The Library has a long and rich history. Located in the heart of the Ashaway Village, the library shares its historic neighborhood with the Jacob D. Babcock House, once a station on the “Underground Railroad” during the Pre-Civil War era and the Ashaway Line and Twine Manufacturing Company, a producer of tennis racket strings, fishing line, surgical thread, and rope and twine products. This world recognized business has been family operated and in operation in the Village of Ashaway since 1824.
The library had its inception in 1871, when two local ladies, Hannah Cundall and Sylvia Salisbury, donated books and contributed money that resulted in a collection of 600 to 700 books. The early collection was housed in a small building known as The Ashaway Library and Reading Room in the village near the site of the present library. The Ashaway Library and Reading Room Association provided free public use of its reading room, books, magazines and a free admission to an annual lecture series. By 1907, the library’s collection was expanding, was outgrowing its little building and needed a new home. A group of local citizens came to the rescue purchasing the former Ashaway Kindergarten building at auction for $101.00 and moved the schoolhouse from Church Street on log rollers and wagon to its present location at the corner of High and Knight Streets. The Ashaway Woolen Company donated the land for the newly acquired building, and the Ashaway Line and Twine Manufacturing Company later deeded additional land to the original tract.
In 1907, the library became known as The Ashaway Free Library and at that time was established as a share-holding company sponsored by several members of the community. This organization was later dissolved and the library was reorganized as the non-profit corporation, overseen by a board of volunteer trustees, as it remains today. The first librarian was Herbert L. Larkin, followed by Isaac Cundall, LaVerne Burdick, Herbert Kenyon, Curtis F. Randolph, Lloyd R. Crandall and Reverend Everett P. Mathewson. During the 1940’s and 1950’s, Eleanor Perrin served as librarian for twenty years and later as a library trustee and volunteer.. May K. Fay succeeded Mrs. Perrin followed by Charlotte Truman and Carolyn Tuchapsky. Over the previous four decades Ruth Demers, Edna B.Lanphear, Joan F. Gately, Kathleen Flaherty, Shannon Pimental, and David J. Panciera have provided distinguished service as head librarians. The present Head Librarian is Heather Field who has provided capable leadership for the past sixteen years.
In 1951, L. Robert Crandall, an enthusiastic and generous library supporter became the president of the Ashaway Free Library’s board of trustees. During Mr. Crandall’s tenure as the leader of the board of trustees, the library underwent many improvements. In 1954, the interior of the building was completely renovated with painting and plastering, installation of new shelving, furniture, improved lighting, new flooring and a new furnace and heating system. During this period, the library’s collections were reorganized by librarian Eleanor Perrin in compliance with Rhode Island State Library Standards of the time. In 1965, an addition was built on the west side of the original building. The addition provided much needed space for a circulation center, a children’s section, the librarian’s office, and a work/storage area. This building project was made possible by a community building drive and matching funds from The Ashaway Charitable Trust. In 1972, the addition was dedicated in honor of the memory of Mr. Crandall who died in 1970. This area of the library is known as The L. Robert Crandall Memorial Wing.
The Ashaway Free Library has undergone many changes over the past one hundred and forty-four year but remains a vital center of culture and information for its community. The library truly is the little library with a big heart providing its 1,000 plus patrons with personalized, friendly library service and access to state of the arts information and materials in a wide variety of formats.
—2015, Mary Elizabeth Mercer, Board of Trustees