Lubec Memorial Library

By Jennifer Multhopp

Library mortgage burning, Lubec, 1965

Lubec Memorial Library first opened its doors to the public on June 21, 1952 with a collection of 800 books, a few pieces of furniture and a librarian who was paid 75 cents an hour. Housed in two rooms behind Dr. Robert MacBride’s office at 14 Water Street, the library was open two afternoons and one evening per week. The opening was the culmination of years of planning by Reverend Donald Stockford, Leona MacBride, Alice Fitzhenry and others who founded the Lubec Memorial Library Association in 1946. Then, and throughout the library’s history, dedicated volunteers and generous benefactors have insured that the citizens of Lubec have had access to free, quality library service.

When the Association began its search for the library’s location it was Dr. Robert MacBride who suggested that two rooms behind his Water Street office might be available. The space was in serious need of paint, wiring, light fixtures, a new floor, heat and other necessities. Undaunted, the group began raising funds; seeking donations of furniture, paint and other materials; and, through their own labor, created an inviting home for the new library. They had been collecting and storing books for several years and donations increased once the library was open.

Belva Thompson was hired as the first librarian. One of her early reports to the Library Board, dated April 19, 1954, reflects life in the town half a century ago – “Mrs. Thompson, the librarian, recommends that during the summer months, especially, the Saturday hours be changed from 2 to 5 p.m. and 7 to 8 p.m. to 1 to 5 p.m. She stated that most of the patrons in the evening were juveniles and that the earlier opening hours would enable them to borrow books before the movie theatre opened.” Alas, Mrs. Thompson closed her report with a resignation notice pending the summer opening of the sardine factories. She, along with many other Lubec women, depended on the wages they could earn in the packing houses. Her resignation was accepted with regret by the Board.

Library use increased steadily during the 1950s as Lubec’s population and prosperity grew along with the fortunes of the sardine industry. The library had outgrown its original home and, once again, a search for larger quarters was undertaken. In 1961 the former Dew Drop Inn, located on School Street adjacent to the Post Office, was purchased for $5,000. This building had quite an illustrious past. According to library records, some time after it changed hands “Mr. B. Trenholm asked the Board for the right to buy the ice chest from the library that rests in the basement. It’s from the past when the library was the Dew Drop Inn and Geary Morgan made crab meat sandwiches and sold them with apple pie.” It is assumed that the sale was approved.

During this time the Friends of the Library organization was founded with the purpose of raising funds. One long- time library supporter, Sumner T. Pike, donated many books to enlarge the adult collection. He also matched, dollar for dollar, any funds donated by individuals to support the library. The Friends embarked on a campaign to renovate the new building, increase hours, build the book collection, and purchase furniture and other equipment. In addition, the librarian’s salary was raised to $1.25 per hour. Frequent bake sales, rummage sales, dinners, raffles and fund drives were held and $1,000 was requested from the town in the first library warrant.  “We just felt that the town should have a vested interest in the library,” said Leona MacBride, Board secretary. Their efforts were so successful that eventually a new addition was built to accommodate a growing collection and increased use by the community.

Near tragedy struck in December of 1965 as fire destroyed the neighboring post office but spared the library. The resulting water and smoke damage meant that all of the books had to be moved and stored elsewhere – the old customs building at the north end of Water Street. Once again volunteers rallied to assist, spending several months moving, drying and organizing the 5,000 volume collection. Most of the collection was saved. The Library Friends went to work raising funds to repair the damaged building.

Another fire that same year led to a far happier outcome as the building’s final mortgage payment was made. Library supporters gathered for a ceremony in the middle of School Street to celebrate the happy occasion by burning the mortgage papers in a wastebasket – quite a milestone!

Through the years the library, nurtured by volunteers, generous benefactors and dedicated librarians, continued to grow and become not only a place for books but a true Lubec community center offering relevant programs for all ages, a welcoming gathering place for families with young children and a source of pride.

By the mid ‘90s it was clear that the library had once again outgrown its home. But this time sights were set far higher – construction of a new building. In 1997 long-time library supporter Hilda Bangs left a $200,000 bequest, on behalf of her family, toward construction of a new library on condition that work begin within four years of her death. The task was clear. A site needed to be identified, a design created, and additional funds raised to complete the new building. “We never doubted that we could get it done,” recalled Leona MacBride, who had been involved in every one of the library’s building campaigns.

Through grant funding and generous donations from the town, individuals and businesses sufficient money was raised to begin construction. This was a monumental effort. The old library building had to be moved to a new location and the entire book collection relocated to the Lubec Grange. Much of the labor and material was donated with residents of all ages chipping in to help in any way they could. The library remained open for business at the Grange throughout the construction.

The bright new building, dedicated on July 4, 2001, includes a well furnished community meeting room and the building’s façade features a mosaic fashioned of sea glass and ceramic sea creatures created by Lubec artists and school children.

Today, under the leadership of long-time director Suzanne Plaut, the library offers an impressive collection of 20,000 volumes, up to date computers and wireless Internet service for public use, frequent programs for all ages, art exhibits, community meeting facilities and much more.

Over half a century ago Library Association president, Ursula Danforth, wrote the following in a fundraising letter to the community: “All Lubeckers have cause to be proud of their library and its continued progress. Come in and browse. You will find a cordial welcome awaiting you.” As true today as when it was written.