Sara Wardell & Gaile Binzen Interview:
This is file # 49, cycle 2. This is Jean McMillen. I am privileged to be able to interview both Gaile Binzen and Sara Wardell on the renovation of the Scoville Memorial Library that took place back in the 1980’s. But first we are going to start with the genealogical information. I will start with Gaile Binzen first and then I will switch to Sara Wardell.
JM:What is your name?
GB:My name is Gaile Binzen.
GB:My birthdate is September 17, 1935.
GB:My birthplace was a little village called Farnham Royal, Bucks. England.
JM:Your parents’ names.
GB:Clifford Longdon and Mollie Longdon.
JM:Do you have siblings?
GB:I have a brother John Longdon still living.
JM:How did you come to the area?
GB:I had an American God mother who always wanted me to come to America. When I was 17 it didn’t seem very practical, but I came3 when I was 21 to visit her and I decided that I wanted to get a job in advertising in New York because I had had a little experience. I got a job on Madison Avenue an advertising agency called Oglvie, Benson and Mayder. I met my husband, Bill binzen (See tape 99A Bill Binzen) who was an art director there at the time. I worked in New York for about 3 years and then Bill and I got married. At that time ladies were not expected to work; I didn’t work in advertising again.
JM:Now I am going to stop you there and switch to Sara.
JM:What is your name?
SW:My name is Sara Wardell. My maiden name is Belcher.
JM:Your parents’ names?2.
SW:Ben & Nancy Belcher (See tape # 36 Ben Belcher)
JM:Do you have siblings?
SW:I was born into a family of 6 kids and three of us are still alive. I have a brother and a sister.
SW:Ward and Jane
JM:How did you come to this area?
SW:That is a good question. My grandparents my father’s parents started a farm here around the time of the First World War, or perhaps a little before that. My father’s father has grown up in a family just across the line in New York. Going many generations back the Belchers were farmers in the Ancram /Ancramdale area. They establish a farm over here on 112, although I went to school in Greenwich, all of our vacations and all of our summers were spent at the farm. We really grew up here.
JM:Now I am going to ask about the renovation and just let you 2 ladies piggy-back off each other because the voices are different enough that I can tell when I am transcribing.
SW:Shall I start, Gaile?
SW:I came to the library in about 1978. I had been working in the Harvard Library system. I had a young child and decided to move back home. Fortuitously the library was looking for a librarian. I took the job. Were you on the board then, Gaile?
SW:Don Kobler has been.
GB:Oh no I wasn’t President of the board then; Don Kobler was right through until…
SW:We decided quite early that the building needed renovation. There were a lot of problems. The lowest level of the stacks was very damp. The water table underneath this building is very high. That was one of the things that we did. Gaile became head of the board later. We worked with Don.
JM:How did you come onto the board?
GB:Bill and I came to live here in 1970; before that we had come up for weekends and holidays where Bill’s parents had a summer home here. I went to St. John’s church being an Episcopalian or at least Church of England which suited me. Some people at St. John’s said to themselves, “This is a lively young woman; let’s have her on the board of the Scoville Library. ”They were all in everything together. When they asked me, I thought of two dear ladies or more who were on the board and ran the library
from the board’s point of view. They had white hair pinned back in a bun of the back of their heads as they did in those days. I thought I am not old enough to be on the library board. They persuaded me to try. I did try. I had youthful energy with 3 children at the time to look after. I was given this job of coordinating the library and the 1976 Biennial. Sara and I met there because we were both asked to help the library to put on a show for the Biennial. We had to go around to a lot of people houses and getting their family portraits and things like that.
SW:Old diaries we got some really old family diaries.
GB:It was very interesting. Sara applied for the job as Head Librarian.
SW:Polly Miner had retired.
GB:I was on the board by then and Sara and I began to change a few things and to see what could be done. We quite soon concluded that a lot had to be done.
SW:The first thing we did was to take down all the “Quiet” signs that Polly had put up.
