By Lois C. Flesche As Transcribed from, Branford: A Commemorative Album (1994)
When Willoughby Adelbert Wallace, a Stony Creek resident, died in November 1946, he left the bulk of his estate in Trust to the Town of Branford, for a free public library in Stony Creek. Should the town fail to accept the bequest within a ten-year period, the Trust provided that the estate would go to the Congregational Church of Christ, Stony Creek to be used in any way it chose.
The estate at Wallace’s death totaled approximately $93,000, a sizeable amount in those days. The monies were left to purchase a lot in Stony Creek suitable for construction of a library building plus the appropriate furnishings and equipment for a library.
The residents of Stony Creek were divided over the bequest. Some saw, as a first priority, a need for a recreation building, to be built by the church with the Trust monies. Some thought the unrestricted use of the monies by the church would not be wise. Others saw the library as a prime need in Stony Creek.
Settlement of the issue did not come almost until the ten year deadline was up. By that time, the Willoughby Wallace Memorial Fund had grown to $186,000. The deadline for the decision was April 4, 1956. The decision to accept the Trust monies was made after heated discussion at a Town Meeting on February 29, 1956, attended by some 600 residents. First on the agenda that night was the acquisition of land for a new high school. That issue too provoked strong feeling among the attendees and was the subject of at least as much acrimonious debate as the library bequest. The voters that night eventually approved $135,000 to buy the land where the high school is now.
Then came the Wallace bequest. A spokeswoman for a Stony Creek Study Committee on the library issue reported that the committee, appointed by the Board of Selectmen, recommended acceptance of the Wallace bequest. Members of the Blackstone Library Board also spoke in favor of the library and agreed to help with staffing and equipment for the library. Others spoke in favor of letting the monies go to the church for the building of a recreational building which could be used by the entire community. A closing statement by a Mrs. James King, who said, “Branford must be rich indeed if it can afford to pay $135,000 for a school site and reject a gift of $185,000,” brought the issue to an end. At that point, a motion was made to accept the bequest to the Town of Branford. It passed overwhelmingly.
Construction started in October 1956 and the library was opened on November 1, 1958. The architect, Douglass Orr, who lived in Stony Creek, offered to design the building at no cost to the town. Castellucci Brothers made what has been described as a “most impressive” gift – all the granite used in the construction.
Willoughby Wallace was considered a penurious person, something of a miser in his habits, but his legacy has benefited the town immeasurably. The library is a well-used facility whose staff and offerings have been met with high regard by the community at large.
About the Author: Lois Flesche is a former editor of the Branford Review and served on the Committee for the 350th Commemorative Album for Branford.