Letter: Original 1913 Part of New Canaan Library ‘An Icon in Our Community’


It has come to the attention of a number of concerned citizens of our town that on Tuesday, January 14, 2020, the New Canaan Library will be presenting to the Board of Finance an update to their plan for a new library building as part of a request for funding of same. As a citizen of our town, a user of our library’s services, a former volunteer at the Library and a practicing preservationist and preservation advocate, the fate of the current building, specifically the original landmark 1913 building, has been a concern.

New Canaan Library was built in 1913.

I was fortunate and appreciative to be asked to view the library’s plan this past November. Certainly, what has been developed is impressive and could be considered a “gift” to our community. However, as I have gathered for quite some time, there was no inclusion in the plans for the retention of any portion of the existing building including the original building which has been an icon in our community since its inception. This is beyond comprehension to me and many in our community. 

I respect that the library has been working on their plans for quite some time and the current design is the result of years of discussion, review, and design. While I question the conclusion that the existing, and specifically the original, library cannot be retained, I personally do not oppose the library’s effort to provide increased services to our town. Many, actually most, communities in Connecticut have increased their library services while maintaining and honoring their original landmark building and the results have been exceptional both architecturally and functionally.

It was noted during my viewing of the library’s plans that the location of the 1913 Library building is designated as a “town green.” It would seem this opens the window for an opportunity to retain the 1913 library. In response to the gracious viewing afforded me by the library, I have asked of the library two things: 

  1. An on-site review of the building by me and other building professionals with experience in building preservation to better understand and determine the status of the structure. 
  2. If a group is formed the purpose of which is to work to save the original 1913 landmark building, that the library work with this group towards achieving this goal.

The response from the library was, “We will give your correspondence due consideration before responding.”

I ask from the Board of Finance that the topic of the fate of this iconic New Canaan landmark be given more than due consideration. Stated directives in the Plan of Conservation and Development (Under Section 3, “Preserve and Enhance Community Character,” page 13-27) are: A—Encourage Preservation of Historic Resources; and B—Support Historic Preservation Efforts. Indeed, one of the images submitted by residents as representative of the “types of things people feel contribute to the overall character of New Canaan” is the 1913 library building. 

In your review and consideration of the library’s request, please determine if the library intends to retain the 1913 building and if not why. If the response is that the existing building, including the 1913 portion, is beyond repair, the follow up question would be whether this determination was made by professionals experienced in building preservation and additions to historic properties.

Thank you for your consideration of this matter.


Rose-Scott Long Rothbart

8 thoughts on “Letter: Original 1913 Part of New Canaan Library ‘An Icon in Our Community’

  1. thank you Ms Rothbart. Anything is possible if put to open minded folks.
    As I said before it seems that situations like this are quickly thought leading to it being demolished losing it’s historical quality.
    N. Jensen…

  2. I am not a New Canaan “native” but I have lived in this town for forty-one years, and I would be heartbroken if our original 1913 stone Library were not preserved.

  3. Please preserve the 1913 portion of the Library. So much of our town has changed I lived on the East side of town from the ages of birth to 14 when people ask me where I am from I always say with pride New Canaan Connecticut. I have returned many times to see my hometown, I now live in Detroit, Michigan my husband’s hometown. When the main branch of their library was added on to many years ago it was seamless with the older part, it’s an amazing building. I would someday love to be able to show my husband the Library of my childhood and not the 1970s addition but the beautiful original building.

  4. With all the architectural talent in this town I’m sure a path forward will be found to preserve this beautiful, original, c1913 Neo-Classical Revival stone building and integrate it with plans for the new library.

  5. Yes! Please Save the charming and very beautiful old stone library building. She’s a grand old girl and everyone who’s ever visited her falls in love.

    This library speaks to the heart of New Canaan. She’s comfy, cozy, elegant, and feels like home. Should you demolish the engaging and lovely historic parts of her it will be greatly detrimental to the look and vibe of the downtown village of New Canaan.

    This building is a gem. It should be appreciated, honored, well cared for, and forever preserved.

  6. I hope the old building can be saved, but if not I hope that at least the WPA murals in the reading room can be preserved. They are an important part of the town’s and the nation’s heritage.

  7. i think it is time to begin to separate “iconic” from “out of date” and “no longer attractive or useful”. My feeling is that many of these preservationists would be up in arms if the Town and fire department dug up old style yellow (ICONIC) fire hydrants and replaced them with highly efffective more modern style ones.

  8. The original 1913 part of the NC Library, still beautiful and useful today, was iconic enough to serve as the Library’s actual logo (on book bags, on library cards, etc.) for decades. When the Library switched its logo to the current generic “flipping pages” seashell, I guess they already knew the “iconic” facade’s days were numbered. Still, it’s remarkable that so many colleges and churches are able to sustain and re-invent older buildings for the future, and even commercial landlords do as well (many of New Canaan’s downtown stores/buildings date back to the 1880s to 1920s), but the new Library plan couldn’t find a way to do likewise… even if just using the original facade as a walkthrough gateway/stage/anchor to the new outdoor green. It’s a grand new building, but also a missed opportunity.

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