Welcome to the digital archive of the Edith B. Nettleton Historical Room in the Guilford Free Library. The archive provides online access to the photographic and documentary items that chronicle our town's history, culture and people.
Both our physical and digital collections were collected, researched, curated and maintained by Edith B. Nettleton. It is our pleasure to honor her lifetime commitment to Guilford by sharing her work with a wider audience of users.
Who was Edith B. Nettleton?
Throughout her long, long life, Edith Burr Nettleton was the quiet, gracious, tenacious force behind growth of the Guilford Free Library, its Historical Room and its Digital Archive.
In December of 1934, she was hired by the town of Guilford to serve as its first professional librarian. By the summer of 1935, she would move the library’s collection into the newly completed Georgian Revival building at the corner of Park and Broad Streets, where the library still sits.
During her 44-year term as library director, Edith expanded library services to complement the town’s growing population. She carried books to schools and home-bound patrons; produced programs for adults and story hours for children; explored an integrated, multi-town library system and guided a massive expansion of the library from 4500 square feet to 19000 square feet with 40,000 volumes and room for more.
However, it was her passion for preserving Guilford's history that led to what may be considered the hallmark achievement of her distinguished career - the founding and development of Guilford Free Library's historical archive.
In 1935, during her first year as library director, Edith had organized an exhibit entitled "Old-Time Guilford,” that offered a glimpse of our town’s history through photos, maps, historical sketches, tools and utensils. Throughout the following decades, she continued to collect and preserve Guilford’s history, knowing, as she once remarked in an interview, that one of her most important roles was saving historical documents. Without a permanent space for her collection, pictures, maps and photographs were all carefully stored away in numbered boxes marked “attic.”
Edith knew one of her most important roles was saving historical documents. In Edith’s capable hands, reams of aged letters, books, pictures, maps, and photographs were all carefully stored away in numbered boxes she marked “attic.”
Pam Johnson, Guilford Courrier
When the library expansion was completed in 1978, all of those boxes found a new home in the library’s original reading room, with its arched windows and (some other architectural feature).
This was when Edith began her “next act.” She retired as the library director, took a few months off, and then returned as a volunteer to help establish the Historical Room. She would continue to volunteer for another thiry-six years.
The Connecticut Library Association awarded its “Excellence in Public Library Service Award” to the Historical Room in 2002. In 2003, the room was renamed the “Edith B. Nettleton Historical Room,” during a town-wide celebration to mark Edith’s then 70 years of service, and the town’s affection and esteem for her.
Edith continued her work in the Historical Room right up to her death in January, 2014. She embraced change and loved how easily and quickly technology allowed the scanning and emailing of photographs or articles from microfilm, how detailed Google maps were, right at her fingertips. Her last project was the creation of the digital archive of historical photographs.
Edith’s foresight in preserving the souvenirs of daily life, ferreting out bits and pieces of valuable history, was matched by her dedication to interpreting the wealth of materials so that they document the founding and growth of the town, its family genealogies, and its house histories.
Who but Edith would have known to create a subject entry for “Houses, moved?” And her penciled corrections strewn over documents stored in the vertical files attest to her glee in uncovering yet another connection, or a new fact. She was always on the lookout.
Edith used the gift of her intelligence with grace, generosity and humility. The library she created, and the wealth of the Edith B. Nettleton Historical Room continue as a hub of community learning, and as a fitting tribute to Edith.