GB:SHSH was put on the children’s tables. The whole library had been built not around children. They did anything to shut children up so they put down cork floors in the children’s room; they put Armstrong ceiling across the top. We had no idea that there was such a beautiful ceiling above. These “SHSH” signs were everywhere for the children. Very soon after that we decided that we had to do something. First of all we did a questionnaire in town. That was when the only computer in town was at Hotchkiss.
SWP:Harriet Morrill was working there then.
GB:We put out these fliers on the desk, the high desk at the library saying, “Would you like to answer these questions?” We put in 40 questions. We did not realize quite what a job we were giving ourselves. When we gathered them all in; we had to punch every question and every answer onto punch cards on the computer. It was very hard work.
SW:Do you remember that when you walked into the building the circulation desk was on the right as it is now. It was one of those high ones where the librarian peered over at the children. It is ironic that over the years the circulation desk is now again where it was before. It was high.
GB:One this we heard on that questionnaire where at the end they could make their own comments was “Get rid of the dragons at the door.” I remember that phrase probably only one person used that but they were all saying that. They did not like being looked down upon by a librarian. They were very scared of them and Polly Miner was a scary person The architects designed these low desks that even the children could be on face to face with the seated librarian.
JM:Who was the architectural firm that you chose?
GB:I don’t remember the firm and we haven’t found the records yet.4.
SW:Huygens and Tappe.
GB:He was Dutch
SW:One of them, I believe it was Tony Tappe was married to a librarian. When you have a major renovation, you want your architect to understand libraries which is always done. They really understand. They have a feel for what they are doing and the public service nature of it. The library has to be welcoming and comfortable, and not the old Gorgons at the doors. All have gone to their just rewards but they were pretty intimidating.
GB:Yeah they were.
JM:The building itself is intimidating.
SW:My god the building itself still is; it looks like you are walking into a prison.
GB:People thought it was a church from the outside; its design was chosen by the Scoville ladies who had given the library.
SW:It is the Romanesque style.
GB:With the tower it does look like a church when you come upon it. We had very high steep steps with no ramp. So it was intimidating and you walked through those big doors, big heavy doors and came upon these high desks with the librarian perched up on the top of very high stools. Another intimidating thing was in this part which is like a wing which was here they had stacks here with glass block floors and also the iron stairs.
GB:Corner posts right up through to the ceiling. The glass blocks were balanced on these iron grids and you could see through. You could even drop a book from a shelf through to the next floor. You had a feeling of tremendous insecurity. The women all thought that someone could see up their skirts because they were not wearing pants in those days.
JM:I remember it well.
SW:Actually for older people it was hard to get up those stairs and the lowest level was very damp. I remember when we finally put on the new stack wing. I have to get all those books out of there. I would come in in my jeans on a weekend and pile them on a book truck to take them around. They were literally dirty books. Somebody stopped me when I was pushing the book truck and said, “I want to talk to you (an older person) about the dirty books in the library.” I looked at the books, I said, “Boy are you right!” We continued to have that conversation for about 5 minutes. “Yeah, I am taking care of those dirty books right now.” She looked so relieved.
JM:Who was on the building committee?
GB:Martha ______ is one I remember. 5.
SW:Yes, Martha ______
GB:Because we had to go around and look at so many firms.
SW:Someone was the clerk of the works, who was that because that was an important position.
GB:He and I had to get together every week with the architect. That person I don’t remember…
SW:I don’t remember. Was it Douglas Firmen?
GB:I don’t think he was clerk of the works, but he was the budget guy. Every nail and screw we knew the price of.
SW:I thought the committee did an excellent job. I thought Huygens and Tappe were terrific. I forget who the builder was. That is too bad.
GB:He was a very nice Italian firm up in Pittsfield.
SW:We had a good builder.
GB:One day we will find those records. I was chairman of the building committee so I had to call meetings very week for months, if not years. We had to have the clerk of the works, the architect, he had a subsidiary architect from West Hartford and Douglas Firmen watching the pennies, and me.
SW:If you don’t take it very seriously.
GB:I used to make notes,; I would write the phrases that people said particularly at the end of a topic. I would write them down by hand and at the end of the meeting Rem Huygen’s person or Rem , if he was there, would take my notes back to Rem’s secretary. She would type them up. They always said that they always knew exactly what had been said for or against anything during those meetings.
