The Pelham Library was built and dedicated in 1896, the same year that Boston's Public Library was completed. Both institutions offered to lend books to the public at no charge and were called "Free" Libraries, symbolizing a town's commitment to education and the betterment of its citizens.
Original Pelham Public Library
~Pelham Free Public Library circa 1903~
The large tree in front of the Library was brought down by the hurricane of 1938.
Note the dirt road and the horse sheds just behind the Library.
The granite posts were used to tie up a visitors horse
and remain today as a reminder of simpler times.
In March, 1892, the town voted to establish a Public Library. The original Library was located in the Town Hall (on the parcel of land where the present Fire Department is located). The Library was dedicated on January 17, 1893.
The Library grew rapidly and was soon in need of larger quarters. A special Town Meeting was called in April, 1895 which approved the sum of $4,000.00 to construct a new library building. The Town stipulated that the building contain a memorial room to honor the Pelham men who fought in the Civil War.
By a deed dated November 23, 1896, Frank M. Woodbury and his wife, Zena Belle Woodbury, donated the tract of land in Pelham Center on which the Library building was constructed. The deed places a condition on the transfer of the land:
"The condition of this deed being that it shall be forever used and occupied by said Town of Pelham for a library and memorial building or for some education purpose, and upon neglect of said Town to use it for this purpose for the space of two years in succession, said premises shall revert to me or my heirs and assigns and further, said Town of Pelham shall erect and forever maintain a suitable fence between said premises and other land of mine which it adjoins."
Work was commenced in October 1895 and was completed in 1896. John M. Woods, then of Somerville, Massachusetts, a native of Pelham and a veteran of the Civil War, donated the wood paneling that today adorns the walls in the memorial room. Other significant gifts were received from Charles Wheeler and William B. Thom, both Civil War veterans from Pelham. Marble plaques were engraved with the names of Pelham's veterans and mounted on the walls where they hang today. One of the first major gifts to the Library was an ornate Victorian grandfather clock which has steadily marked the hours for more than a century. The clock still stands in the Library's main room and bears a gold leaf dedication: "Presented to Pelham Public Library by Mrs. Eli J. Whittemore in memory of her Father, David Hamblet - 1896".
At the annual March meeting of the town held at the Town Hall, March 8, 1892, it was voted to establish a Free Public Library, and a Board of Trustees consisting of three persons were elected to take charge of the same. On assuming their duties, they voted to annually publish a printed report at the end of each year, and show just what progress the library was making. In accordance with that vote the trustees take pleasure in submitting their first report. We think the library has got a good start and is very well patronized considering the short time it has been opened to the public. The 16th of March we issued printed circulars soliciting subscriptions of money and books to aid the library. To those who responded so generously, we, in behalf of the citizens of Pelham, return our hearty thanks, and we trust they may see the library enlarge from the 500 volumes we now have up to many thousands and become the pride of every citizen of Pelham.
We hope the town will vote a liberal appropriation for the ensuing year and give it a generous support. With a generous appropriation and the substantial aid which can be rendered by our young people we can bring our number of volumes from 500 up to 1500 by the time the next annual meeting comes around.
Of the Committee chosen by the Town at a Special Meeting held April 9, 1895, for the purpose of Erecting a Memorial and Library Building
The committee chosen at this meeting consisted of the following citizens:
Charles W. Hobbs, George S. Butler, Frank M. Woodbury, Frank H. Hillman, William G. Butler, George H. Currier, Daniel M. Webster and Augustus Berry.
The committee voted to locate the Library and Memorial Building on land given by Frank M. Woodbury, between the First Congregational Church and the residence formerly owned by John Woodbury. Voted that the building should be of brick and granite and several plans were considered. A majority of the committee favored the plan submitted by Stickney & Austin, architects of Lowell, and it was voted to adopt their plan, and specifications were accordingly drawn up and sealed proposals to build the same were called for. The proposals were opened October 1st. There were five proposals. George M. Cole & Co., of Lawrence, were the lowest bidders but all were thought to be too high. A subsequent meeting was held and George M. Cole & Co. were requested to be present and state wherein they thought the building plans and specifications could be cut down so as to come within the money at the disposal of the committee.
