Andover Library


 

Andover Public Library, formerly Universalist Church

When the first settlers in Andover went to their new homes in the vast wilderness, it was a natural instinct to have with them as solace some memorials of the past, the most prized of these being books. An association was formed in 1795 with an agreement made at East Andover on the fourteenth day of December, A.D., one thousand seven hundred and ninety five, and subscribed to by the following persons: Benjamin Poor, Ezekiel Merrill, Enoch Adams, Jonathan Abbott, Abial Lovejoy, Phillip Abbott, Joshua Ripley, Ingalls Bragg, Peter Webster, Holton Abbott, Jonathan Stevens, Nathan Adams, Stephen Webster, Samuel Poor, Theodore Brickett, James Poor, and Nathan Swan. Among the names that immediately followed on the records of the society were Daniel Abbott, Silvanus Poor, Farnum Abbott, Eben Poor, and Ingalls Bragg, Jr; the list finally including some sixty names. The whole number of volumes purchased for the society was seventy-five.

At the first regular meeting of the society, March 6, 1796, the following officers were chosen: Moderator, Benjamin Poor; Clerk, Ingalls Bragg; Committee on Books, Nathan Adams, Jonathan Abbot; Librarian, Benjamin Poor. Thirty-five rules were adopted for the conduct of its officers and care of its books.

In 1799 Samuel Poor was chosen librarian in place of Benjamin Poor, holding the office to the time of his decease in 1820, his place then being filled by Silvanus Poor, who held office during the continuance of the society. For 30 years a great interest was held in the library with many books being regularly taken, after that interest declined. The last meeting for election of officers and transaction of business was in 1829. Books continued to be taken out, with the Homestead serving as the library and Silvanus Poor continuing to act as librarian. The last books taken out were the third and fourth volumes of Bigland, they were taken out under the name Philander Farrington, the date September 18, 1843. It is perhaps easy to account for the decline of interest which finally led to the dissolution of the society. The founders of it were men above the ordinary run, as shown by the books selected. They had all gone. Great numbers of the books originally selected, histories particularly, and those relating to the sciences, had become largely things of the past. Books of the new era had not yet come, The post office had been established, everyone was reading newspapers setting forth great events of each day. Whatever the cause, Andover was for a long time without a library.

On May 8, 1891, a meeting was held at the Town House and a library association formed with the officers being chosen: President Henry V. Poor; Vice-President, Stephen Cabot; Secretary, Chas. Cushman; Treasurer, Hales Suter. Six trustees were named: Asa West, R. L. Melcher, Sidney F. Abbott, F. P. Thomas, Sam Betton, Stephen Cabot. The librarian was W. W. Barnes.

On January 28, 1892 a meeting was called and J. Parker Whitney, Esq., a well-known citizen of the town, submitted to the people of Andover the following proposition: "If the library proposed by me shall be made free for the inhabitants of Andover, subject to proper restrictions necessary for the protection of the library, I will give toward it one thousand (1,000) dollars." In response a subscribtion paper was put into circulation, upon which, in addition to Mr.Whitney's subscription, Stephen Cabot, H. W. Suter and Henry V. Poor subscribed $100.00 each and Elizabeth P. Lee, Asa A. West, Henry W. Poor, F. A. Cushman and Bayard Thayer $25.00 each. It was decided that a room should be built into the Town Hall for the new library and Asa West, George W. Abbott and William Cushman were chosen to draw up the plans. The selectmen were authorized to hire $300.00 for Asa West and Sidney Abbott to purchase a stove, chairs, table, desk, oil lamps and any other equipment needed to furnish the room.

The librarian's pay in 1893 was $1.50 per week. Among the rules of the library was "all books shall be free to residents of Andover over 14 years of age;" another, "one book only shall be taken out at a time." The rule of two cents a day fine for overdue books is still in existence, one item that has not gone up in today's spiral of rising costs. The yearly expense for the library in 1899 was $116.80. The librarians for the town hall library were: 1. W. W. Barnes, 2. Gertrude Dresser, 3. Gertrude Newhall (possibly the above-mentioned G. Dresser), 4. Mabel French, 5. Annie Akers, 6. Katherine McAllister, 7. Alice Thurston. The Presidents of the Association were: 1. Henry V. Poor, 2. Stephen Cabot, 3. Olcott B. Poor, 4. John Talbot.

A meeting was held on March 14, 1941 to see if the old Universalist Church, which had not been used for many years, could be conveyed to the town and then used as a library; Harold and Millie Hodsdon were prime instigators of the movement. There was no existing Universalist Society in the town as such, so business was done with the Maine Universalist Convention as the deed to the Andover Church was held by it. A date of November 6, 1906 was on that deed. On November 11, 1943, or 37 years later, the property was deeded over to the town for a public library with the stipulation that if for any purpose it was not used for such, it would revert back to the grantor.

