William H. Gaylord, a much esteemed and civic-minded South Hadley citizen, would be proud to see that the library that he and his wife Betsey provided for the town in 1904 still stands as a fitting memorial. The son of a farmer, Gaylord rose to wealth and prominence through hard work and enterprise. Recognizing the need for a public library in the town center, he generously offered the money to build one on the site of the former village cemetery, known as “God’s Acre”, on College Street. Across from Mount Holyoke College’s Mary Lyon Chapel, this cemetery had become overgrown and was considered an eyesore.
Permission was given to move all of the graves to Evergreen Cemetery on Hadley Street, except for the grave of John Preston, the original donor of the land. The gravestone can still be found beneath a large red cedar behind the library.
The Boston architects, Putnam and Cox, drew the plans for the library, which cost $23,961 to build. On May 18, 1904, a dedication ceremony was held at the Center Congregational Church, including speeches by Mount Holyoke College President, Mary Wooley and other dignitaries. Dinner at the Woodbridge Hotel and a public reception at the library followed. The Gaylords lived to attend the library’s dedication, but in September William suffered a stroke and died one morning three months later. Betsey, who had been in ill health for some time, died later in the afternoon of the same day. A double funeral was held.
Their portraits, painted by New York artist Katherine Abbot (who later married the architect, Allen Cox), still hang in the rotunda.
Until 1968 Gaylord Memorial Library operated independently, when its costs became too great to be paid by the Gaylord endowment. It was run as a branch of the South Hadley Library until 1995, when the town made the decision to close the library due to fiscal constraints. There were many in South Hadley who wished the beautiful building to remain open as a library, and so the Gaylord Board of Trustees chose to operate independently once more. This enabled the library to remain open, though with limited hours. Thanks to generous donors and many volunteers, as well as continuing limited support from the town, Gaylord Library, a South Hadley treasure, is open to the public today.
In January of 2016, the Town Meeting members voted to merge South Hadley Public Library and Gaylord Memorial Library, in an effort to provide more services to the town, and prolong the life of the library. The move allows for programs and services to be shared between the two libraries, including the diverse catalogs of each of the library. Today Gaylord Memorial Library is a branch of South Hadley Public Library. They share library cards, and patrons can return books from either library to the other. The property is still privately owned by the Friends of Gaylord, and the private fundraisers they hold, like Wine Downs, support the maintenance of the building and grounds.