Library Visit: Rathbun Free Memorial Library

Here we are at our last, but certainly not least, library post of the year. The Rathbun Free Memorial Library is sister to last month’s featured library, the East Haddam Free Public Library (click here to check out that post). These two libraries work together to serve the town of East Haddam.

The East Haddam Free Public Library specializes in teen fiction, graphic novels, and manga. The Rathburn Free Memorial Library houses adult fiction, biographies, and history. It also has a sizeable children’s section in the lower level. The two libraries are about 4 miles apart.

The original front entrance. Isn’t it grand? I like the round window flanked by scrolls at the top. It looks like a globe, a symbol of the world of knowledge that waits inside for citizens to explore.

Railing detail. This curve is reminiscent of the East Haddam Free Public Library’s railing. Look at the marble band running between the red brick. Just to the right of the finial, you can see the year 1934 carved in marble.

Looking up at the roof line. Molding and gutter detail.

Plaque on the lower right side of the building. It reads: Rathbun Free Memorial Library 1935.

The striking entrance again, this time pulled back so you can see the cupola.

When standing on the library steps with your back to the building, you look out at River View Cemetery. It’s an old and beautiful cemetery, as are so many in New England. A couple of years ago I attended a Halloween season event there. A few friends who are actors participated in a performance where they dressed as notable historic locals and, in character, talked about an aspect of their lives near the person’s headstone. If memory serves me correctly, it was a fundraiser.

Can you see the reddish frame house in the distance? That’s the Nathan Hale School House. Hale taught in the school after he graduated from Yale, from October 1773 to March 1774. During Hale’s tenure, the building was in a different location.

If you’re not familiar with Hale, he was a Revolutionary War hero who was hanged for spying on orders of the British General Howe in September 1776, near present-day Grand Central Terminal in NYC. His last words were, “I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country.”

The Nathan Hale School House is on the Town of East Haddam Library System’s seal.

The entrance to the library is now on the side of the building. Vehicle traffic is one way: drivers enter here, park at the back, and then exit at the sign in the distance.

The view as you drive into the parking lot.

Window and shutter detail. It’s hard to make out the marble plaque embedded in the brick, but it reads: Rathbun Free Memorial Library. It has a twin on the other side of the building.

The other side of the library with a view of what looks like it may have been an addition added at some point.

A view of the parking area and the hilly, rocky woods so common to Connecticut. In front of that parked vehicle is a path that leads to a reading garden.

Full-on view of the back of the library. The Dutch roofline is what makes this part of the building seem to be a later addition.

The path leading to the outdoor reading area. There are two benches to the left of the path, and a long bench is part of the stone recess.

The outdoor reading area is named the Georgiana and Fred Costa Reading Garden.

The view from the Reading Garden looking back toward the library.

The new main entrance is cozier and better protected from the elements.

An accessory I’ve never noticed on a library: A bell! Now what was that used for?

The new main entrance.

When you walk in, to the right are stairs heading down to the children’s department, straight ahead is the main floor with adult books, and the stairs leading up go to the archives.

Heading down into the children’s department. Bright and inviting.

This fabulous mural represents multiple classic stories. How many can you spot?

This is part of the picture book area. Behind me are the intermediate and YA sections with plenty of floor space and a large, round worktable.

Upstairs in the adult section. That’s a working grandfather clock that has such a pleasant tone. To the right, out of the camera view, are periodicals and to the left is nonfiction.

A peek down a nonfiction aisle.

This is the main room of the library. The original front entrance is off-camera to the right. Looking through the doorway that is visible, you can see the railings leading up to the second floor where the new main entrance is located.

Cather on the shelf!

That’s Michael (Mike) Gilroy behind the reference/circulation desk. He’s the Library System Director for East Haddam and was so welcoming — he’s smiling behind his mask. I only had time for a quick visit this time and look forward to making a return trip to learn more about the history of the library. I also hope to check out their archives department, which is currently closed to the public.

Notice the beautiful doorway behind the desk.

That’s real gold leaf detailing. It looks brand new, but Mike said it was done over twenty years ago. While it looks good in this photo, it is even more brilliant in person. A clock chimed noon and I thought it was this clock, but Mike told me it was actually the grandfather clock shown in a previous photo.

The recessed lighting atop the wall gives the entire room a vibrant glow and accentuates the curve of the ceiling. The room feels open and airy. It’s one of those rooms that’s so pleasing to the senses that you don’t want to leave it.

When you’re standing facing the reference desk, this is the view to your left. The portrait above the fireplace is of Frances Lovinia Emmons Rathbun (1860-1930). She and her husband, Norris, left a cash bequest for the building of the library, as well as the land for it (upon which their house had stood).

The other side of the room. This is the view to the right when you’re standing facing the reference desk. Of course, the first thing you notice is the gorgeous card catalog. I’m all for electronic databases, but my heart will always skip a beat when I see a classic card catalog.

The portrait at the back is of Frances’s husband, Norris Wheeler Rathbun (1858-1922). Frances and Norris face one another across the span of the room. They are both buried in the cemetery across the street.

The Rathbun Free Memorial Library is a small library with big, good energy. I don’t know how else to describe it. Although my visit was brief, I walked out with my spirits lifted. Mike was so friendly and obviously loves his job, the library is clean and well maintained, and the architecture is exciting. Definitely give this library a visit if you’re ever in the area.

The Rathbun Memorial Library
36 Main Street
East Haddam, CT 06423

If you enjoyed this post, check out more of my library stops and visits here:


  1. Stunning photographs and glorious library, such character. It is nice to see the old card catalogue, plastic covers and paper spine stickers. I counted to about seven children’s classic stories!

  2. Postscript: With regard to that bell, perhaps it was a meeting point in times of trouble. When I worked in public libraries, they were opened to those needing shelter after bushfires or flooding.

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