Who is the imposing yet amiable man greeting you from above the entrance to the reading room in the Library?
He is Samuel Denison Babcock, eminent financier, President, VP or Director of twenty-one different corporations including banks, telephone, railroad and steamship companies. He was born in Stonington in 1822. He was described as ‘a venerable patriarch, self-made, a very respectable man’.
His good friend Erskine M. Phelps, of Phelps Dodge and Palmer (a boot and shoe manufacturer) in Chicago, also grew up in Stonington and enjoyed great success in commercial wholesaling thanks to his ‘energy and keen insight’. Lucky for us, they both maintained a ‘deep interest in the welfare and progress of their home town’. They pledged $8,000 each (more than $200,000 in today’s dollars) to build a new library building if the town would raise $4,000 – which it did quickly. The Library you know today was built and formally opened on March 25th, 1900.
This painting, on loan from the Stonington Historical Society, was completed in 1894 and keeps the vision and memory of Mr. Babcock alive every day in the Library. Of course, when you are on the north side of 110 years of age, you benefit from a little regular ‘refurbishment’. In July the portrait was removed and, thanks to the skill (and some magic) of art restoration expert Howard Park and the balancing talent of John Turrentine, Mr. Babcock was returned, cleaned and repaired, to his rightful place on the wall last month – ready to resume his lofty observation of all patrons, visitors and staff.