The committee adopted some of their suggestions and a contract was finally made with George M. Cole & Co., of Lawrence, Mass., to build a stone and brick building, the contract price being $5,075.00. This did not include a finished building in all respects, there being some few things mentioned in the specifications which have to be furnished by the town.
The town at its special meeting authorized the selectmen to borrow $4,000, which they have done. Generous contributions have been received from people who have gone from Pelham but are still interested in its welfare.
The amount of money at the disposal of the committee is as follows:
Town of Pelham voted...............................$4,000
which has been turned over to the town.
Other contributions have been pledged to the amount of $950. This will bring the money at the disposal of the committee up to Feb. 15th, 1896 to about $6,000; $2390 has been paid towards the building, leaving $3610 due when the building is completed. The committee think they will be able to procure enough more money from interested parties outside of the town to fully complete the building satisfactory to the town.
GEORGE S. BUTLER
Secretary Building Committee
As Pelham's first Librarian, appointed before the new Library existed, Mary Hobbs, "Aunt Molly" to all who knew her, served from 1892 to 1955. She was held in high esteem by adults and beloved by all the children who came to listen to her stories. She was a descendent of Pelham's first minister. The Gage Chair has been passed down through at least six generations of the Hobbs family before it was willed to the Pelham Public Library. Two of its mates were left to the granddaughter of John Gage of Missouri and to Mrs. Clara Cutter Jack of Pelham, New Hampshire. These ornate chairs were of unusually fine quality when Mrs. Phebe Frye Gage brought them to Pelham around 1738, a time when most of Pelham's homes contained simple, handmade furniture. These treasures are about 275 years old.
Aunt Molly had a good selection of children's books and used to read stories aloud to children. She was very family oriented and had a sweet disposition.
To the Trustees of the Pelham Free Public Library:
GENTLEMEN - The following report is respectfully submitted:
MARY E. HOBBS,
First report of Pelham Free Public Library seen in Annual Town Report, 1893.
Mary Hobbs and the Gage Chair
Excerpt from the Lowell Saturday Mail, December 5, 1896:
The Town of Pelham, N. H....a few months late in completing its public library building to have the dedicatory exercises at a more favorable season of the year, nevertheless carried out the program as arranged Wednesday with as much interest and enthusiasm as though it had been midsummer...
It is a modest, but conspicuous building, of tasteful design. It is of brick with the front entrance in the center, and reached by neat steps of cut granite. On entering the vestibule directly to the right , is the room for the use of the town officers, connected with which is an apartment which holds the safe containing the town records, which are now required by law to be kept in fire proof repositories.
Passing through the vestibule the delivery room is reached. On the left is the memorial room, which is a thing of beauty. It runs the entire depth of the building, and is lighted on three sides. The walls and ceiling are tastefully frescoed, the floor as are all the floors in the building, is a hard wood. But the standing woodwork is a decided novelty, for this latitude. It is of Southern hazel, highly finished, presenting a dark, rich appearance, that is very attractive.
An important and appropriate feature of the room is the collection of marble tablets on the walls, containing in gilt the names of all residents of the town who have served in the wars from Queen Ann's time until the late rebellion...
Another conspicuous feature of the memorial room is an elegant floor clock, seven feet tall, the gift of Mrs. Eli J. Whittemore in memory of her father, David Hamblett...
The closing exercises of the day, which formed a most enjoyable and much appreciated feature, was the dinner served in the Town Hall which was prepared and served by the ladies. There was enough for everybody, and at the conclusion of the repast, the company dispersed without the usual post-prandial speeches.
Damage caused by 1938 hurricane in front of library
The New Pelham Public Library located on the Village Green