CASE FOR RESTORING
THE ABBOTT MEMORIAL LIBRARY
THE ORIGIN OF THE BUILDING
The Abbott Memorial Library was given to the town of Dexter on Christmas Day in 1894. The library was a gift from George A. Abbott, a prominent woolen mill owner. While traveling afar on a doctor-recommended trip for a persistent lung condition, George found time to read extensively, gleaning much wisdom from the ideas of several classical authors whom he noted later played an important part in many of the decisions he made in his life. He made certain to have those important names imprinted on the façade of the building for all to see and remember. George thought, “Throughout my life, I had enjoyed reading and I knew the benefits to be derived from having a well-stocked library available; I wanted to give the townspeople and the generations to come an opportunity to realize some of those same benefits.” – A visit With George: Legacy to a Small Town by Imogen Abbott Tillson, 1995.
Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, this distinctive building remains much as it was when the corner stone was laid over a hundred years ago. The Historical Society can verify that the elegant building has been the backdrop for many iconic photos of Dexter. Centrally located, the Abbott Memorial Library has been the focus of much cultural and civic life over the years. The main floor contains the children’s room, a computer and reading room, a room of audio books and videos, as well as the library’s main collection of books and periodicals. The basement with outside entrance, contains storage for older documents and records, as well as a meeting room where many local groups gather for lectures and classes involving everything from art displays, book talks and signings, beekeeping, meditation, job searches and health issues to crafting classes such as painting Ukranian Easter Eggs, gardening, knitting, spinning, quilting, as well as annual holiday events.
Our library was designed by Boston architect J.
Williams Beal. One story in height, the granite
foundation and Roman buff brick façade is topped by
decorative features of terracotta floral motifs
surrounding a central medallion. A cornice adorned
with swags is incised with the names of prominent
literary figures including: Shakespeare, Milton, Hugo,
Virgil, Homer, Dante, Goethe and Cervantes.
The amount of architectural detail contained both inside and outside the building is unusual for such a rural setting and is surely a point of pride for Dexter’s citizenry. There is only one other building architecturally similar in the entire State of Maine located on the campus of Bowdoin College.
The front side of the library facing downtown contains a Remembrance Garden for the victims of domestic violence, while the opposite side contains an additional garden with a flag pole and war memorials in tribute to our veterans and all those who served in the military from this area.
Water infiltration has significantly damaged the roof and ceiling. The exterior masonry, the slate roof (including copper gutters, eaves and valleys), the terracotta, the windows and storm windows, the front steps, the railing, the cheek walls, and the basement entryway – all need repair.
THE PRESERVATION PLAN
Recognizing that without action this
historic treasure will be lost, trustees of the
library have begun the process of ensuring that
Dexter’s Abbott Memorial Library will have area
citizens’ continued use for many decades to come,
just as George A. intended.
Realizing that the preservation of this type of historic landmark requires special knowledge of historic buildings, Barba and Wheelock Architects were hired by the Board of Trustees in late 2016. Their plans and specifications for the entire exterior restoration project, estimated to cost $667,000, was funded in part and reviewed in detail by the Maine Historic Preservation Commission. The work of restoring, upgrading and preserving the Abbott Memorial Library will include:
Re-slating of the roof, including new copper gutters, eaves and valleys
Re-pointing the brick and granite masonry
Cleaning and repair of cracks in the terracotta façade
Rebuilding plinths (cheek
Replacing the front step railings
Restoring the original windows and sills and replacing storm windows
Providing a new roof and repairs to the basement entrance
Through cooperation with the Maine Historic
Preservation Commission, all renovations are designed to
meet the national standards for historic structures.
Funding for these
renovations, which began with appropriations
from the Town of Dexter, will come from
grants and a fund-raising campaign. Recognizing
the significance of this building to
the area, the library has been awarded
several grants including those from
the Maine Community Foundation, the
Stephen and Tabitha King Foundation,
the Alfond Foundation, Maine Historic
Preservation Commission and last but
not least, a $250,000
from the Next Generation Foundation of
Maine. This means the trustees
must raise $250,000 (half of which
must come from local individuals and
businesses) before we can receive the
match. This is an enormous challenge
but we have been working hard and now
need only need $53,000 (out of
$125,000) of local support to achieve
the entire match. Once we reach
this goal, we will have all the funds
necessary to proceed with the entire
With the exterior sealed, the building can continue to be a place for civic and cultural engagement, strengthening the community and serving the citizens of our area. For more than a century the people of Dexter and our area have cared for this remarkable gift. Those who came before us understood the value of this building and its representation and utilization for the very foundations of education and our democratic way of life. In nearly one hundred and twenty five years, the Abbott Memorial Library has never undergone a major restoration. Now it is our turn. The building holds important lessons from the past that can guide us into the future; lessons worth preserving, lessons from the life of a successful and compassionate man that show us how to value work, learning, integrity, and giving to others.We must act now before the deterioration goes too far to be economically repaired. The structure is fundamentally solid and sound. If we preserve the building properly it will last for yet another hundred years.
How to Make a Donation
Your donation is
needed to make this restoration a reality.
Please write a check payable to the Abbott Memorial
Library and send it to: 1 Church Street, Dexter, ME
04930. Thank you very much for your support.
For more information contact:
Abbott Memorial Library
1 Church Street
Dexter, Maine 04930
Phone: (207) 924-7292
Inspecting the condition of the roof and gutters, Nov. 21, 2016