementary School lives two houses away from the historic stone building and loves his job as a volunteer “putting books back on the shelves.”
It’s important work, Victor said, to keep the library organized and tidy that he will perform on Saturdays and Sundays.
Hundreds of residents in the Oakley Street neighborhood and other parts of town joined Victor on Sunday, May 22 for the library’s Opening Day event that included light refreshments, a “Benton the Owl” drawing contest, an exhibition of books from the public library movement 1854-1950, library card sign ups and remarks by various speakers.
“What a beautiful building that has served our community for 79 years,” said Board of Selectmen Vice Chairman Mark Paolillo, standing on a small stage area in the 19th Century country Gothic chapel at the corner of Oakley and Old Middlesex roads. “I am thrilled to see it reopen.”
Keeping ties to our rich past
When town officials were discussing what to do with the building after it closed as a library branch in 2009, there was a compelling argument to sell it is as Belmont certainly needs additional revenue during these uncertain financial times, Paolillo said.
But he likened that to selling precious family heirlooms.
“Once it’s sold, you can’t get it back again,” Paolillo told a crowd of people, many of whom have dedicated countless hours to coming up with a way to maintain the building as a library.
“This building dates back to 1892 and ties us to our past,” he said.
Elizabeth Gibson, president of the Friends of the Benton Library that formed in September 2006, thanked a number of people for supporting the group’s efforts to maintain the building as a privately-supported community library.
In particular, she mentioned the selectmen who licensed the Benton to the Friends for two years as well as Town Administrator Tom Younger, former Assistant Town Administrator Jeff Conti, Sandra Curro and Community Development Director Glenn Clancy for all their help and support with the necessary preparations for getting the building ready.
“I’d also like to thank the Belmont Public Library for being a steward of this building for so many years,” Gibson said.
Friends Secretary Virginia Jordan vividly remembers exactly where she was sitting in the Benton building when the librarian told her the branch was going to be shut down.
“She was very upset,” Jordan recalls. “I said to her: ‘Well, we’d better do something about that.’”
After five years of work, along with the Oakley Neighborhood Association and Benton Library Reuse Committee, the day so many were planning for finally happened, she said.
“It was a community effort from the beginning,” Jordan said. “This is our gift to Belmont.”
With the exception of shelving, the space of the Benton Branch Library – that originally opened on June 10, 1930 – remains virtually untouched, said Benton Library Reuse Committee Chairman Richard Cheek.
He explained it was designed in 1892 as a chapel for the Belmont School For Boys that had purchased the former Cushing-Payson estate for its campus and used for that purpose until 1899 when the school merged with Milton Academy.
The site was eventually purchased by Col. Everett C. Benton in 1903 who made the chapel available for the Belmont public meetings.
Benton died in 1924 and his widow and children offered the chapel to the town for use as a branch library. It remained in use from 1930 until budgetary difficulties forced its closure in January 2009.
The rare architecture gives the building value, Cheek said.
“But equally important is the spirit of service that still lives in this building,” he said.
“We are a blessed community where people care about it and their neighbors,” said Mike Smith of the Historic District Commission. “That’s what happened right here and how the Benton Library got restored to its rightful use.”
Dan Leclerc of the Belmont Historical Society announced that on May 18 the group awarded the Friends with the 2011 David R. Johnson Preservation Award.
“We’re very proud and excited about what has happened here,” he said.
During the celebration, Sonia Guterman said the whole southern part of Belmont has been transformed by the opening of the Everett C. Benton Library.
She pointed out residents in several neighborhoods can now take the bus to the recently opened community library.
“Both of my daughters learned to read here because you had to be able to write your name in order to get a library card,” she said.