• by Tom Eastman

North Conway Public Library Observes Milestone

Birthdays are a time for turning over a new leaf, a time to turn a new page in the book of one's life, so to speak. Pardon the literary cliche, but the North Conway Public Library is marking a new 'chapter' on the 100th anniversary of its founding by constructing a new addition.

New construction in this booming resort town isn't necessarily news, but a new wing on an old institution that has served the public for 100 years is noteworthy. A three-man crew from Gordon Cormack Builders began work on the new facility in April, and expect to complete the $100,000 project by December.

Located to the north of the existing granite building, built in 1911, the new 22- by 28-foot cedar clapboard addition will house a basement conference/meeting room, a children's room on the first floor, and historical reference materials on the balcony level. The project also includes a new parking lot behind the original building, and the addition of a handicapped access ramp from Mechanic Street to the south side of the original building.

Considering that library officials were citing a need for "a larger children's department" back in 1919, the fruition of the project 68 years later is definitely a cause for celebration, according to Carrie Gleason, who has served as the NCPL's librarian since 1978.

"The addition of the children's room will give us the space to present more programs and expand our children's volumes," said Gleason, a former director of the North Conway Kindergarten. Currently comprised of 2608 volumes, the children's collection is stored in a cramped space that is, in reality, little more than a hallway. The library's series of Children's Story Hours, currently presented Wednesday mornings throughout the school year for North Conway Day Care pupils, will be expanded with the addition of the new building, Gleason said, along with library orientation sessions for young readers from the John Fuller Elementary School.

"We haven't been able to have as many programs as we'd like because we haven't had the space for them. Once we get the children's room finished, we'll be all set," Gleason said.

The addition has been partially financed through book sales, proceeds from concession booths at the North Conway American Legion Carnival and Mt. Washington Valley Equine Classic at Attitash, and other fund-raising activities conducted by the library's board of trustees, acccording to Gleason. Those fund-raising activities are scheduled to continue throughout the year, Gleason notes, with the library set to host a book table at the North Conway Community Center's Marketplace Saturday, Sept. 5.

Major contributions to the project were provided by grants from the Pequawket Foundation, the North Conway Rotary Club, the First NH/ White Mountain Bank; memorial donations given to the library over the years, and contributions made by numerous friends of the library.

The library was awarded a $45,004 matching grant last week for the project through the federal Library Services Act. The grant, which requires 50 percent local matching funds, was accepted by the Governor's Executive Council last week.

The granting of a $15,000, one-time-only appropriation by Conway voters for the project at March town meeting marked the first time in the 100-year history of the library that public funds were sought by the institution, Gleason notes.

Prior to the establishment of the North Conway Library Association in 1887, there were a number of small, independent libraries in the region, according to North Conway historian Helen Nute. The idea of establishing a public library, however, was proposed by Dr. Joseph H. Pitman, a local physician. Early in the spring of 1887, Pitman and a group of civic-minded people met to discuss the library proposal. At the sixth meeting on June 15 of that year, a constitution and bylaws were adopted, and 40 shareholders agreed to pay $25 each in five annual installments of $5 to become life members.

Elected as officers of the new association were various community leaders. Nathan W. Pease, a local photographer, was elected president, an office he held for 13 years. Ellen Mason and James L. Gibson, the group's first secretary and treasurer, both served for 44 years. Serving as the library's first directors were Jennie McMillan, Dr. Pitman, Dr. William Bragdon, and James Schouler.

A member of the American Historical Association, Schouler was a Boston historian and legal authority whose contributions to the library, and to all of North Conway, proved to be numerous. In addition to his library work, his bequests made possible the purchase of the park that now bears his name in front of the North Conway Depot. Author of a seven-volume series on American history, which was acclaimed as the "best of its time," Schouler and his fellow directors set their sights on finding a location for the library, assigning the task to treasurer Gibson.

