Monday, May 12, 2008

1917 New Public Library, Bangor, Maine

It all began with seven books in a footlocker. In 1830, a small chest was kept in the publishing office of John S. Sayward on Exchange Street. It contained the first library of the Bangor Mechanic Association. Members could check out two books at a time; their sons or apprentices could check out one. As the collection increased, it was moved to ever-larger reading rooms in several downtown locations.

The Mechanic Association’s Library was not the only one in town, but it was the one that survived. With the 1873 absorption of the Bangor Mercantile Association and its Library by the Mechanic Association, the collections of six libraries had come together in one location and were known as the Bangor Mechanic Association Public Library.

In 1883 the city accepted $100,000 from the estate of the Honorable Samuel F. Hersey. The income from this fund was to be used “for the promotion of education, and the health and good morals of citizens” [of the city]. City Council voted to use the entire sum for the establishment of a public library. The management of the legacy was entrusted to a board of five members known as the Trustees of the Hersey Fund. Its membership consisted of the Mayor, the City Treasurer and three citizens. These Trustees formed an agreement with the Bangor Mechanic Association, under which the Bangor Public Library was organized, using the 20,000 volumes of the Association’s library as a nucleus and $12,000 of the Mechanic Association’s funds and the $100,000 Hersey fund as endowments.

In 1905, the Library, which had previously exacted a small fee from its users, became entirely free. At this time the Library was housed in rented quarters in the business district. In September 1906, a Children’s Room was opened. By 1911 the Library had 70,000 volumes, making it the largest public library in the state. The disastrous fire of April, 1911, swept it all away. In May 1911, with 29 books saved from the burning building, 1,330 returned by borrowers and 46, which had been at the bindery, the library reopened in two small rooms in the basement of the Court House.

After the fire, Peabody and Stearns, a Boston architectural firm, drew up plans for an educational center in Bangor. The new high school building and the public library would stand side by side in a new public park, with another small park across one street and a new post office and court house across another. The corner stone for the new library was laid June 18, 1912. The building was opened for public use on December 20, 1913.


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