On June 18, 1908, the most celebrated writer in America – Mark Twain – moved to Redding. He named his new grand estate Stormfield. Upon moving in, Twain realized that he owned more books than the shelves of his new home would allow. So he donated a few thousand volumes from his own collection to create a local library – temporarily housed in an unused chapel – for his Redding neighbors.
Twain firmly believed that the building of a Mark Twain Library should be a community project, tho’ he joined his neighbors as a tireless fundraiser. His house-guests were “taxed” a one dollar contribution, he hosted a benefit concert, and he urged friends – including Andrew Carnegie – to contribute to his dream. Shortly before his death, Twain wrote to his lawyer instructing that $6,000 be given to “erect a building for the Mark Twain Library of Redding.” He died at Stormfield a few short weeks later, on April 21, 1910. Mark Twain gave both the inspiration and the lead gift to the Library that bears his name, setting Redding on a new course for intellectual, cultural, social and educational pursuits. That was his dream, it is now our library…still kept alive by fundraisers, most importantly: the annual Book Fair.
The very first book fair to benefit the library took place in 1911, only a few years after the Library was officially opened. (Sadly, the well-meaning organizers sold some of the original volumes donated by Twain).
Fifty years later, in 1961, the library’s Book Fair had grown into what would become an annual event. It was held in front of the Library in a trailer filled with approximately 1,500 donated books. Proceeds were estimated at $500. Within a few years, the ever-growing sale moved to a nearby store, then to the middle school and later the elementary school. In 1974, with approximately 20,000 books for sale, organizers convinced the New Haven Railroad management to provide special “Book Fair Trains” from Manhattan to Redding and back. By the mid ‘90s, the Fair had burgeoned in size and reputation. Dealers came from across the country, hundreds of book lovers flocked to browse the tens of thousands of books, and hundreds of volunteers helped to operate the now major event. It even attracted the attention of radio personality Garrison Keillor, who took the title of honorary chair in 1995. In 2004, the Book Fair moved again, migrating to its current home, the air-conditioned Redding Community Center.
From its humble beginnings to the present, the Mark Twain Library Book Fair has been a signature event in Redding, representing the spirit by which its library was founded. Mark Twain gave books from his own collection to start a library here. And for decades since, generous neighbors have continued to donate their literary treasures for sale at this celebrated uber-event to benefit the Mark Twain Library.