Library Founding

Early Chester
A postcard view of Chester around the time the summer visitors began to establish permanent summer residences.

In the History of Chester, compiled by the Women’s Institute of Nova Scotia’s Chester Branch in 1967, Edward Robinson Jr., owner of the Columbia House hotel, is credited with being largely responsible for the “starting of Chester as a summer resort” by advertising in several important American newspapers. Almost all of the early summer visitors made their first home at the Columbia House. One of those mentioned in the WINS History of Chester was Mrs. Zoé Vallé Lightfoot. The WINS History of Chester also tells us “the first effort to provide a library at Chester was made by four summer residents in 1913 who consulted Mrs. Frank Freda. She made a room available in her home and acted as librarian for nine years.” This first library was located across Union St. from the current Post Office.

The Freda house.
The Freda house, home to the Chester Lending Library.

Apparently fifty books were donated and a fee was charged. This library was moved in 1922 to the home of Mrs. S. Freda and had increased to fifteen thousand volumes. Zoé Vallé Lightfoot would probably have used this library and might even have expressed concern for the need of a permanent library to her sister, Mrs. Isabel Vallé Austen. In her later years, Zoé was spending more and more time in Chester and grew to love the place very much. Less than a year after Zoé’s death, Mrs. Vallé Austen, through Miss E. D. Paxson and Miss Dorothy Gilman, made an offer of Zoé’s property to the Municipality of Chester to be used as a public library in memory of her sister.

Owing to the fact that it could not be dealt with until the Municipal Council met in January of 1928, it was thought desirable to call a public meeting of the ratepayers in order to take some action in respect to the offer. At this meeting an objection was raised by some who saw the possibility of increased taxation for the upkeep of such an institution. Mrs. James Starr of Philadelphia offered to contribute one thousand dollars toward an endowment fund, providing a sufficient sum could be raised to take care of the upkeep and equipment of the property as a public library.

Central St. circa 1910
A view of Central Street in Chester from around 1910 showing Zoe’s house and the tower on top of the hill with the two churches. (click on picture for a closer view.)

The following resolution was then submitted to the meeting and passed: “Moved by Frederick L. Fowke, Seconded by Mrs. James Starr, That we, the ratepayers of Chester, in public meeting assembled, having learned of a proffered gift by Mrs. Austen, of New York, of the house and lands formerly owned and occupied as a summer residence by her late lamented sister, Mrs. Lightfoot, on the condition that the said property be usefully occupied and maintained as a free public library for the people of Chester, hereby express our deep sense of appreciation of the gift so graciously proffered, And resolved that the voice of this meeting is that the Municipal Council ought forthwith signify to Mrs. Austen their acceptance of the estate. And be it further resolved that the chair name a committee to cooperate with the authorities in any and every way for the essential carrying into effect of the wish of this meeting as expressed herein.” The chairman named the following persons to act as such committee: Mr. Frederick Fowke, Mr. Austin Evans, Mr. Carroll Manning, Mrs. James Starr, Mr. S. M. Zinck, Miss Mable Mitchell, Dr. J. M. G. Finney, General J. Kemp Bartlett, Mrs. Caroline Redden and Mrs. Elle Zinck. At a committee meeting held August 1, 1927, the chairman reported that a copy of the resolution of the public meeting had been sent to Mrs. Isabel Vallé Austen.

Founders Collage 1
Founding Committee members, top, Frederick L. Fowke and Sara Logan Wister Starr; bottom, J. Kemp Bartlett and Dr. J.M.T. Finney

