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06/27/2022 12:00 AM

Community Commemorates Blackstone Library's 125th Birthday

Balloons adorn a sculpture on the lawn of the Blackstone Library as community members gather under shade trees to enjoy Blackstone Library's 125th Birthday Bash on June 25.Pam Johnson/The Sound

An estimated 250 community members came out to help celebrate the 125th anniversary of Branford's James Blackstone Memorial Library under sunny skies on Saturday, June 25.  The Blackstone Library's 125th Birthday Bash served up story-telling and live music, games and giveaways, free food and ice cream, and even a chance to meet "Mr. Blackstone" – and some of his descendants – strolling among community members as they enjoyed picnics and played lawn games on the library grounds.

Branford First Selectman Jamie Cosgrove, together with the library's new Director, Katy McNicol, were among the day's dignitaries taking part in a special ceremony at noon. The Blackstone's 25-year time capsule was sealed with contents evoking initiatives, offerings and other aspects of today's library (including a pandemic-era Friends of the Blackstone Library facial mask) and many hand-written, online, and emailed submissions sent in by community members. In addition to celebrating 125 years of making a difference in the community, McNicol announced the library's newest action plan, "Engaging Community. Expanding Minds. Enriching Lives," as the next chapter in the Blackstone's continuing effort to contribute to life in Branford.

Community merchants helped the Blackstone Board of Trustees provide the crowd with free ice cream from Ashley's of Branford, introduce Stony Creek Brewery's light lager "Timothy's Ale" -- named for Timothy Blackstone, who provided funding to build the Blackstone in the late 19th century -- and complimentary lunches with sandwiches from Hornet's Nest (served up to the first 200 guests). Commemorative 125th Anniversary lawn blankets were also given away to the first 125 families, said Blackstone Trustee Donald Gentile.

On the sprawling lawn beside the library on Main Street, Friends of the Blackstone Library presented award-winning master storyteller Bill Harley to share stories shortly after the day got underway at 10 a.m. At 12:30 p.m., the Blackstone hosted live music provided by Reference Librarian and drummer Brendan Galvin and his band, Covergirl.

From his top hat to his top coat and silver-tipped walking stick, Branford resident John Nichols looked particularly dashing in 18th century-style garb as he portrayed James Blackstone for the day. He met up on the lawn with Blackstone descendent and Branford resident Dody Blackstone Criscuolo, who said it was a "beautiful" day for herself and other family members, including her brother, John, also a Branford resident and current occupant of family's home, built in 1828.

Criscuolo also brought some family information to share with Blackstone Trustees at the event. Trustee Patricia Sanders described to Criscuolo her first view of the Blackstone Library in 1964, when she came to town to meet her future in-laws.

"We were driving up Main Street and I was screaming, 'Stop, stop!'" Sanders told Criscuolo.

Sanders said she was completely taken by surprise by the impressive sight of Branford's Blackstone Library; because she was already familiar with the Timothy B. Blackstone Library of Chicago. The Chicago library and the Branford library were both built through the generosity of Timothy Blackstone, who left Branford and became a Chicago railroad magnate. The buildings share many similar characteristics, from white-stone façade and pillared entrance to impressive domed top of the rotunda. Branford's Blackstone library, completed in 1897, pre-dates the T.B. Blackstone in Chicago, completed in 1904.

Looking over the groups of community members enjoying the event on blankets and chairs under the shade of the library's inventory of notable trees, and many others trying their hand at a number of outdoor games dotting the library lawn, Gentile said the Blackstone's 125th birthday bash was "everything we hoped it would be," from the picture-perfect weather to everyone joining in the celebration.

"The comments from people are how much they love the library and how important it is to them," said Gentile. "It reinforces everything that we believe, and we're glad to hear it reflected back from the community."

In addition to Gentile and Sanders, other current members of the Board of Trustees are Maryann Amore, Michelle Blank, Norman Dahl, Liz Ferguson, Cheryl Kaiden, Mary-Rita Killelea, Janice Kochanowski, Beth Law, Heather Nolin, Ed Prete, Matt Roth, Adam Spilka, Jack Thompson, Jeff Vailette and Susan Wharfe.

Branford resident John Nichols, who wore 18th century-style garb to portray James Blackstone, looks over some family history with Blackstone descendant and Branford resident Dody Blackstone Criscuolo, who brought documents to share.Pam Johnson/The Sound
Community merchants helped the Blackstone Board of Trustees provide for the crowd, including those shown lining up here for free ice cream from Ashley's of Branford.Pam Johnson/The Sound
Branford's impressive James Blackstone Memorial Library, completed in 1897, overlooks the library's grounds on day of the the Blackstone's 125th Birthday Bash, Saturday, June 25.Pam Johnson/The Sound
Even the day's live music, provided by Covergirl, had ties to the library, with Reference Librarian and drummer Brendan Galvin.Pam Johnson/The Sound
Community members enjoy the event on blankets and chairs under the shade of the library's inventory of notable trees.Pam Johnson/The Sound