THE ABBOTT MEMORIAL LIBRARY
The Building’s History
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.
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.– George Abbott, from 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. Centrally located, the Abbott Memorial Library has been the focus of much cultural and civic life over the years, and the backdrop for many iconic photos of Dexter. 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, classes, and holiday events. These programs have covered everything from art displays, book talks and signings, beekeeping, meditation, job searches and health issues, to crafting classes such as painting Ukrainian Easter Eggs, gardening, knitting, spinning, and quilting.
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.
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 serve the Dexter area for many decades to come, just as George Abbott 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 included:
- 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 walls)
- 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 were designed to meet the national standards for historic structures.
Funding for these renovations, which began with appropriations from the Town of Dexter, came from grants and a fund-raising campaign. Recognizing the significance of this building to the area, the library was 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 Challenge Grant from the Next Generation Foundation of Maine. This means the trustees raised $250,000 (half of which came from local individuals and businesses) before we received the match.
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 had never undergone a major restoration. Now we have taken 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. Thanks to all who made the restoration possible!