It was moved by Frederick Fowke and seconded by Mable Mitchell that the chairman and secretary of the committee collaborate with Township solicitor S. M. Zinck with a view to the preparation of the necessary petition to be signed by a majority of the ratepayers in Chester, for the carrying into effect of the certain resolution passed at the Public Meeting. At a meeting on August 10, 1927, the committee voted that S. M. Zinck, solicitor, be authorized and instructed to arrange with Mrs. Isabel Vallé Austen the conveyance of the property to the Municipality of Chester and an effort be made to have councillors agree to acceptance of the trust. It was also voted that Mrs. Zinck, Mr. Fowke and Mr. Smith consult with Miss Gilman re: furniture and books to be left with the Zoé Vallé Lightfoot property. By September 13, 1927, the councillors agreed to accept the deed of trust for the Zoé Vallé Lightfoot property. The following petition was circulated by Miss Mary Finney and others of the summer visitors: “We the undersigned, desiring to make available the gift from Mrs. Isabel Vallé Austen to the village of Chester, Nova Scotia of the late residence of her sister, Mrs. Zoé Vallé Lightfoot, and desiring also to establish, upon a permanent basis, a public library and community centre as a memorial to Mrs. Lightfoot.” The Zoé Vallé Library Endowment Fund subscribers’ list for 1927 and 1928 contains the names of many summer visitors such as Anderson, Grove, Pew, Finney, Starr, Meiggs, Talcott, Wurts as well as such notable persons as Cyrus Eaton. Many locals names are present as well – Shaw, Carroll, Smith, Robinson, Evans, Harris, Zwicker and Stanford. Summer visitors also agreed to serve on the House, Garden and Book Committees. In 1928 there were also special donations for the refitting of the building and grounds and the purchase of books. Miss Anne Covington donated a set of dishes and Mrs. J.M.T. Finney donated bookshelves. Miss Clarissa Anderson provided for a fence.

Library 1930
The Library as it looked around 1930.

On a beautiful August afternoon in 1928, a large company of friends and contributors met on the lawn of the Library grounds. After the reading of the Deed of Gift, Bishop John G. Murray, Primate of the United States, gave a very fine address and offered the dedicatory prayer. Professor John Grier Hibben, President of Princeton University and others also addressed the gathering. After the reports of the various committees, tea was served by the young people. Councillor G.A. Cole accepted the Gift on behalf of the Municipality. In a motion of Councillor G.A. Cole, recorded by Councillor Urias Keddy, the following resolution was adopted: “Whereas Mrs. Isabel Austen of New York has offered to give to the Municipality of Chester the property known as the Mrs. Lightfoot property for the purposes of a public library; and whereas the residents and summer residents have provided an endowment fund sufficient for the upkeep of said property; therefore be it resolved that this council accept the deed of said property in full understanding that no tax shall be levied on the Municipality at any time for the upkeep of such property.”

McCormack Collage 1
Above, the house Henry B. McCormack built on the Peninsula in Chester. Below, Henry and his sister, Anne McCormack.

At a meeting of Library trustees in August 1931, Mrs. James Starr brought up the matter of building an extension at the back of the Library building in order to provide more room for the librarian’s family. Carpenter Harry Baker submitted a plan with an approximate cost of one thousand dollars. At the next meeting of the Trustees, the plan was approved and it was decided to build if sufficient funds could be secured by subscriptions to be paid over a period of two or three years. In the meantime, Mrs. Starr offered to loan the money, free of interest. The annual tea was held a few days later, at which John Grier Hibben gave the address in which he stressed the value of such an institution and the need of more room. At the close of his address, Mrs. Starr announced that Miss Anne McCormick had offered to pay for the needed addition in memory of her sister-in-law, Mrs. Mary Boyd McCormick. Mary was the first wife of of Henry B. McCormack.  This offer was received, with grateful appreciation, by all those interested in the welfare of the library. Henry McCormick provided for the new library sign.

Hibbens and Taft
President Taft and Professor Hibben at Princeton

Professor John Grier Hibben was a subscriber to the Library Endowment Fund and also served on the Book Committee of the Library. He summered at the house known as Beau Rivage on the Peninsula. He retired at the end of the school year in 1932, and a year later died in a tragic automobile accident that also fatally injured Mrs. Hibben. At a meeting of trustees and standing committees held at the Library August 15, 1933, Mr. Fowke moved that Dr. Finney, who was a lifelong friend of Dr. Hibben, be asked to give an address or talk about Dr. Hibben at that day’s affair. Mrs. Starr suggested that a memorial to Dr. and Mrs. Hibben be given to the Library in the form of books. These books were never lent out over the years and remain today as a sort of time capsule of books from the early thirties. The sign above the books reads: “Hibben Memorial Collection. Presented by Beth Hibben Scoon and others.”