Laconia Public Library
Meredith Bridge Social Library, Laconia’s first private library
The very beginning of a library in Laconia dates back to February of 1803 in a small town called Meredith Bridge which is now Laconia. In a tavern owned by Dorothy Sanborn, a committee was formed that drafted a constitution containing 27 articles to establish the Meredith Bridge Social Library. This was a private library, owned and operated by the committee which was known as its proprietors, and available for use by those who paid a membership fee. The private library was housed in the Meredith Bridge Savings Bank building. In 1860, this building and the library collection were destroyed by a fire.
Over the next 18 years, several private small libraries served the residents.
The citizens of Laconia establish the first public library
At the March 1878 town meeting, Laconia's voters raised $1,500.00 to establish a public library and appoint six trustees. This library opened to the public on March 1, 1879, in a rented room in the Laconia Savings Bank building located in the Folsom block. A librarian was hired and paid a salary of $125.00 a year. The library moved to the Laconia National Bank Building ten years later. The library moved again in 1901 to temporary accommodations in the vestry of the Unitarian Church. Books were circulated from this location while the new building was being constructed.
A generous donation creates a permanent home for the library
Napoleon Bonaparte Gale, a local banker, died in 1894. He was kind-hearted, generous, enterprising, and greatly respected. In his will, he designated part of his fortune to be left to the City of Laconia to build a park and a memorial building that would house a public library and a historical museum. The land was purchased and plans for the building were drawn up. A building committee was formed and consisted of John T. Busiel, Edwin F. Burleigh, and Charles F. Pitman. Charles Brigham, an architect from Boston, and contractor E. Noyes Whitcomb and Company of Boston were hired to design and construct the building. The main library building is a fine example of the Romanesque Revival style, a style that emphasizes weight and mass through rock-faced masonry, heavy arches, and broad roofs. This style was inspired by H. H. Richardson. They used Deer Island granite, New Brunswick granite, oak paneling, and stained-glass windows.
The building was under construction from 1901 to 1903. The Gale Memorial Library Building was dedicated on June 9, 1903.
Expansion of the Gale Memorial Building
In 1957 an addition was completed. The addition was designed by architects Prescott & Erickson and built by Rolfe Camp Company, Incorporated. The addition created space for the Children’s Room, The Martha Prescott Auditorium, and a workspace for staff. In 1972 the second-floor stacks were added.
The Gale Memorial Library Building enters the 21st century
Image (below): Laconia Library - Pre-2004 expansion, the 1980s.
The Laconia Public Library received a grant from the Federal Government for $180,000.00 to assist the historic Gale Memorial Library Building in meeting ADA accommodations and upgrading the electrical system for safety. The funding was received in the 2002 Fiscal Year. Newly hired Director Randy Brough led the initiative to bring the nearly 100-year-old building into the 21st century by implementing the complete electrical overhaul. This upgrade was completed in late 2002 and enabled the Library to add computers and internet access as well as an automated circulation system and online catalog. All materials were barcoded and new catalog records were added to the circulation system. These upgrades increased efficiency for staff and access for patrons. Additional funding was added to hire a full-time staff member, Betty Derby, to partner with the Laconia Historical and Museum Society to organize, inventory, and catalog, (in a separate system), many of the Library’s artifacts and books that were formerly located in the Museum Room. Her work can be seen in Lakes Region History Online. The parking lot also underwent an expansion during this time and 40 additional spaces were added.
Image (right): Laconia Library - Library exterior, the 1990s.
The Campaign for the Second Century
Image (below): Laconia Library - exterior, August 29, 2006.
The 1957 addition had begun to deteriorate and needed replacement. The Campaign for the Second Century was undertaken by the Board of Trustees and Library Staff in 2003. This campaign sought to raise $2.8 million and led to the renovation of the historic Gale Memorial Building as it is today. The planning of the new addition created a building that was more architecturally compatible with the historic 1903 portion of the building. After successful fundraising, the 1957 addition was replaced and the space was reorganized. The building received significant upgrades to increase safety, comfort, and accessibility. The Children’s Department was relocated to its present location on the lower level which increased the space by 20%. A Story Time room was added through generous funding from the Selig family. The building was equipped with air conditioning and humidity controls, a modern fire safety system, and an elevator. The Rotary Hall Auditorium was added below the new addition. The Nonfiction and Fiction stacks were expanded and relocated to the new addition and Reference was moved to the former Museum Room (Memorial Hall). A space just for Teens was designated on the main floor. A new staff workspace was created and new offices in the addition were added for the Director, Administrative Assistant, and Laconia Historical and Museum Society. This addition was a large undertaking and was made possible by many private donors including individuals and local businesses.