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Fairfield 375: Pequot Library -- a rare library with a rare collection

EDITOR'S NOTE: Fairfield, established in 1639, is one of Connecticut's oldest communities. From its settlement 375 years ago by English colonists on "four squares" of land that Native Americans called Uncoway to the vibrant town of nearly 60,000 residents that it is today, Fairfield's history is a chronicle of compelling events and colorful characters.

The Fairfield Citizen will highlight vignettes from that rich history throughout this 375th anniversary year on a regular basis.

The Pequot Library in the Southport section of town this year celebrates the 125th anniversary of its founding in 1889 by Elbert B. and Virginia Marquand Monroe of Southport after Virginia inherited the home and fortune of her father, Fairfield businessman Frederick Marquand.

The current Pequot Library building -- now considered a landmark, constructed from sandstone blocks with a red tile roof -- was built in 1893 on the grounds of the Monroes' home. In fact, it was built behind the residence, hidden from public view until it opened.

Virginia Monroe was also the niece of Henry G. Marquand, the president of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.

One of the big differences between the Pequot Library and other libraries of the time was the establishment by the Monroes of its special collections, particularly its inventory of rare books. That collection today includes about 30,000 items and is considered a valuable resource on American history through the Civil War, as well as natural history and the history of the book.

The library is a privately managed institution overseen by its own board of trustees, but is open to the public and receives an annual allocation from the town of Fairfield. It coordinates a variety of programs with the Fairfield Public Library.

In 1952, the Pequot Library's trustees made an agreement with Yale University's Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library and placed 812 books and 1,062 manuscripts belonging to the Pequot Library on long-term loan to the Beinecke to help support its financial needs.

A children's wing was added to the Pequot in the 1970s.

Today, in addition to its rare book collection, the Pequot Library is known for its summer book sale on the Great Lawn that annually draws buyers and browsers from around the region and farther, and a range of other community events that include concerts and lectures.

For more information, visit: www.pequotlibrary.org.

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