JM:That is so important.
SW:I have to say it worked really well. They listened to the staff, they listened to me. It was a good process.
GB:They were fun meetings, especially when we finally got through all the building and opened the new library. We had a party, of course. Sara and I and various other people, board people were standing waiting for the guests to come in to our beautiful new hall way. Rem Huygens came in; he was a little short fellow, very slender, but a nice guy. He came up to me first and gave me a big hug. I was quite surprised because we hadn’t been that close. He stood back and said, “Gaile, I want you to know that you are the first Buildings Committee Chairman that I have ever kissed!”
JM:I put that one down, believe me.
SW:He was a lovely man; both of them were really nice guys.
GB:Yes, they were.6.
SW:One thing that I also remember about that whole process was that we had to get most of the books out of the library. We had a very small lending library for a while. Certainly when the books came back after being in storage, we had a book chain of people from town who lined up and handed the boxes. They had a chain …
JM:I think I was part of that chain.
SW:Right to the shelves. It was really to get the community involved. They did not do that this time and I was really sorry.
GB:The community loves to do it.
SW:It is the community…
GB:We packed them all in their shelf order; it was a very hot day in August. When we had packed the boxes to go to the storage units, we found that the boxes would not hold up on the bottom because it was very humid and damp. Everything was damp. Jo Loi who was leading this group of people packing up the books said, “Oh what we need it duck-tape.” We all sort of said, ‘What is that? “ We had never heard of it. Someone goes off and buys several rolls of duck- tape. They come back with it, and it was so humid that day that the duck- tape would not stick onto the bottom of the boxes, so we had a very hard time. We had to get an enormous number of more boxes.
SW;So many people were involved in this project. They handed them to each other from one person to the next. People really felt that this is our library and we are making it happen. That is so important. You have to feel that it belongs to the whole community.
JM:It did not happen with this latest renovation.
SW:No it didn’t.
JM:I know this because John Hoffman was clerk of the works as well as my next door neighbor. I did an interview with him. There were a lot of things that were no thought through completely. There were a lot of glitches that happened which is nobody’s fault. It was a different type of renovation.
SW:The board is different. There are a lot of people who are not local.
SW:I think there was some frustration that the staff felt.
JM:Oh yes I know there were.
SW: And Claudia felt. That was the great advantage that we had an architect who really knew about libraries.
JM:You had fun doing it.7.
SW:Yes, we had fun and everybody worked quite well together. Obviously there were glitches and frustrations. We all worked well together and we…
GB:We had a lot of fun. With this renovation I don’t think anyone knew that the library had been renovated before because I mentioned that I was the Chairman of the Renovation Committee and Claudia said, “Oh, what renovation?” If they had asked us; if they had known to ask us, we could have given them a few tips about it.
SW:I actually talked to Noel Sloan about the human book chain and I said, “If you can do that it will make people feel that they participated.” It never happened.
JM:Tell me about funding. Where did you get your funding?
SW:In those days the government was very active in everything. The National Endowment for the Humanities would give money to libraries that were building or renovating. We applied for the grant. We got a 2 to 1 match from the National Endowment for the Humanities. We got a huge check because not only did they match in dollars, but your volunteer time was considered. I forget what the actual amount was.
GB:It was about $1,000,000 that we had to raise.
SW:We got a huge check from the National Endowment for the Humanities. We would never have been able to do it without it. We wrote this grant proposal. We went down to Washington. I went down a year later because they often invite winning librarians the next year to participate in who gets the next match. That was really fun and interesting. We were very lucky to get that money.
GB: We did have a fund drive, and a bigger one later about 10 years later. WE had to get a professional fund raiser. The first fund drive Rosina Warner ran it.
SWLThe second fund drive was to get furniture and stuff.
GB: No it was for an endowment. We had no great endowment so it was that kind of asking people for $100,000. I have got the records of that.
SW:We also went to the town to ask them to give more money.
GB:Yes, we did.
SW:We were very successful.
GB:Every year then we applied for a town grant and we were given it.
JM:That is still done.
GB:There were still people who thought that library was free to everyone. I mean taxpayers don’t have to give the library money.
