Originally published in the Kennbec Journal April 14, 2012
BY LINDA S. GILSON
The first meeting of the Hallowell Social Library was held in January of 1842 and was founded by a group of prominent businessmen and professionals who had a love for the written word.
The library collection was kept under the rotating guardianship of an appointed librarian who was a member of this group, and it was housed in various rented properties within Hallowell. When first established, the collection was inaccessible to the general public; only subscribers and members of their families were entitled to use the books.
Five years later, in 1847, the Hallowell Social Library became a public library and remains this today.
The use of the library to individuals of the public other than stockholders was available for $3 per year. This fee was reduced to $2 annually the following year, in 1848.
In 1878, a group of “public spirited and energetic ladies” who were members of the library and friends began a campaign to raise money to finance a permanent home for the library.
In just two years, on March 9, 1880, the Hallowell Social Library was dedicated. It is now the oldest library building built as a library in Maine.
The cost of the original library was $8,300, which included the land and the building. The generosity of several Hallowell citizens lowered the cost dramatically.
Alexander C. Currier donated his services, designing and supervising the construction of the original building. The entire building is of Hallowell granite and was contributed by Joseph R. Bodwell, then-president of the Hallowell Granite Co. and later governor of the state of Maine. The iron fret work that originally adorned the peaks of the building was donated by the Fuller Foundry.
In 1893, Gen.l Thomas Hubbard, a Civil War hero and son of Dr. John Hubbard Jr., donated $20,000 to the trustees of the library to build a new wing. The only stipulation was that the library and reading room be free to all Hallowell inhabitants.
In March 1894, the new structure was complete and was renamed Hubbard Free Library.
The most recent addition to the library was built in 1898 with money donated by Eliza Clark Lowell, a descendant of the original setters of Hallowell and the person who also donated funding to build Hallowell City Hall.
In 1970, the building was placed on the National Register of Historic Sites. The National Park Service wrote that the Hubbard Free Library is “one of the best and best-preserved ‘Victorian gothic’ buildings in Maine.”
Earle G. Shettleworth, director of the Maine Historic Preservation Commission and state historian, said that the Hubbard Free Library is “among the most cherished of Hallowell’s many landmarks … the first public library building erected in Maine.”
Beginning several years ago, the trustees of the Hubbard Free Library determined that it was time to act boldly to protect and secure the library for generations to come through major capital repairs and improvements. The Help the Hubbard campaign to date has replaced the heating system and the slate roof with other needed priorities to be done in the future.
The Hubbard Free Library in Hallowell is our magnificent historical treasure to be enjoyed, used and cherished today, tomorrow and for generations to come.