Reading a tantalizing tale takes the imagination and catapults it into other worlds. As a grade school child I scoured the Scholastic catalog eagerly checking off each book I desperately wanted. What a thrill to order new books and dive into reading them! With four siblings competing to buy books, I had limited options. Checking out books from the school library or the public library ensured an endless stream of reading material. I lived in the country on a farm so a trip to the library in Longmont, Colorado was an adventure. I always checked out the maximum number of books allowed. The genres changed through the years from the adventures of “Little House on the Prairie,” to Nancy Drew mysteries, and later travel and history. Every time I move I still explore the local public library and acquire a lending card.
Imagine my delight when several years ago, I learned that my 4x great-grandfather, Joshua Hyde, had a library named after him in Sturbridge, Massachusetts, the Joshua Hyde Public Library. My first genealogy road trip included a visit to this library. Like a novice family historian I hastily gathered the information I thought I needed and neglected to note sources and take sufficient photos. Imagine my dismay when I realized I couldn’t publish this blog because I realized I lacked photos of the library interior and source citations. I promptly sent out a message on www.genlighten.com, a genealogy website, to find a researcher. David J. McTigue, who specializes in New England research, obtained the documents and photos I requested.
JOSHUA HYDE LIBRARY DEDICATION
On July 22, 1897, the Sturbridge community gathered precisely at half-past one o’clock at the Congregational Church. Despite the pouring rain they packed the pews to listen to Dr.Professor George H. Haynes speak. The crowd responded with thunderous applause to his last statement.
“A living memorial…opening its door of opportunity ever wider…through the distant, the unimagined future.”
What occasion prompted such an outpouring of community spirit? The town rejoiced at the dedication of the Joshua Hyde Library, “the grandest in Sturbridge…one of the finest structures in the Commonwealth.” In 1897, Sturbridge was not an affluent society. People worked hard and money was scarce. The completion of the new community library called for a celebration.
The Worcester Evening Gazette published an article on July 22 with a vivid description of the new library.
“The Library building is situated on the brow of the steep hill which bounds Sturbridge Common on the west. It is of Colonial Architecture, one story high, of cream-colored brick with marble trimmings. The most striking features of the building are the entrance, with its massive white pillars, and the dome, of old design, surmounting the steep, slanted roof. To the right and left respectively, as one enters, are small cloak and toilet rooms, while a few feet further on, and nearly in the center of the room, is the librarian’s desk which faces south. The interior of the building, with the exception of the toile and cloak department, is all one large room, whose length and breadth overall are approximately those of the entire building, 50 and 23 feet respectively.”
“The southerly half, or that portion of the room to the right of the entrance, is for the accommodation of the patrons of the library and the general public; while the northerly portion, or that division in the rear of the librarian’s desk, serves as the stack room. Running entirely around the northerly division is a gallery, most of which is provided with shelving for books. The gallery is reached by stairs which rise from the librarian’s desk.”
“Perhaps the most cosy spot in the room is the brick fireplace directly opposite the entrance on the further side of the room and beneath the end of the gallery.” [Alas, the fireplace is gone, the victim of a later expansion.] “On one side of the fireplace and in the shape of a right angle is a broad settee-like seat which forms a most comfortable nook wherin to rest and read, as it confined in a sort of recess, which reaches slightly from the main room. Running around the southerly portion of the room, beneath the windows, are beautiful panels of oak; while the walls are finished in a clouded brownish effect around which is a narrow stenciling. The stack department, in the other half of the room, including the shelving in the gallery, has a capacity for 10,000 volumes.”
Where did the funds come from to build the fabulous new library? The benefactor was the philanthropist George Baxter Hyde, the 7th child of Joshua and Sally Hyde.
From an early age, books captivated George and he embarked on a life of learning and teaching. Born in 1811 in Sturbridge, his early education began in Sturbridge and expanded to academies in Dudley, Leicester, Amherst and Andover. George began his teaching career in 1830 as a teacher at Walpole, MA. His career spanned 50 years of dedicated service, primarily in Boston. The last 18 years of his career George served as the headmaster at the Everett girls school. Upon his retirement in June 1878, George commented: “There has been my paradise; that is the place where I have enjoyed most; that is the place where the kindest reception was given me….Whatever I may be, and whatever faults I may have, I am a better man than I should have been if I had not had those pupils to teach.”
After retirement, George was elected to the Boston School Committee for seven years. When George died July 8, 1889 in Boston, he left his property to his wife, Mary, during her lifetime. The couple had no children. When Mary died in July 1894, George’s estate benefited the local community as well as the city of Boston.
GEORGE BAXTER HYDE’S WILL
1. $2000 to the town of Sturbridge for the care of the cemeteries where his parents and grandparents are buried (The North Cemetery and the Old Burial Ground). The funds were also to provide watering places by the roadside and shade trees along the public highway.
2. $14,000 for a statue of Rufus Choate, a noted Massachusetts attorney and statesman. The sculptor, Daniel Chester French, also sculpted the Abraham Lincoln memorial statue in Washington D.C.
3. $40,000 to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston
4. $20,000 to the Town of Sturbridge for a library to be named after his father, Joshua Hyde. Half of the funds were designated for the land and the building. The remainder was for books and the upkeep of the library.
5. George donated all of his personal books, bookcases, pictures and engravings, his field and marine glass, his degree from Harvard College, and his best eight-day clock.
Thank you George Baxter Hyde for honoring the memory of your father, Joshua Hyde, who died 178 years ago. The Joshua Hyde Public Library is 119 years old and continues to serve Sturbridge community. The young visit the library to borrow books, hear stories in the company of a therapy dog and librarian, or to create crafts. Teens and adults enjoy lectures and book club events. The Joshua Hyde Public Library is a small library in a small town but its contribution perpetuates learning and reading. Joshua, a modest man, might not have cared if anyone knew who he was, but it mattered to his son George who fondly remembered the father who inspired him. How many residents of Sturbridge ask, “Who was Joshua Hyde?” I would enjoy seeing a brief history section added to the library website describing Joshua Hyde as a typical American patriot.
Joshua reflects the American spirit and independence. Dedicated to his family and country, he marched to war at age 16 and served for periods of time from 1777-1783. His personal account of his experiences unfolds in the next article as I examine his pension record.
 Burns, Charles E. Joshua Hyde Public Library, A Centennial Celebration. Sturbridge: Joshua Hyde Library, 1997. Print. “Hyde Memorial.” Worcester Evening Gazette [Sturbridge] 22 July 1897: Print.
 Dean, John Ward. The New England Genealogical Register Vol XLVI. Boston: NEHGS, 1892. Archive.org. Web. 8 Apr 2016. http://www.archive.org, 409-410.
 Burns, Charles E. Joshua Hyde Public Library, A Centennial Celebration. Sturbridge: Joshua Hyde Library, 1997. Print.
© 2016 copyright Kendra Hopp Schmidt. All rights reserved.