Frederick P. James and Julia James Butterfield

Patrons perusing the library's collection of audio books might look up and notice the benevolent face of a nineteen-century gentleman gazing down at them. That’s Mr. Frederick P. James, a Deerfield native, whose childhood home used to stand nearly opposite the Tilton cemetery on Nottingham Road.

Mr. James used his talents well, entered the business world in New York and amassed a sizeable fortune. He made his home on 5th Avenue in the City, with a second home in Craigside, a beautiful place on the Hudson fifty miles north of New York City. But with all his success, he did not forget his old home town.

One of the most lasting contributions he made was the establishment of the first public library in Deerfield, located upstairs in the Town Hall. Choosing John D. Philbrick (see June Communicator) as his agent, he provided the sum of $1000 which Philbrick used to buy the books and set up the library.  James also generously endowed the students of Deerfield, providing $5,000 to build the No. 6 school in 1873 on Nottingham Road.  It was one of the finest of Deerfield’s 15 original schoolhouses.  (Eventually it fell into disrepair and, as the school districts consolidated, was taken down.)

Frederick P. James died in 1884, and his widow, Julia James married the distinguished Civil War general, Daniel Butterfield. It was she who agreed to donate half the cost of building the Soldier’s Memorial on the condition that the Women’s Relief Corps raise the other half. In 1914, this ambition was realized, and the building was dedicated. The Philbrick-James Library shared the space with the Women’s Relief Corps, and the building was used for public benefit, a place for various organizations to meet. In the years that followed, the library’s collection grew to take over the building.

Many of the books in that original collection bear the names and bookplates of F.P. James, and John D. Philbrick, as well as those of Julia James Butterfield and Daniel Butterfield; Julia Butterfield willed all her books to the Philbrick-James Library. Many of those original volumes have survived, and have returned to the place where they started, upstairs in the Town Hall. They are now a part of the collection of the Deerfield Historical Society and are shelved in their museum in the same room where the library once was.

As always, I am indebted to the research of town historian Joanne Wasson for much of the information in this article.