SW:They thought it came from Heaven.
GB:The town money for the library because it came from the taxpayer. When I started on the board in 1972, the board chairman (who was important in town and had money) would be board president for 25 years if he felt like it. Nobody voted him in or out.
JM:No term of office?
GB:No term of office. When I finally became board president, I changed the by-laws to make the president could have two terms back to back of 3 years each and then out.
SW:That made perfect sense at that time in quite a few organizations, the light went on. They could not have anybody there forever.
GB:No and also that person in those days expected to give the money if the library wanted anything. I remember having these scary discussions with Arnold Whitridge. If the library needs money, they come to me and I’ll give it to them. That was when he was president.
SW:That was 19th century thinking.
GB:Yes, but we do not ask the town for library money!
SW:No, no, no.
JM:In this renovation what actually was done? I have down the new wing, special ceiling,
SW:Yes because we…
JM:I just right now want to do a list and then we’ll go back and talk more about each item, front doors?
SW:The children were put in what was originally the adult reading room with the fireplace. That room had to be fixed up and the lighting for the whole building had to be made better.
GB:The ceiling was taken out.
JM:Work on the roof.
GB:Oh yeah slate tiles
SW:The ramp and a lot of drainage that people don’t see because it was so wet underneath.
JM:Like Salisbury Cathedral
SW:Yes, lots of drainage.9.
JM:OK now let’s go back and put in some details. Tell me about the special ceiling.
SW:What I recall is that we needed to put in new lighting in that room.
JM:Is this the room with the fireplace?
SW:No this is the Kobler Room; as you go into the room with the fireplace, it is a little square room.
JM:What did you call it?
SW:It was called the Kobler Room.
GB:We named it after the President of the Board at the time of the renovation, Don Kobler.
SW:He was a lovely man who was head of the English Department at the high school. We needed to improve the lighting in there which had one of those 1950’s horrible ceilings. In order to get up there they had to break through the ceiling and low and behold, they found a beautiful plaster ceiling, an elegant plaster ceiling that had a few holes in it. We ended up putting up big scaffolding; we had to raise extra money for this. We had to find a plaster mold maker who could copy from one side to the other to fill up the holes. She was up there like Michelangelo in the Sistine Chapel for a whole summer.
GB:Actually it was the frieze around at the top of the ceiling as far as I can remember. We never knew that it had these tall windows facing front like the other side of the door. I would come up the steps and look to see that you could only see through the windows through the middle. I never thought that they were covered up.
SW:None of us saw it; really it is fabulous. It cost at least an extra $10,000 -12,000 to do that. Don’t try to do that today. It was wonderful because we would go in there that here would be this young woman up on the scaffolding .
GB:Creating plaster fruits and leaves and things.
SW:It was totally fabulous.
JM:The front doors, tell me about Skip McMillan and the front doors.
GB: Skip’s father Hugh McMillan was on the board always. He loved looking after the yard and the lawns and the trees which he did beautifully and paid for it all himself. He brought in his young son which was in his 20’s because he knew that Skip liked polishing beautiful objects. So he and skip designed with the architect these very handsome doors.
SW:I think they are a little intimidating.
GB:They are and very heavy, but you could not put in very modern doors. It would spoil the tone.
GB: He would come with this Tung oil and some other mixture. Do you remember that mixture?
SW:I do remember that.
GB:He polished every piece of wood to a gloss. It had to be done 10 times before it had all soaked in. They are still on.
JM:They are but they are heavy. With the new book wing, was it built for the number of volumes of books or was it just built for a certain length of building for the space?
SW:It was both.
GB:For the square footage.
SW:Also it provided us with the meeting room downstairs.
GB:Which we never finished then. There was no way we had no more money.
SW:It came later.
GB:But it was built on the side of the back of the building so that is why you see the stone walls which were the outside walls.
SW:We went through a lot of stuff about what kind of lime stone we should use.
GB:That was very difficult, and expensive, or at least anything that we would like. With the slate tile roof we had to accept the fact that we simply couldn’t afford real slate.