A brief history of the Universalist Church: In 1897 a lot was secured for a Universalist Church. The basement was laid in 1899 and the church completed and dedicated free from all debt in the summer of 1903 with interesting services in which many joined. The building is a lovely octagonal building built of brown ash which George and Sidney Abbott, brothers, cut on their wood lot on the Kimball Mile in North Andover. They both were interested in the Universalist Society as was their father Jonathan, and their grandfather Farnum Abbott before them.

You enter a small vestry with leaded windows, go up a few steps and into a large room with a cathedral ceiling all finished in the natural brown ash wood, from which hangs a huge wrought iron chandelier with many oil lamps. There are more stained glass windows on each side of the eight angles -- this was the church proper. Downstairs in the basement is a small kitchen with a wooden sink which, to this day, is water-tight, and a large room in which social functions were held. Merton Fox tells of attending suppers there as a young boy and of being served delicious baked peas as one item on the menu.

On the old deed for transfer of church to the town are these names: H. Elizabeth Richards, Helen West Ripley, Helen Berry Morgan, Chester A. Learned, and Clarence A. Hall -- most of whom are remembered by the town natives.

The library was not moved to the church until it became noticeable that the building was deteriorating. In 1944 the structure was shingled. In 1947 a committee of Sylvanus Poor, Bertha Fox, and Marion Bodwell were delegated to fix up and arrange the interior of the building and Louis Hall was to see about the outside. The death of Alice Thurston in January of 1948 necessitated getting a new librarian. Mrs. Thurston had been treasurer and librarian for 23 years, her pay $120.00 a year. She never did get into the new building to work. Mrs. Thurston was not a young woman and lived on a farm in North Andover well over a mile from town; many times in summer and winter she walked that distance with her lunch and books in a basket over her arm. Marion Bodwell was appointed librarian and Sylvanus Poor as treasurer to fill out the remaining term.

The first meeting at the new library was held November 11, 1948. In 1949 William French was elected president of the association, a position he held 20 years; Marion Bodwell was elected secretary (she served for 24 years); Margaret Learned was elected librarian (she has served for 30 years, up to the present time).

Forty-nine seats and tables were bought from the Universalist Society and the old shelves and files were moved from the Town Hall. The exterior was painted white. The new location proved to be convenient for the high school pupils, being just around the corner from the school.

Over the years many bequests of money and books have been given to the library. In 1976 a wooden plaque was bought which holds brass plates and, with a gift of $25.00 or more, the plate is engraved with the donor's name and added to the plaque as a permanent memento.

In 1975 a restroom was added in the vestry. It was started in 1970 by the Andover Friday Club when they had water piped into the building. They held pie sales and flower show profits were used to help finance it. By the use of old wood paneling found in the basement, the room blends in very nicely with the building. Howard Bailey did the carpentry work, Frank Morgan the wiring, and Gertrude Percival the overseeing. The presidents of the association since moving to the church have been: Katherine McAllister, Sylvanus Poor, Millie Hodsdon, William French, Gertrude Percival, Marion Graves, Gertrude Percival (second time), Linda Percival and Richard Johnston.

The basement in the library has been made more useable and has been a meeting place for Girl Scouts, a children's story hour, band practice, the Andover Service Circle, Historical Society, and now a nursery school. The Friday Club sponsors the library and has held flower shows, a colonial tea (1970) to help Maine celebrate its sesquicentennial (150 years), and an annual open house with either art, antiques, needlework or crafts exhibited.

Through the years the number of books has grown from the original 75 volumes to well over 75,000, the trustees increased from 6 to 12, and more library hours added. It is the long and faithful service of the librarian, officers, and trustees that has made the Andover Library possible. Many hours of labour through the years have enabled this small town of under 800 people to have one of the best and certainly the most unique libraries in the state. Open the door and you will smell and feel the charm of our old church, now library. People with an hour to spare should step inside, it is much more than a collection of books, it tells a lot about a town's flavor.

Gertrude S. Percival

March, 1979

1900 Library Account

Stephen Cabot, President. Have over 4000 volumes now.

Maintenance costs per year: $125.00.

1903

Total no. of books 5,370

Total no. pamphlets 1,000

Total no. books loaned 4,401

Total no. bought or given 445

H. V. Poor gave 215 books. Stephen Cabot, President.

The Town Hall

We have been unable to find exactly when the Main building was erected but the ell part that extends toward the stores was added later when the Grange wanted a dining room-kitchen combination upstairs and the selectmen needed room for an office downstairs. The downstairs kitchen was in that addition, too. Since the Library has been moved the kitchen is in the old Library area.

The town clock still strikes most of the time but the faces do not tell time correctly. Hopefully they may soon be adjusted properly.

The annual town meetings, in March, are still held in the upper hall which is where all large gatherings and dances are held.

Note from an old Town Report:

Settees for Town Hall: Town raised $100.00

Paid J. B. Roberts for settees: $88.35

Source: Andover: The First 175 Years, Prepared by the Andover Friday Club, Andover, ME, (1979), pp. 205-210, reprinted with permission of the current owner, The Andover Educational Fund, Inc.

Copyright 1998 by Robert A. Spidell, All Rights Reserved

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