History of the North Providence Union Free Library

History of the North Providence Library

By Thomas E. Greene, Town Historian

Before the library was founded in North Providence, many events took place to shape the growth of the town.  North Providence was founded in 1765 with the village of Pawtucket being the center of the town since it was more densely populated than the western side of the town.  By 1874, the town changed from an agricultural society to a manufacturing one.  By 1809, the Lyman family built a mill at Greystone and a post office opened at Fruit Hill in 1825.  By 1849, because of the mill population in Centerdale, a post office was opened to serve the new residents.  From 1824, the most prominent land owning family in Centerdale was the Angell Family.  James Angell, who built a tavern in 1824, had a son James Halsey Angell, who, in turn had two sons, Frank and George.  Frank, in particular, developed a great love of books and reading which caused him to spearhead the establishment of a library at Centerdale.

In 1868, anyone desiring to borrow a book needed to travel to Providence which at that time was practically a full day’s travel.  Since Centerdale had around 200 residents, the formation of a town library seemed necessary.  Frank Angell and two friends, Marcus M. Joslin and Alexander W. Harrington, saw this need and met to make plans for the formation of a library.  Since the town could not fund this project, fund raising was a necessity.  The first idea was to hold a local entertainment at Armory Hall in Centerdale, now the site of “Our Place”.  A play titled “All That Glitters is not Gold” was produced and presented on October 31, 1868.  Although attendance was not large, it was “worthwhile”.  The performance was repeated on November 28, 1868 but using a different title, “The Factory Girl”.

A year later, on March 20th and June 5th 1869, they presented “Luke the Laborer” or the “Long Lost Son”.  By this time, they had raised $200.00.  Later that year, they initiated a subscription campaign and by the end of 1869 had raised $400.00.  This money was for books only, nothing had been raised for a building.  On April 21, 1869, a meeting was held and on May 13, 1869 a constitution and by-laws were adopted and it was decided that the library should be called “The Union Library Association”.

The next objective was to raise money for a building.  On July 4, 1869, a celebration raised enough money to realize the building of the library.  Food was sold and entertainment was presented by the Greenville Cornet Band.  Land was leased on a 99 year lease next to the Luther Carpenter Store on Mineral Spring Avenue.  That spot today is between Robbins Funeral Home and the adjoining auto garage.  In March 1870, ground was broken and on July 4, 1870, the door was opened for the first library.  The first librarian was Frank C. Angell, a post he held until his death in 1928 except for the years 1871, 1872 and 1873.  There were 350 books on the opening day and library hours were 7:00 – 9:00 P.M. on Tuesdays and Saturdays.  Originally a 6 cent charge was levied for the rental of books for a week.  In 1875, the General Assembly passed the Free Library Act and this practice ended.  The name of the library was also changed to the Union Free Library.  In 1925, Frank Angell stated that the building needed repair and in fact a new larger building was necessary.  By this time, there were 6,000 volumes in the library.

After Frank Angell’s death in 1928, a new town hall was built and the old (1879) town hall was used on the second floor as a new library.  The second librarian was Arthur Sharp who served from 1931 to 1934 when Veronica Hurley assumed the post.  By the early 1960’s, a bigger building was again necessary and in 1962, a new library was built at 9 George Street.  Now the institution had 14,000 volumes and was open ten hours a week.  Ms. Hurley continued until 1965 when she passed the position to Emma Baron who served until 1970.  During 1970 and 1971, Barbara Ando (Neri) served and was succeeded by Mary Ellen Hardiman who retired in 2020. 

Increasing town population demanded another bigger building which became a reality in 1985. The building of the former North Providence Arena in 1973 and Super Skates from 1980 until 1981 was acquired and became the current North Providence Union Free Library in 1986 and continues to serve as the library until this day.