Reporting back to the group on June 25, Gibson said he could obtain a room in the Masonic Building for $15 a year, a figure that the group deemed reasonable. Schouler, Mason and McMillan were appointed to purchase books, but left the selection of those books to Schouler, bowing to his reputation as a scholar and historian. The library opened its doors on Aug. 18, 1887. An article appearing in the Aug. 20, 1887 edition of the "White Mountain Echo" described the library as "a pretty and attractive room on the southeast corner of the Masonic Building." The library was open three times a week in summer, and Saturday afternoons in winter. Books were taken out at a rate of 2 cents a day, 10 cents a week. Summer residents could rent books for 50 cents a month, or $1 for the whole season.

A concert was held in 1888 to raise money for the library, with a Mr. Rickettson of Boston performing, accompanied by a piano. Card parties for the benefit of the library were also hosted by the Ricker sisters, operators of Kearsarge Hall (currently the site of the North Conway Community Center). Then, as now, fundraising was an important part of library activities.

Dr. Pitman, who had initiated the library project back in 1887, passed on in 1891, and was replaced on the board of directors by White Mountain School of Art painter Benjamin Champney. Due to a rent increase at the Masonic Hall, the directors sought and found a new location for the library, selecting two rooms located on the second floor of the Pease Block (now the site of Fall River Knitting Mills) on Main Street. It remained there 19 years, until the library moved to its present site at the corner of Mechanic and Main Streets in 1911.

Pease and Schouler traded positions in 1900, with Pease taking Schouler's place on the board of directors, and Schouler taking over as president. By 1902, the number of books had risen to 3000. The library became a free one to local residents due to the receipt of a $50,000 bequest from the estate of George S. Walker, a prominent summer resident at the Russell Cottages in Kearsarge for 20 years, who died that year. Although the money did not come into the library's possession at once, the knowledge of its existence set big plans in motion.

Plans for a new building for the library began to take shape when Schouler purchased a plot of land at the corner of Main and Mechanic Streets from Lycurgus Pitman for $1500 in 1904. Known as the North Conway House Stable and lot, the site had been leased to Annie E. Ricker, who operated the hotel. The house was moved onto Pine Street, and now serves as the home of local plumber and weather observer Briggs Bunker, near the Pine Street Professional Building.

Schouler donated the land to the library in 1905. In August of that year, the library was incorporated, with Schouler, Gibson, Pease, George H. Shedd and George T. Barnes named as officers of the corporation.

Architect C.C. Zantzinger of Philadelphia, designer of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, drew up plans for the North Conway Public Library building in 1911. Once again, Schouler came to the aid of the library, donating the cost of the building. Granite for the project was donated by Charles "Chubby" Whitaker of North Conway.

An annex was added to the back of the building in 1917, with Zantzinger once again serving as architect of the project, while funds for the addition were provided by the Walker endowment. Original master plans called for another addition to be built to the north of the original structure, with Whitaker stipulating in his will that granite for any such addition could be obtained free of charge from his property.

Due to the high cost of granite cutting, that offer was not exercised when the library undertook its current children's room expansion, Gleason notes. Built of cedar, the handsome structure retains the architectural essence of the original building and 1917 addition, however, thanks to architect Howard Miller's attention to and respect for Zantzinger's plans.

Schouler died in 1920, but left the library $3000 and his private collection of books. His bequest also contained a provision that a portrait of his wife be hung over the mantel in the library, where it remains today on display in what is now known as the Schouler Reading Room.

Still going strong at 100 years after its founding, the library serves as a complement to the publicly funded Conway Public Library in Conway Village. Its reservoir includes extensive historical references to North Conway's past, including town reports back to 1853, and 16,189 volumes, including records and tapes. Users of the library can make use of the library's typewriter and computer, rent its Polaroid 600 Land camera, or peruse a copy of Rolling Stone, evidence that the facility has kept up with modern times over the years.

One of three privately endowed and supported libraries in the state, the handsome building continues to serve the com-munity, as it was intended to by its founders back in 1887. "Our purpose is to be of service to the community," said Gleason.

Editor's note: Current (2018) hours for the North Conway Public Library are: 10 a.m. - 5 p.m., Tuesdays, noon – 6 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays, and noon - 5 p.m. Fridays, and 10 a.m. – 1 p.m., Saturdays. For further information, telephone 356-2961.

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