Our Origins, Our Present and Our Future
The Library, completed in 1893, was given to the town of Sharon by Maria Bissell Hotchkiss, in memory of her late husband, Benjamin Berkeley Hotchkiss. Mrs. Hotchkiss, who grew up on a farm on Tory Hill in Lakeville, was from a prominent Litchfield County family. Mr. Hotchkiss grew up in Sharon, where he worked in his father’s Sharon Valley factory. In addition to making hardware (the predecessor of today’s monkey wrench was invented there), the factory also developed firearms and munitions. Hotchkiss later relocated to Hartford, where he worked as a gun maker for Colt and Winchester. By then he was committed to ordnance manufacture, but this was shortly after the Civil War and the U.S. government showed no interest in funding new weapons. He therefore moved to France in 1867 where he started a weapons and munitions plant. Among other armaments, he developed a revolving barrel machine gun. Known as the “Hotchkiss gun,” this was a revolutionary weapon and it became wildly popular. In addition to armaments and munitions, the factory outside Paris also manufactured “Hotchkiss” automobiles, which were in production until the 1950s. Hotchkiss amassed a considerable fortune. Upon his death in 1885, his widow became one of the wealthiest women in the Northeast.
After selecting the site for the Library, Maria Hotchkiss devoted herself to the project. On the recommendation of Timothy Dwight, then President of Yale, she chose Bruce Price as the architect. (Dwight had earlier learned of Mrs. Hotchkiss’ interest in education, and upon being assured that worthy students from the area would not be charged tuition, she endowed The Hotchkiss School.) Price designed the Chateau Frontenac in Quebec, several other Canadian Pacific Hotels and numerous buildings at Yale. He also designed the Tuxedo Park Library, a building that incorporates the same bowed rooms as ours. (Price, incidentally, was the father of Emily Post.) As the Library was being built, Mrs. Hotchkiss’ involvement was detailed, to the point where she picked the stones for the exterior, rejecting the first two samples that were submitted to her.
Although the Library receives generous support from the Town of Sharon, most of its funding is through patron donations. (Despite the shared name, the Library is not connected to or funded by the Hotchkiss School.) The Library relies heavily on the Annual appeal as well as its two principal fundraising activities: the Annual Sumer Book Signing and the fall Gala Auction. Without strong patron support, the Library could not continue to offer the materials, programs, and services it does.