Created By: Westfield Historic Commission
The very earliest history of the library dates to around 1830 when Westfield attorney William G. Bates formed Westfield’s first library association, the Westfield Social Library housed above Snow and Hayes General Store on Elm Street. In 1850 H.B. Smith purchased the books from Bates and ran a circulating library from his bookstore next to the Hampden National Bank on Main Street. The books were then purchased by Dr. Simeon Shurtleff who left the collection to the Westfield Athenaeum.
The Westfield Athenaeum was incorporated by an act of the Massachusetts Legislature, Chapter 88, on March 11, 1864. Hiram H. Harrison, president of the American Whip Company, announced he would provide a library and reading room for the town. A brick brownstone building, valued at approximately $10,000 was erected at 26 Main Street. Ten thousand dollars was raised by private subscription for the purchase of books. The Westfield Athenaeum opened its doors on January 1, 1868. A fee of $2.00 annually entitled one to full use of the library.
In 1895 the library became free to all residents of town fourteen years of age and older. In 1898 the trustees of the Westfield Academy conveyed, without consideration, land and building (Fowler-Gillett Homestead) on the corner of Court and Elm Streets. The house was remodeled for library use and dedicated on March 6, 1899.
The steady growth of the library and of the community soon created a need for a larger library. M.B. Whitney, President of the Athenaeum from 1893 to 1915 left the library $80,000 for building and remodeling. The new building and the remodeled Fowler-Gillett Homestead for the Boys and Girls Library were dedicated in 1927. The Jasper Rand Art Museum, a gift of Mrs. Florence Rand Lang in honor of her father and grandfather opened shortly afterwards. The Edwin Smith Historical Museum, a gift of William T. Smith in honor of his father, opened in 1928. The original library building on Main Street was torn down that same year.
A new main library wing and extension to the Boys and Girls Library were dedicated in 1966. These additions doubled the floor space of the Athenaeum. The Athenaeum Bookmobile began service in 1972 and made 30 stops per week. The Branch Library service began at the New Westfield High School on Montgomery Road in 1973 with a 2,000-volume collection.
In 1986 the library joined the C/W MARS automated materials sharing network and automated our collection of over 120,000 items, providing access to our circulating collections via the web. Since then a growing number of non-print formats have been added to the collection including e-books, e-videos and e-readers.
Budget constraints forced the closure of the Branch Library and the Edwin Smith Historical Museum in 1990. Bookmobile service was terminated that year. An Outreach Program began servicing homebound residents of Westfield in 1996, and computers with Internet access became available to the public in 1998. Wireless internet became available in 2005.
The Edwin Smith Historical Museum reopened in 2003 thanks to a grant from Westfield Bank and a tremendous volunteer effort.
If a visitor is interested in walking through the Old Burying Ground, Point of Interest number six on the tour,the key for the gate may be obtained at the reference desk at the Westfield Athenaeum.
This point of interest is part of the tour: Whipping Around Westfield- A Self-Guided Walking and Biking Tour