This year, 2010, marks the 95th anniversary of the Rochambeau Library’s founding in 1915 and the 80th anniversary of its Georgian Revival building at 708 Hope Street which opened on November 17th, 1930.
In February of 1915, the organization known as the “Children’s Library Helpers” met, and the library needs of the city were carefully studied. It was decided that the most feasible locations would be in Elmwood and in the vicinity of Rochambeau Avenue. Rochambeau was opened on July 6th, 1915 in the Rochambeau Avenue School building with 842 books and was immediately made into a branch of the Providence Public Library. The Elmwood Public Library Association was formed in 1916, and the Knight Memorial Library came into existence as a private enterprise, thus taking care of the Elmwood section.
The opening of the library in the Rochambeau Avenue School (at the corner of Hope and Rochambeau) was made possible by a gift from the Monday Morning Musical Club, in memory of Elodie Farnum, the only child of Mr. & Mrs. H. Cyrus Farnum. Elodie’s father was a well-known artist and her mother, Alice Leigh Farnum, a talented pianist. At the age of 7 she began the study of the violin and quickly showed an extraordinary talent. Mrs. Henry Eichheim of Boston, her teacher for three years, predicted a brilliant career for her as a violinist, and Elodie was looked upon as one of the most remarkable girls in the city. The Monday Morning Musical Club of Providence adopted the young prodigy as their “Littlest Member” and began the Elodie Farnum Scholarship Fund to send her abroad for study. The fund as planned was incomplete, but steadily growing when, in May of 1914, Elodie passed away at the age of 12 years from tuberculosis of the brain.
It was unanimously decided that Elodie’s scholarship fund ($665.27) be donated to the Public Library, to establish the Elodie Farnum Memorial Library in the Rochambeau Avenue School.
In 1924, the school that housed the library was moved to a new location on Summit Avenue and on September 5, 1924 the Elodie Farnum Memorial Library was opened to the public in quarters more than twice as large.
Then, in 1929, a new and permanent home for the Elodie Farnum Memorial Library was planned. Under the joint auspices of the Rochambeau-Summit Avenue Parent Teachers Association and the Monday Morning Musical Club, a Library Night was held on February 11, 1929 in the Auditorium of the Summit Avenue School. Members of the Monday Morning Musical Club provided a musical program and there were addresses on the branch library and the need for a new building. A site for the new branch was secured in November 1929 on land at the corner of Hope Street and Langham Road. The cost was estimated at $75,000 and designed by Howe & Church, architects. It was decided to name the building Rochambeau Branch in view of the policy that the PPL Board of Trustees had adopted to designate each new library building by a name which had special significance in that community.
Rochambeau Branch was the fourth branch in what was planned to be a city-wide system of seven branches. The other three were the South Providence, Wanskuck and Smith Hill Branches.
A grateful community turned out on November 17, 1930 to celebrate the grand opening of the new Rochambeau Branch. Mayor Dunne declared the library “one of the finest of its size anywhere in the country.” Hours of service were 3-9 p.m., Monday through Friday; and on Saturday from 9-9. In 1933, Rochambeau was leading all branches in the lending of books, 129,056!
Since its inception, the Rochambeau Library has relied on a very close, symbiotic relationship with its community. A Neighborhood Advisory Committee was organized in the Spring of 1935. Then, in 1980, in preparation for the 50th anniversary of the present building, Branch Librarian, Jackie Toy-Cooper encouraged interested patrons to establish a Friends group. The Friends of Rochambeau began with a group of nine patrons and staff members in February of 1980. Since that time the Friends has grown to approximately 200 members.
Thus, 2010 also marks the 30th Anniversary of the Friends of Rochambeau – one of the most honored and respected library Friends groups in Rhode Island. The Friends of Rochambeau have purchased the books-on-tape collection for children, and pay for museum passes (for loan to Library patrons), and subscriptions to the New York Times, the Boston Globe, and other periodicals of special interest to our Library community. They have allowed Rochambeau to expand its collection by purchasing book-shelves and supporting special collections such as the Adult Literacy and Russian Collections. They have provided support for cultural/arts and educational programming, including music programs, such as Jazz @ Rochambeau. The Friends also sponsor children’s holiday and summer programs, and run semi-annual book sales, as well as a Book Sale Cart near the Circulation Desk.
In 2003, the Rochambeau Library community once again rallied behind their beloved library in helping find support for the renovation and expansion of the original 1930 building. On Sunday, November 23rd, 2003 – 13 months after it closed for a $5.1 million dollar renovation that more than doubled its size – the Rochambeau Library celebrated its second grand opening. A private dedication of the Friends of Rochambeau Community Room took place before the public events began in honor of the Friends’ effort in raising nearly $800,000 for the renovation. A brick and glass addition, the Paula and Leonard Granoff Wing, made room for the Isenberg Family Children’s Library on the second floor. The new library also provided 30 public access computers, a handicap-accessible main entrance and bathrooms, an elevator, an adult reading room, young adults’ area, large circulation desk and workroom, conference room, tech lab, office space, staff room and multi-purpose community room.
Today, the Rochambeau Library is one of the busiest libraries in the state, circulating more than 200,000 items a year. Some of the ongoing programming includes the book clubs – Novels and Noshes for teens, Rochambeau Readers, Book Chat, Mystery Buffs, and Poetry Circle for adults, a weekly Chess Club and Knitting Circle. The Children’s Library provides year-round weekly story-times – Baby Books on Tuesdays and Pre-school Story-time on Wednesdays. Cradle 2 Crayons meets throughout the year, and Art Stars, an afterschool visual arts program for teens through the Providence After-School Alliance meets twice a week. In the tradition of the Monday Morning Musical Club and in honor of Rochambeau’s founding by the Providence musical community, performances by local musicians are held each month in the Community Room and sponsored by the Friends of Rochambeau.