The Pontiac Library - a priceless gem
In addition to sponsoring the All Saints' Church, the Knight family, owners of the Pontiac Mill, contributed heavily to the formation of the Pontiac Library. This was another of the many ways in which the paternalism practiced by the influential and affluent Knights made its impact on the village. Like so many other "gifts" of the mill owners, it was appreciated by the villagers at the time and today modern villagers continued to benefit from the generosity of the Knights in this area.
In 1984, when the Pontiac Free Library Association celebrated its 100th anniversary, it noted the role played by the Knights by paying special honor to the memory of Mrs. Sophie Knight Rousmaniere and Miss Edith Knight, two of the library's principal benefactors.
The Pontiac Free Library Association began on September 18, 1884, primarily through the efforts of the rector of All Saints' Church, Reverend Laurence B. Thomas. The Reverend Thomas received a great deal of support and assistance from Dr. D. O. King, Carl Sundin, and David Alexander, the superintendent of the Pontiac Mill. Alexander, with the consent of the mill owners, arranged for the Library Association to use a one-room schoolhouse on Knight Street. This first library building, according to a brief history compiled in 1984, had a pot-bellied stove, woven straw rugs, and lamps hanging from a curved ceiling. Most importantly, it had over 600 volumes and the interest of the Knight family.
The Knight ladies
James Dow was the first librarian, and Albert H. Drowne was the Association's first president. One of the earliest active participants in library work was Miss Edith Knight, who served as librarian from 1912 to 1914, and again from 1915 until 1917. Miss Adelaide Knight and Mrs. Sophie Knight Rousmaniere were also active in library work and generous in both time and money.
From the very beginning, the 1984 centennial history tells us, the library was very successful in raising funds through "entertainments, suppers, and concerts." In 1932, the library moved to the renovate Thomas Byrne store on Greenwich Avenue. It remained there until 1957, when the present day brick structure was built. Most residents of Pontiac associate the library with Jane A. Johnson, librarian from 1924 until 1966.
Ruth Pelley, and nearly everyone who grew up in Pontiac village, has pleasant memories of the library and activities that surrounded it. Ruth recalled that there was usually a great deal of excitement when Miss Adelaide Knight made her yearly summer visit. This was a wonderful occasion and meant free ice-cream and cookies for the children.
In 1943, funds left to the library by Edith Knight led to the formation of a trust for its benefit by Mrs. Sophie Knight Rousmaniere, Miss Adelaide Knight, and the Rhode Island Hospital Trust Company.
When the main library at Sandy Lane was built in 1965, smaller libraries, such as the Pontiac one, were incorporated into the Warwick Public Library System. Before that, each library was independent and the Pontiac Free Library claimed the distinction of having the largest circulation, which was over 39,000 in 1964. Because of the various services for research and the number of volumes at Sandy Lane, the circulation of the Pontiac Library decreased sharply in the late 1960's.
Pros & Cons
While there were many positive features of being part of the Public Library System, many patrons of the Pontiac library felt a loss of the independent spirit that marked the library from the early years of the village. As a result, in 1971, the Pontiac Free Library became independent once again with the Association in charge of its affairs.
Today's Pontiac Library is independent, but part of the CLAN program. It enjoys a great deal of loyalty and support from those who use it. Very often it is described as an undiscovered gem, a treasure of old fashioned gentility, homey, comfortable, and enjoyable. Now, as well as in the early years, the focus is on the enterprise as a reading library with a great deal of focus on young children. Special craft and story-time sessions are held on Fridays for the pre-schoolers. Inquiries concerning old Warwick families and early village life are still being received and answered.
The Pontiac Free Library has succeeded in providing modern services without abandoning the special qualities that marked libraries of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.