SW:No and one of the other things was that if we had more money, but we didn’t. With the tall thin windows and how much light they give. There were a lot of problems that we had to solve.
GB:And fighting people who thought we should not put anything modern in the way of materials or design on the back of the library.
SW:That was very controversial; a lot of compromises had to be made. It worked out well.
GB:Over gutters and things like that. That we did put in although they were expensive.
JM:I understand and I may be wrong that this wing is built so that it can support the weight of the books.
GB:We were told in fact about books that when you design and build a library, it must be stronger that a car parking garage because books are heavier that car, and also with the weight of people walking around. We were given all sorts of good advice.
SW:We were. It was because of the architect. They knew what they were doing. 11.
GB:The toilets they knew all about how and whether you should have at the time we had two little toilets down the stairs. We would have to go down these dark stairs and you would have to ask the librarian to put on the lights and everything, very spooky. We had quite a lot of discussion about the actual toilet which is on the main floor as to whether we should have a ladies and a gents. We finally decided to have one for all and big enough for handicapped. We had come into all those regulations. People were very happy to find that there was a toilet on the main floor.
SW:Then we put one downstairs as well which was perfectly adequate, but now it is nicer. That is one reason why people, if you are in a strange city and you want a nice place to rest…
GB:The rest room is the first thing you need.
SW:Precisely, and you always get good advice from the staff about where to eat.
GB: In those days do you remember if you left house to go into town for something, you had to wait until you got home to go to the toilet. There was no loo except a church; if you belonged to a church, you had a rest room.
SW:Or possibly the town hall.
GB:Yeah but the town hall was just as scary before it was rebuilt. Probably that fire happened about the same time.
JM:Tell me about the ramp.
GB:We had agonies over that; what it should be constructed of because people wanted it to be exactly like the lime stone in the front. The lime stone for the whole library when it was built in 1892 was cut from lime stone in the local area by a firm of Italian stone cutters. They had their machines and they did it all. The machines are still in Canaan. We were told that they were there but no one knew how to use them anymore. It would be extremely expensive just to cut enough for a ramp.
SW:We went to Indiana for the stone, the cap stones.
GB:Otherwise it had to be done with blocks of concrete.
SW:It was very controversial. People thought it would be ugly, but it is not terribly ugly.
GB:They didn’t want a ramp anyway.
SW:They did not care about people in wheelchairs. We put all kinds of planting in front of it.
SW:The whole issue of planting around the library has always been an issue.
GB:That was Hugh McMillan’s baby.
SW:It has turned out well and mothers with strollers used it and children run up and down it.
JM:Yeah and skateboards.
SW:We have this wonderful mountain lion on the front which softens the front and makes it more friendly I think.
GB:But that is more recent.
SW:That is much more recent.
JM:Furnishings, you and Gaile picked them out. It was more of a William Morris/Stickley type of furniture.
GB:We talked to the architect’s interior decorator. One thing we didn’t know which I am sorry about, but they have changed that furniture, was that if you put red in the sun, it will fade faster than any other color.
SW:We used a lot of red and green.
GB:We loved red and green on the upholstery.
SW:They were very comfortable chairs. I loved in the children’s room those little shiny red chairs. They were Italian chairs. They got rid of all of them, and they were in good shape.
GB:Why did they do that? They were very beautifully made.
SW:I don’t know.
JM:I think they were donated to some library.
GB:So what have they got now, something instead?
SW:They have sort of animals and things to sit on; I was sorry frankly that they got rid of those chairs. They could have used them downstairs.
GB:Yes they certainly could. They were very comfy even for us to sit on. There were a lot of things they didn’t do.
SW:They didn’t listen to me.
JM:I think a lot of it was through ignorance in some respects.
GB:It was entirely through ignorance because they did not know that Sara and I had had anything to do with the renovation.
JM:There is so much, I am going back to the oral history. So people know what has been done. I have done Tom Key’s renovation (1990), I have done John Hoffman’s renovation(2016), I am doing this renovation (1980’s) so you have a basis for later.
JM:Somewhere down the line you can go back and learn what has been done. Yes, I ‘ve got pictures but. I am trying to do as much as I can for the various organizations.
