What’s In A Name? We Ask Some Maine Libraries. . .

Kate Flora here, celebrating National Library Week by looking at some of the interesting names that our libraries have, and the stories behind those names. I suppose my fascination with this is two-fold: first, because like the other writers here, I’ve loved the opportunity to visit so many libraries and enjoy their hospitality. Every library is so individual. It’s fun to see which have been added on to, and how those additions have been incorporated. It’s fun to see antique photographs and paintings, wide open modern spaces, special children’s and teen areas, and all the different configurations of these temples of the book (and more recently, the DVD and the audio book).

So many of our Maine libraries happened, it seems, because of a generous donor, a legacy of money and books, or the gift of a building. My own hometown library in Union, the Vose Library, was founded in 1932 with the bequest of a collection of books and $5000 from Helen Ayer Vose, a school teacher who was born in Union. The Vose Libary was first located on the second floor of the Vose building, above a local business. In 1938, it was moved to the Masonic Block where it inhabited a small corner of the local grocery store (where it still was when I was eleven and became the librarian’s assistant.). In 1976 the library was relocated to the newly renovated Robbins House where it rented space from the Union Historical Society. In 1999 a capital campaign was begun to raise funds for a “home of our own”, and in early 2011 the library moved into its own new building just down the street at 392 Common Road.

A few years ago, Lea Wait, Sarah Graves and I spent a wonderful few hours at the Skidompha Library in Damariscotta. I had always assumed that the library’s unusual name was Native American, but I was very wrong. Here’s, from their own website (and I love to visit websites before my actual visits), is the story:

The name “Skidompha” reflects the history of the Association. In the 1880s, a social literary club was formed first to raise money for a new pipe organ at the Damariscotta Methodist Church, and later, to discuss and collect books prevalent at the time.

SKIDOMPHA is an acronym formed from letters in the names of club members who appeared in an 1885 production of “The Mikado” – one of the group’s successful fund-raisers. “SKIDOMPHA” is an acronym formed from letters in the names of Skidompha’s founding club members who appeared in an 1885 production of “The Mikado” – one of the group’s successful fund-raisers:

S = Ellie Stetson, K = Judie and Addie Kelsey, I = Ida Benner, D = Mrs. James David, O = Mrs. Osman Plummer, M = Mr. and Mrs. Charles Merry, P = Mary Pinkham, H = William K. Hilton, A = Jennie Ames

In 1905, the Skidompha Library Association was incorporated and its collection of 1476 books was given to the three towns (Damariscotta, Newcastle and Nobleboro,) as the start of a Free Public Library. The library was established over the Charles M. Jones Grocery Store on Main Street. By 1922, the collection numbered more than 6000 volumes and more space was needed. The Skidompha Club joined with the Damariscotta-Newcastle Women’s Club to purchase the Dixon property on Main Street. In early October 1922, the Library reopened on the first floor of this historic 1803 house, and the Women’s Club used the second floor for meetings and social events.

In 1997, The Library Association was faced with the same problem as its predecessors over 75 years before: lack of space. The collection had grown significantly. Despite a modest addition to the Dixon House in the 1980s, there was simply not enough room to meet the demands of a growing and diverse population. Today, thanks to a generous donation from Barbara Cooney that started the campaign rolling, the library occupies a gorgeous new building right in the center of town that includes a library-run used bookstore.

Another library where I’ve received a generous welcome is the Louis B. Goodall Library in Sanford, a

L. B. Goodall

library that had a little bit of trouble getting started. The first effort toward establishing a public library in Sanford was made in the late 1870’s. Thomas Goodall erected a small building on School Street with the intention that it would be used as a library, but there was insufficient interest in his project, so the structure was used for another purpose.

By the mid-1890’s, a group of young gentlemen, including Edward Emery and Bentley Aveyard, along with the women of the Literary Guild (later called the Searchlight Club), began promoting the establishment of a library. On June 18, 1898, the Sanford Library Association was organized in order to provide library service to the people of Sanford.

Thomas Goodall, first president of the library association, allowed his School Street property to be used as a home for the library. It opened for the circulation of books on December 31, 1898. Over eighty individuals held membership in the organization, each paying two dollars a year for the use of the books. Mr. Aveyard was the first librarian.

On June 1, 1900 the library was made accessible to the general public free of charge, and in 1901 the town of Sanford began allocating money to support it.

Lithgow portrait

Another library that has welcomed me so many times (and where I’ll be on October 4th) is the Lithgow Library in Augusta. Their benefactor is Lewellyn Lithgow, and their website offers the following:

Who is the man for whom Lithgow Public Library is named? Llewellyn Lithgow was born in Dresden, Maine on Christmas Day, 1796. He spent the first 40 years of his life in his native town, and as an adult engaged in the mercantile business. He was so successful at his trade that he was able to retire at age 40. In 1839, he moved to Augusta with his wife Mary and made it his permanent home. He married a second time to Pauline, in 1869.

