Looking at the life of one of Bristol's first librarians

Published on Friday, 20 November 2020 10:51
Written by Erica Drzewiecki


BRISTOL – The man who did it all may still haunt the beloved town institution that breathes his legacy.

The Bristol Public Library is the community gem it is today because of the late Charles Lawson Wooding, head librarian from 1892 to 1944. Current History and Reference Librarian Meagan Cairns presented an engaging and thoughtful portrait of Wooding during a virtual program Thursday.

“Mr. Wooding dedicated 52 years of his life to our library,” Cairns said. “He was a very dedicated, well-loved member of the community and we’re very grateful for everything he gave.”

Born the son of a local clockmaker in 1869, Wooding was appointed librarian before he graduated from Yale University and just one year after the Bristol Public Library was established.

Cairns’ historical research debunked a local misconception, that Wooding was the city’s first librarian.

“Thomas Patterson often gets forgotten about,” she explained. “He was actually here with us for less than a year, while the town established the library as a municipal entity.”

Wooding is more often remembered as the library’s founding father, and for good reason. He is credited with helping to establish the reference department and went on to serve as President of the New England Library Association and President of the Connecticut Library Association.

Revered by local residents for a steadfast dedication to Bristol before his passing in 1955; Wooding’s reach extended far beyond the library’s walls.

An educator and principal at the Federal Hill School, he would later serve as Bristol’s first Superintendent of Schools.

“You’d think he had enough on his plate,” Cairns pointed out. “But he loved Bristol. He lived here, died here and was very deeply committed to public service.”

Among the other roles Wooding served during his life, he was secretary, treasurer and manager of the Bristol Water Company, director of Bristol’s Bank & Trust as well as the Terryville Trust. He was also president of the Prospect United Methodist Church Board of Trustees and helped draft Bristol’s original City Charter in 1911.

Upon his passing, the Bristol Public Library shut down for a few hours so people could attend Wooding’s funeral services. Notable attendees included Bristol Mayor James P. Casey and Bristol Press Publisher Bart Barnes. He was laid to rest in West Cemetery.

In 1966, the library’s reading room was renamed the Charles L Wooding Reading Room. His portrait still hangs over the fireplace mantel and legend has it that his spirit still haunts the place.

“We know even after his retirement, Mr. Wooding was here on a very regular basis to walk around the facility and say hello to everybody,” Cairns said. “It’s rumored he is still here with us today and is particularly fond of walking around in the reading room named after him.”

A group of ghost hunters presented a program at the library about a decade ago and independently confirmed the presence of at least one spirit on the premises, she added. In the reading room.

“While we can’t confirm it was him,” Cairns said, “we like to think he is still here, watching out for us to this day.”

On Saturday, Dec. 19 Cairns and the Bristol History Room will present “Ask a Genealogist” - an open forum on genealogy at 10 a.m. Register at bristollibraryrefdept@bristolct.gov or 860-584-7787 ext. 4.

Erica Drzewiecki can be reached at edrzewiecki@centralctcommunications.com.

Posted in The Bristol Press, Bristol on Friday, 20 November 2020 10:51. Updated: Friday, 20 November 2020 10:53.