By: Elaine Clow, Trustee Boscawen Public Library
Librarian, Boscawen Historical Society
Recording Secretary, 1913 Library Restoration Committee
The Town of Boscawen voted to adopt the Public Library Act at Town Meeting in March 1892, and Library opened in the Town Hall in 1893. Conditions in Town Hall became congested, “so it was hailed with joy when it was announced that a new home was to be given to the people.” Five associates: John Kimball, Benjamin Kimball, Frank Gerrish, Augustine Ayers and Henry Gerrish shaped plans and secured the lot donated by Frank L. Gerrish for building a new library.
Guy Lowell, a noted American architect of Boston, was asked to design a Colonial Revival Beaux Arts library and provide specifications for the new public library and hall of records. He was approached to build what he called “my little gem” at the time he designed the New Hampshire Historical Society and restored the Merrimack County Bank. Other of his important structures and gardens include the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, the Charles River Dam and Embankment, the NY Supreme Court, the Planting Fields Arboretum, and numerous Harvard buildings. In an architectural ranking of the top seven Guy Lowell buildings, the Boscawen Public Library is #1, Merrimack County Bank is #3, and the New Hampshire Historical Society is #6.
This library has held a reading room, meeting room, the town vault, Selectmen’s Office, Municipal Court, and Civil Defense Shelter and Headquarters. Dedicated on August 22, 1913, the words spoken about libraries are as valid now as they were the day the building was dedicated to the town of Boscawen as a cultural resource:
• “A gift of incalculable value, a safeguard of character, and a treasure house of knowledge.”
• “An object so complete, so symmetrical in its architecture, so well proportioned, so ornamental to our street, as well as the utility of furnishing information and instruction, for boys and girls; men and women.”
• “What is this library for? Well, the building is pretty to look at. It is a thing of beauty. Its Colonial architecture, symmetrical proportions, solidity, beautiful finish and convenient appointments within cannot fail to please the severest critic.”
• “You can cross the threshold of this library and be in a different climate from this weary and work-a-day world in which you daily live. You will not change your geography very much, but you can change your mental attitude, your environment, and your mood in five minutes.
• “A fitting place for the records of the Town.”
The 1913 Library was placed on the National Register of Historic Places on May 28, 1981, and served the town until 2007 when the library collections were moved to new quarters in the municipal complex, about two miles south. In August 2013, at the centennial of the building, a committee was convened by the Board of Selectmen to preserve and protect this building for future town use. Thus far the 1913 Library Restoration Committee has:
• a “Seven to Save designation from the NH Preservation Alliance,
• a matching funds LCHIP grant, and donations and pledges for the grant requirements for phase one of three for the project (roof repairs and architect’s report)
• a quote for fixing the slate and copper roof (to be done this fall),
• a community-based forum discussing future uses of the building
• an inventory and storage of books and artifacts off-site
• removal of compromised drywall and insulation,
• https://www.facebook.com/BoscawenLibraryRestoration (Please LIKE us)
Although some repairs have been made, there are areas of deferred maintenance that now require prompt attention to prevent accelerating deterioration. Roof repairs are the highest priority, followed by restoration of exterior masonry, and exterior woodwork. Once the exterior has been sealed, interior plaster, paint, and restoration of wood surfaces will be addressed.
The library retains its original shelving and woodwork, in good condition. The original lighting fixtures remain, including an unusual lamp embedded in the leaded glass fanlight over the front doors, along with chairs, tables, and other furnishings. Most of the hinges, latches, locks, and other hardware elements are in excellent condition.
Mechanical systems are adequate; rewiring was accomplished by routing new romex through original conduit, and grounded outlets were installed. The forced hot air furnace is in working order, as is the plumbing on the lower level. A PVC waste line exits through the southeast corner of the foundation to a recent tank and leach field.
The site presents the challenge of no room for additional parking, without severely
compromising the facade. If sod was replaced by pavement, few parking spaces would be gained, as you can’t back onto a state highway. ADA accessibility can be met only by making modifications to the building. These challenges will be addressed as we move into phases two and three. This historic structure should remain a source of pride for many generations to come.
If you have any stories and memories about our 1913 Library (or wish to make a donation) please contact us at 1913 Library Restoration Committee, 116 North Main Street, Boscawen, NH 03303, or email them to firstname.lastname@example.org
We need volunteers, we need elbow grease, we need enthusiasm, and we need financial support to get the building open to the public again. We need to meet the needs of safe and adequate parking, along with ADA compliance. We also need to make the necessary repairs to ensure this building will stand and serve the community for another hundred years.