The Eldredge Public Library (EPL) was a gift to the people of Chatham from one of its natives, Marcellus Eldredge, who was a successful businessman and legislator in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, yet retained close ties to his home town. In 1894 he purchased land on Main Street for $1,000. Construction of the new library took a year and cost about $30,000.
Architect Albion M. Marble of Fall River, a student of H. H. Richardson, designed the original 67' by 34' building in the Renaissance/Romanesque Revival Style, with Quincy granite foundation, red West Barnstable brick walls with pink mortar, Longmeadow brownstone trim, a slate roof with terra cotta cresting, and eyebrow dormers. The interior was finished with quartered oak wainscoting, a carved oak fireplace mantle, Italian marble mosaic in the vestibule, and two stained glass windows with solid medallion facsimiles of the marks of L. Giunta and Aldus, both early Italian book crafters.
Meanwhile, the EPL was legally established as a corporation "for the formation and maintenance of a public library in Chatham." Five men (including Marcellus Eldredge) and their successors were named as corporation members. The Library was dedicated in formal ceremonies on July 4, 1896, and opened to the public a week later.
Circulation for the first full year of library operations totaled 11,738. Chatham's 1896 census recorded a population of about 1,800. More than a century later, in 1999, when Chatham's year-round population was 7,098, circulation of books, magazines, tapes, videos, compact disks, and other materials totaled 104,980.
Three significant developments occurred in the last quarter of the 20th Century. First, in 1979, was the hiring of the Library's first librarian with professional credentials. Second, also in 1979, was the formation of the Friends of the Eldredge Public Library. This group has been instrumental in providing financial, volunteer, and other support for the library. The third, in 1991-1992 was the building of an extensive addition to the Library building.
The three-story addition replaced a small addition built in 1968, and increased the Library's usable space to 18,000 square feet. It was designed by A. Anthony Tappe and Associates, and is a modified replication of the original building, both inside and out.
The EPL is privately managed by a Board of Trustees and a Director, and the land and building are owned by the Town of Chatham. It is a long-standing and successful example of private-and-government joint endeavor.
The annual budget for the Library is enacted by the Trustees, who are primarily responsible for its financial well-being. Operating funds come from the Library's endowment, individual contributions, and an annual appropriation from the Town of Chatham, which provides a little over fifty percent of the funds needed for the year's operations. The Friends of the Library raise money for special projects and equipment, and sponsor the Library's cultural programs.
Both the Board of Trustees and the Friends of EPL conduct annual drives for contributions to support the Eldredge Public Library. Contributions are tax deductible to the extent of the law, as the Library is registered with the IRS as a 501(c)(3) organization.
Gifts and bequests to the Library's endowment fund are an excellent way to make a continuing contribution to the cultural life Chatham!