Saturday, 27 February 2021

The Green Free Library: From family home to town’s public library

WELLSBORO — Chester Place, named after its first owner, Chester Robinson, is now known as the Green Free Library, which celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2017.

Chester Robinson, of Otsego County, New York, built his home in Wellsboro in 1855. Chester and his brothers had money from the lumber industry and founded First National Bank. The home once was a white square with a matching picket fence, according to the Green Free Library’s history. The original foundation and home is now the center of the Library.

When Chester passed away in 1890, his home went to his daughter, Mary B. Robinson. After traveling abroad, Mary Robinson hired William Henry Miller, an architect from Ithaca, New York, and remodeled — adding to the front of the house and two wings. The remodel was completed in 1898 and was nicknamed Chester Place, the Library said.

The formerly square home now features a curved front facing Main Street, allowing space for a larger living room, fireplace and chimney, the Library said. This addition houses the Library’s juvenile and young adult book collection.

Instead of books, the living room used to be filled with passed-down family furniture and Eastern pieces with paintings on the wall, the Library said. In one corner of the living room was a piano and at the other end, on a window sill, sat a Swiss music box. The fireplace was book-ended with two cabinets that held icons. There also was a lamp from Tiffany’s with dragonflies decorating the shade.

The west wing, formerly Mary’s personal library and currently the children’s room, is known as the Robinson Room. In the children’s reading room, there is a portrait of Mary as a child, and the painting has been nicknamed “Miss Mazie,” said the Library and Leslie Wishard, library director. The sunroom was an extension of Robinson’s library.

In the east wing was the dining room, featuring a Tiffany window. The window is “a stained-glass window designed by Tiffany’s. It is said to depict the former garden behind the library,” Wishard said.

The window was installed in 1903, the Library said. The stained glass shows the landscape of the gardens at the Library. The former dining room is now called the Pennsylvania Room, used for genealogy and references.

The formal garden that was depicted in the Tiffany window was a part of the Chester Place remodeling, the Library said. The garden used to have an old elm tree and a pergola with columns, an Italian-style roof with the poles covered in bark. This was used as a trellis for grape vines. The pergola divided the garden, and on both ends were “marble busts and seats.”

Between the seats in the pavement was a line from a Latin poem inscribed in marble by the poet Horace that read, “In my garden, Phyllis, is parsley for the weaving of gardens,” when translated, the Library said.

The garden was located where the Gmeiner Art and Cultural Center is now, Wishard said.

In 1910, the community started raising money for a public library. A year later, Charles S. Green, “a wealthy lumberman,” donated $50,000 to go toward its construction. A portrait of Green hangs in the front hallway in the library, Wishard added.

When Mary Robinson passed away in 1913, she left Chester Place to Elizabeth Walbridge, her “childhood nanny and life-long companion,” the Library said. Walbridge passed the home down to her nephew and, in his passing, the home was willed to the Green Free Library trustees.

In 1917, Chester Place became the permanent home of Wellsboro’s public library and was officially named the Green Free Library.

“We are the caregivers of not only a beautiful building, but of all the materials and history that is held within,” Wishard said.

As years passed, the Library had growing needs and added the northwest wing in 1963, the Library said. The northwest wing has “the main reading room, adult fiction and nonfiction books.”

The Green Free Library was donated a grandfather clock in 1987, located in the Pennsylvania Room, the Library said. The clock was donated by William Crompton, grandson of William A. Stone, Pennsylvania governor from 1899 to 1903.

“I was always told that Governor Stone liked the area and had a camp in the Pine Creek area. Not until I took time to actually research him did I find out that he was born in Wellsboro,” Wishard said.

In 1991, a red carpet was added, remincient of when Mary Robinson lived in Chester Place.

2015 marked 100 years of having a public library in Wellsboro and was 160 years since the family home was built. The Green Free Library celebrated their centennial on Jan. 26, 2017.

“We have a beautiful building. Many people stop in to just look at the building while visiting Wellsboro and the surrounding area. We are a working library, but try to maintain the history and integrity of the building,” Wishard said.


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