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History Corner: Montpelier’s First Library Banned Fiction

Since the early days of white settlement, Montpelier residents have valued books. The Library Association, organized in 1794, started the town’s first circulating library, according to Daniel P. Thompson in “History of the town of Montpelier, from the time it was first chartered in 1781 to the year 1860.” It was probably located at Parley Davis’s home in what was then the center of town and is now East Montpelier Center. Davis’s home is still there, diagonally across Center Road from the Old Meeting House. 

Among the rules and regulations of the library association was an exclusion of all works of fiction and religious books. They doubtlessly excluded works of fiction because of its “supposed tendency to engender a morbid imagination and undermine those practical virtues on which the permanent progress and prosperity of a new country must ever depend,” Thompson wrote. Fiction popular at the time included Tobias Smollett’s “The Adventures of Peregrine Pickle” and Henry Fielding’s “The History of Tom Jones, A Foundling,” and what Thompson characterized as “sickly, sentimental love stories and overstrained pictures of life then in vogue.” Religious books were likely banned to avoid “sectarian discord,” Thompson posited.

So what is left? Nonfiction books on history, travel, biography, and “works of a scientific, philosophic or moral character.” These books were freely and constantly circulated “for a long period of years, through every part of town,” Thompson stated, adding that this contributed to higher than usual intelligence among townspeople.

Years later, the Kellogg-Hubbard Library came into being following several iterations. The above-mentioned “circulating library” founded in 1794 had 200 volumes, and was succeeded by the Village Library Society from 1814 to 1850, according to kellogg-hubbard.org. Then, from 1860 to 1880, the Agricultural Library circulated books and had two reading rooms. After that, in 1885 with money raised by the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, the Montpelier Public Library was established. This was a closed association at first, and had a collection of about 5,000 volumes, but subsequently opened to the public in rented space by 1896.

Finally, the Kellogg-Hubbard Library was built in 1894 and 1895 by John Hubbard, nephew of Barre native Martin M. Kellogg, a real estate magnate, and his widow, the former Fanny M. Hubbard, a Montpelier native. The library was built at a cost of $60,000 and opened on January 2, 1896 following a nasty dispute over the will among John Hubbard and Montpelier town officials. John Hubbard died in 1899 and left $125,000 to the library. This library still thrives as a hub of the community at 135 Main Street.