A library company was then formed, and about 150 volumes were collected; and this library remained in activity about thirty-five years, when it was dissolved, the books to be distributed among the original donors. In 1824 a second library was formed and incorporated with 142 volumes, besides periodicals. Like its predecessor it was short lived and dissolved in 1866. The books passed into the hands of Mrs. Charlotte Mills, and Miss Louise Stevens, who subsequently founded a third library, which was in the hands of a committee. This new Library was placed on a business basis and a yearly fee of one dollar was charged for membership. It continued for a year and its books formed the nucleus of a fourth Library. In 1881 Miss Isabella Eldridge opened a reading room in the Scoville house on the Green, and the books of the third Library were placed there.
Isabella Eldridge’s reading room was so successful, that in 1888 she decided to endow a library in memory of her parents, the Rev. Joseph Eldridge and Sarah Battell Eldridge. She hired architect George Keller of Hartford to design the Norfolk Library, which was constructed in 1888 and opened to the public in 1889. The library has a first floor built of red freestone, quarried at Longmeadow, Massachusetts. The upper floors feature fish scale shingles and the original roof had fluted Spanish tile, since replaced. In 1911, Keller designed a reading room, added to the rear of the Library. A later addition is the children’s wing of 1985, designed by Alec Frost and also constructed of Longmeadow red freestone.
We begin June with libraries, as we declare this week to be Library Week at Historic Buildings of Connecticut! Our first library is the Ansonia Library, designed by the architect George Keller, who was responsible for many other interesting buildings in the state. Caroline Phelps Stokes, granddaughter of Anson Greene Phelps, who founded Ansonia, donated the library, buying the land for it on the corner of South Cliff Street and Cottage Avenue. She traveled from New York to supervise the construction of the building, which utilized Longmeadow freestone with a foundation of granite from Ansonia. In a gable, above the library’s entryway, is a relief sculpture of Minerva, the Roman goddess of wisdom and knowledge. The Ansonia Library was completed in 1892, but did not open its doors until 1896, because the town government was initially reluctant to provide the $1,500 per year required for the library’s operating expenses.
The High Victorian Gothic-style George H. Seyms House, on Collins Street in Hartford, is attributed to the architect George Keller. George H. Seyms (1849-1915) was Chemist of the Hartford Steam Boiler Insurance and Inspection Company. The house was damaged by fire in December of 2002.
Simsbury’s first Methodist church was built in 1840, centrally located in town on Hopmeadow Street. Remodeled and rededicated in 1882, it was eventually demolished in 1908 to make way for a new church building, designed in the Gothic style by architect George Keller. Built of red sandstone with terracotta roofs, the new church still followed the basic plan he had used for his early Grace Episcopal Church in Windsor, but now in a more mature style. Red sandstone had been used in the earlier church as well, although, in the period in between, he had used granite for the Elizabeth and Northam Memorial Chapels. The Simsbury church has a square castellated tower, similar to one in his design for the Ansonia Library. The Simsbury United Methodist Church also features stained glass windows by Louis Comfort Tiffany.
When the city of Hartford chose to have an arch over a bridge (which once crossed the Park River, now underground) as its Civil War monument, it was seeking a design quite different from the usual types of Civil War monuments. It would be the first permanent triumphal arch in America. It is also one of the earliest monuments to use the term “Civil War.” A competition was announced, which irritated the architect George Keller–as a famous designer of Civil War monuments, he was unhappy not to be commissioned or even consulted. As all of the submitted designs went over budget, Keller was eventually able to reconcile with the city and plan the monument. The structure he created still remains a unique achievement for combining Classical and Gothic elements in a unified design. It is Keller’s most famous project (along with the James A. Garfield Memorial in Cleveland, Ohio). The monument, located on the edge of Hartford’s Bushnell Park, was built of Portland brownstone and was dedicated on September 17, 1886, the anniversary of the Battle of Antietam. The ashes of Keller and his wife were later interred in the east tower. The Arch was restored in 1986-1988, but has sometimes suffered damage due to cars crashing into it.
White Hall, part of the campus of the Retreat for the Insane (now the Institute of Living), was built in 1877 and was designed by George Keller, who also drew up plans for a number of other buildings at the Retreat, including Elizabeth Chapel. White Hall was originally constructed as a service building, used as a laundry, carpentry shop, vegetable cellar and coal storage vault. Later housing a swimming pool and squash courts, the building was vacant for a time until its recent restoration. It is now the home of the Olin Neuropsychiatry Research Center.
Connecticut’s first synagogue was built for Congregation Beth Israel, on Charter Oak Avenue in Hartford in 1876. The congregation’s earlier home, a former Baptist church on Main Street, was being razed for the building of the Cheney Block. Departing from his usual Gothic style, the architect of Temple Beth Israel, George Keller, utilized the Romanesque Revival style in his design. In 1898, with the congregation growing, the building was enlarged and renovated. The the width of the nave was altered to match the towers and the interior was elaborately stenciled. In 1936, the congregation moved to a new building in West Hartford. Today, the original Temple Beth Israel has been restored and serves as the non-sectarian Charter Oak Cultural Center.