Jesse M. Smith Library
Plat 160 Lot 80
Lot size: 2.5 acres
Total building size: 25,000 s.f.
Zoning: Village Commercial
Prior land use: Textile Mill (now demolished)
The Jesse M. Smith Memorial Library has always been an integral component of both Stillwater Mill Complex rehabilitation project and Harrisville, Rhode Island. Originally located on land granted from Mary Smith in honor of her husband, Jesse M. Smith, in 1894, the library once occupied the second story of a two-story building in downtown Harrisville which included a store and dance hall. The current library was part of a philanthropic reorganization of the property by Austin T. Levy in 1934 to include the library and an assembly hall for concerts.
Levy, then-owner of Stillwater Mills, constructed the library and assembly hall to bring culture and fine arts to his mill workers. The 5,000 square foot structure served the community of Harrisville for almost seventy years. By 2004, after a 3,000 square foot renovation in 1992, the library's collection that had more than doubled to nearly 50,000 volumes, and there was simply no more space available. The children's collection had expanded into the Program Room. Shelves were overloaded, and vigorous "weeding" of older volumes had become an on-going necessity, with many older books being either placed in storage or discarded.
It was not until the Town designated the Stillwater Mill Redevelopment Zone that the project really took hold. Suddenly, the idea of a building a new library located on the Clear River overlooking the Stone Arch Bridge and Mill Pond Falls in Harrisville became a plausible and practical goal. Funds were designated, and bids for architectural services were sent out, resulting in the hiring of Newport Collaborative Architects of Providence to design a new library facility to reflect the mill heritage of its new home. And in November 2004, a bond issue appeared on the election ballot and voters approved a five million dollar bond toward construction of a new 25,000 square foot facility, paving the way for appointment of a formal Library Building Committee to bring the project to completion.
Since then, efforts by the Town, the Planning Department and the Committee have begun to bring in large grants from a variety of state, federal and private sources. The R. I. Office of Library and Information Services (OLIS) approved an application for Library Construction Reimbursement Funds in the amount of $3,681,721.