My Carnegie travels took me to Freeport yesterday afternoon, to see the library that’s not a library.
The former B.H. Bartol Library, at 55 Main Street, is just south of the L.L. Bean retail campus. It hovers in the shadows of newer and larger buildings and unless you are looking for some skinny jeans or are on the trail of Andrew Carnegie, you might walk right past it. It is one of nine buildings in a block called the “Freeport Main Street Historic District,” listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
The B.H. Bartol Library, dedicated on May 26, 1906, was built with a $6,500 grant from Andrew Carnegie. Like the Lewiston Public Library, it was built in the Neoclassical architectural style. It was designed by George Burnham, who also designed the Cumberland County Courthouse in Portland.
It’s hard to imagine what a town or city would be without a library; could anyone object to constructing one? It happened in Freeport, sort of. Annette H. Aldrich, who served as the first librarian wrote a history of the library’s genesis which was published in the Bangor Daily Commercial and notes that a small group began meeting and discussing the project as early as September, 1900. A “subscription” library preceded the B.H. Bartol Library and almost failed due to a lack of new books. But the small group, eventually to become the library Board of Directors, persevered and appealed to Carnegie for a grant. Aldrich wrote:
“At first there was a great deal of opposition to accepting Mr. Carnegie’s gift…but when the matter was put to vote at a special town meeting, there were only two votes in the negative. It was said that the principal speaker of the occasion…hypnotized the audience…”
Hypnosis or no hypnosis, the town of Freeport approved the plan. At the May 26, 1906 dedication, an orchestra played, a chorus sang, and lofty speeches were given. A newspaper article from the Sun Journal (morning or evening edition is not noted on the clipping available to me) concluded:
“With the stimulus of advanced mental growth now easily attained through the advantages of the new library, Freeport cannot fail to advance steadily along those intellectual lines which the town has already marked out for itself.”
The B.H. Bartol Library served Freeport from its Main Street location until 1997, at which time a new and larger library was built to accommodate the growing needs of the town. The Freeport Community Library, located at 10 Library Drive (less than a half mile north of its former home) is spacious and welcoming. There’s plenty of parking, computers, and even a community room that is available for public use.
Inside the old library, it’s clothing that hangs from the walls these days. Home to an Abercrombie & Fitch Outlet, all that remains of Carnegie is the name carved into the front door’s lintel.
Who was B.H. Bartol? Born in Freeport in 1816, he was an accomplished engineer whose heirs left some of his wealth to the town of his birth. And that’s the “skinny” on Freeport’s Carnegie Library that’s not a library.
We advance steadily along in our quest!
(Special thanks to Freeport Library Director Beth Edmonds and Assistant Director Arlene Arris for providing historical and current library information.)