The Great Fire
On the night of February 27, 1996 the Danbury Public Library was the victim of a devastating fire. The entire first floor was destroyed, and there was significant damage to other areas of the building. The print collection on the first floor was ruined, and the library’s computers were damaged beyond repair. Miraculously, the irreplaceable collection in the Local History Room suffered only minor smoke damage.
Initially the staff and the community were prostrate with grief; the devastating damage had rendered a central cultural resource unable to function. After this initial period of mourning, the community reacted with an unprecedented outpouring of aid, both locally and nationally.
The FRIENDS of the Danbury Library was vital in mobilizing and organizing community support. As a result, the library was able to reopen in temporary quarters in the Galleria Building on Main Street in March of 1996. The Library building was rebuilt and opened on September 7, 1996.
Like the phoenix rising from a fiery crown on the Danbury City Seal, the library experienced a rebirth after the fire, with increased use of technology as well as reconfigured and redecorated space. 1997 saw the addition of the Library Technology Center in what had been part of the adjacent Union Savings Bank. Today the library annually welcomes more than 500,000 visitors through its doors and circulates print and non-print collections that total more than 125,000 items in more than 20 languages.
The First Friends Board
Five women stand out for their hard work, commitment, and creativity in establishing the Danbury Friends as an active, vibrant organization. We think of them as our Founding Friends. They were honored at the Friends 2010 Annual Meeting, and their names are inscribed on a plaque next to the Bank Street entrance of the library. They are Joan Damia, Caryl Lucchesi, Victoria Matthews, Gloria Putnam, and Barbara Susnitzky.
Board of Trustees
Edgar M. Rodrigues
Joseph F. Pane
Thomas A. Frizzell
Robert R. Goodfellow
In 1965 the city and town of Danbury consolidated, and a Mayor and Common Council were elected. The city government was established. Citizens formed a Committee of 1000, which worked to help pass a bond issue for the schools.
By 1972 it was clear that the Danbury Library at 254 Main Street was becoming too small for the growing community. The library, first incorporated in 1869, had moved to the new building 1878. By 1969 the Danbury Library loaned 99,976 books a year to 14,000 borrowers. By 1972 there were 25,784 borrowers; this was a full half of the population of Danbury.
A group of volunteers began to organize in order to provide for a newer, larger library. The Superintendent of Schools and other community residents served on the Library’s Board of Directors. Ruth Sunderland, a photographer, accompanied the Library Board to various groups in the community to speak and show photographs of the new library. Board members of the library worked together with volunteers on this project. Maryann Wolf was hired to be the new librarian; the new library was opened in 1973, when Gloria Putnam, one of the first Friends, was a member of the Common Council.
The energized citizens of Danbury continued mobilizing to provide continuing support for the library after its opening. The Friends, organized during 1974 and 1975, officially began its service in 1976.
Scrapbooks in Friends archives show the commitment and enthusiasm of the original Friends group. They had gala fundraising Fine Arts Balls in 1979 and 1980. An avant-garde foreign film festival was held in 1978—and rated for adults only! The Friends’ first book sales, held in the Farioly Event Room, were very successful, bringing in up to $3000 each
The Friends invested in the arts and cultural life of the Danbury community. Their support of library programs for children and adults was similar to what the Friends does today.
The Sunderland Fund
Ruth Sunderland, widow of a Danbury architect and a member of one of Danbury’s leading hat-making families, and a photographer in her own right, died in 2003 at the age of 95. She left an unanticipated bequest of $1.2 million to the FRIENDS of the Danbury Library.
This money was used to start a separate Sunderland Permanent Endowment Fund. The principal was invested, and the proceeds of this fund were expressly dedicated to “support and expand the services and programs of the library for the benefit of all those who use the library.”
A Legacy program was established in 2009, honoring individuals in whose memories donations have been given, and enabling the commemoration of happy life events such as weddings, birthdays, christenings and bar mitzvahs, and retirements.
By 2010, the Friends of the Danbury Library averaged a profit of over $30,000 from the annual October Big Book Sale, its major fundraiser. More than 200 volunteers typically worked to make this three-day event a success.
The Friends’ annual support for the Danbury Library now surpasses $70,000.