SW:I think that is terrific. I think the one thing I would say to anybody who wants to renovate this building again is get an architect who had done libraries and cares about it.
GB:Another thing I don’t know maybe I mentioned it to you so you have it on your list about the far end where the Smith and Bingham book collections are, that we were given a pretty big donation by the Salisbury Association in order for them to have their records in a proper place. We sealed off that area. That used to be the librarian’s office, upstairs.
SW:But now it is downstairs, Claudia’s office.
GB:So that end was actually sealed off with doors and you had to use a key.
JM:When I first started this job, I had to use a key. But now that it is part of Claudia’s office it is open. I store things upstairs. I had a lady who was doing research on this library as a youth library and she was blown away that we had still some of the Smith and Bingham collections of books.
SW:Exactly, so that is still a special collection and they didn’t touch it, thank goodness.
JM:How did this renovation take?
SW:That is a good question.
GB:A year at least of real building.
SW:A year or two maybe.
GB:Oh yes from start to finish I would think the work would have taken 2 years.
SW:We were so lucky to get the big grant and to announce this big grant because it made people see the library as important. Also they could see the concept of libraries as important.
GB:I think I can find out about that …
SW:The grant money?
GB:when I get home because I was going through my records for the library that I had kept. I found two diaries that I had kept. I kept all my pocket book diaries but I haven’t gone through them. So I’ll have a look see if they were the right year.
JM:Is there anything that either of you ladies want to add to this interview before we close?
SW:Yes, Gaile and I had tons of fun working together. If you go off the side door but it is hard to see but when they put in the cement step, Gaile and I put our handprints in the wet cement with our initials.
GB:As you go up the steps to the main level of the library yes we did.
SW:Yes we did and you can see it if the light is right.
GB:Have you gone to look for them?
SW:Yes, I was showing it to Claudia. I said to Claudia she should try to find a way to put her handprint somewhere. We could even get that re cemented and do it again. We were thinking when the whole thing was over, how are we going to record our impact. We sort of looked around and and felt that would be there forever.
JM:That is wonderful.
SW:Isn’t that cool? If you took a piece of paper and sort of scribbled on it like a grave rubbing, you could see the imprint.
GB:I can’t wait to get my kids over here, my grandchildren. They love that kind of thing.
SW:Also the upstairs the attic of the library which they have done away with and I understand because it opens it up better and lets in more light, but it still was a fun place to mess around in. There were all kind of treasures.
GB:Oh yes what is it new then?
SW:It is gone.
GB:There is a high ceiling then?
SW:There is a high ceiling instead; you can go up the stairs here and you go up into the clock tower, but you can’t go into the attic.
JM:That is where we have the Salisbury Association storage.
SW: Yes, but in the main part but if you go behind what is now the checkout desk and look up there is no attic there. So there is an attic over Claudia’s office and there is an attic up to the bell tower. But that is gone. Remember at the base of the bell tower downstairs, we called it the dungeon.
SW:We used to have that and it is still there. I do not know what is in there but I think you would need a key to get in there.
GB:We ought go over all this and look at it again. It might bring us back. Also I really do want to find all the files that we had for those years of the renovation because we certainly made them and kept them. I did not keep them at home.
SW:There were filed kept here as you know. I do not know where they have gone to.
GB:We need to look sometime.
SW:They are underneath Claudia’s office. If you go downstairs into the basement there is a place where the Salisbury band keeps their instruments. There is the sort of large print storage place and then there is a space where they organize the book sales. Then there is another room at the end. WE should go spooking around in there.
GB:Yeah let’s do that.
SW:Particularly under Claudia’s office. There used to be an office for the bookkeeper. That’s got lots of files.
GB:Yes because when I asked Claudia about that where they might be, she said that during this renovation things had been moved here and there. After the renovation I should begin to know where these files are/
SW:Well you and I will do that one of these weeks.
JM:Please let me know because as Town Historian I should also know where the files are kept.
GB:Yes, they are all part of the town history.
JM:Thank you ladies both of you. This had been splendid.
GB:You are so welcome. I have enjoyed it. AS we got talking I remembered more information.
JM:This has been wonderful.