Mr. Lithgow became an active member of Christ Church (Unitarian) in Augusta, and participated in various community endeavors. He was a life member of the Augusta Literary and Library Association, whose home was on the second floor of the Meonian Hall Block on Water Street. Despite the many subscriptions and memberships sold by the Association, its finances declined and the group prepared to disburse the collection and dissolve the library.

According to Charles Nash, the author of The Lithgow Library and Reading Room, “Honorable James W. Bradbury, who was a corporator and member and one of the foremost promoters of the Association was in possession (as counsel and attorney) of confidential knowledge of great weight in connection with the matter. Mr. Bradbury solicited and obtained a reconsideration of the vote to sell the books by providing a library room rent free. The library was thus rescued from impending sale and preserved ultimately for long and honored use….”

This confidential knowledge became known in 1881, when Llewellyn Lithgow died suddenly and his will became public. He left a bequest of $20,000 to the city of Augusta for the purpose of establishing a public library. Like Andrew Carnegie, Mr. Lithgow believed that everyone, regardless of their circumstances, should have the same opportunities for “study and mental improvement.” The trustees of the Association incorporated as the Trustees of Lithgow Library and Reading Room, and began raising the necessary funds to construct the building at Winthrop and State streets.

By all accounts, Llewellyn Lithgow was not an ostentatious man, and he gave this gift from quiet and firm conviction. In the words of Charles Nash, “Mr. Lithgow was a gentleman of the old school. To urbane manners and a genial disposition he united a broad, public spirit, and a great probity of character, qualities which one him universal confidence and respect.” Now, 115 years following the dedication of the library, like-minded citizens seek to ensure the future of the vital community institution that bears his name.

For those of us who imagine that our libraries have always been there, it is helpful to be reminded that some libraries are relative newcomers to their communities, like the library in Hampden, for example.In 1971 a group of interested citizens, including Edythe L. Dyer, founded the Hampden Regional Library. The public library was located in the high school library where it remained with the hope that a building of its own would someday be available.

That hope became a reality in 1983 when Mrs. Dyer moved to Mount Desert Island and gave her two year old Hampden home to the residents of Hampden to be used as a public library. Storytime children made cards for Mrs. Dyer at most holidays and she had just received her 1995 Valentine’s Day card shortly before she died from injuries sustained in a car accident on February 22nd. The Library is actually named not for Mrs. Dyer, but for her granddaughter Edythe L. R. Dyer. Both Edythes have been great supporters of libraries regardless of where they live.

As a writer, I confess that I find the name Edythe so elegant that someday I’m going to use it in a book, and think of the Edythe Dyers as I do, and thank them for their generosity to readers.

Another relative newcomer is the Abel Morneault Library in Van Buren. As Librarian Nancy Troeger writes: The name Abel J. Morneault Memorial Library came about because the Morneault’s (Abel and his wife Marie) gave the single largest donation ($20,000) to the Rotary’s fundraising campaign to build this library (in the early 1970’s).  After Marie’s death, the library was given additional monies to be placed in trust to guarantee that the library would always have money to buy books.  The Morneault’s did not have children.  I have not researched Marie’s life, but Abel was born and raised in Grand Isle and they lived their life in the community of Van Buren.  Abel is pronuounced ” aah bell.”  And Morneault, is a French name that oringally was spelled Morneau, the -lt is silent, as in many French words that end in eault.  Morneault is pronouced like ” more know.”

And among my favorite names is the Dorothy W. Quimby Library in Unity. I’ve just found that I can invite the real Dorothy Quimby to be my Facebook friend.

If your library bears someone’s name, what is that name, and what do you know about the history of the name?




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3 Responses to What’s In A Name? We Ask Some Maine Libraries. . .

  1. Renee says:

    Renee from the McArthur Public Library in Biddeford here–great post! Our library was originally the Biddeford Public Library, a city department and housed in City Hall, and opened in 1864. In 1894 City Hall burned, and it was decided that the library would no longer be a city department and turned over to a private Association (while still free and open to the public). This is when Robert McArthur stepped in. Mr. McArthur was at that time the Agent for the Pepperell Mills–in effect the most powerful (and probably wealthiest) guy in the city–a similar story to the Goodall Library in Sanford. He took up the reins, found the library a new home (the former Pavilion Congregational Church on Main Street) and by 1902 the library was officially reopened in the beautiful new space named in honor of the gentleman who helped to make it possible. Here’s a quick bio of Mr. McArthur from our website:

    “Robert McArthur himself was an Irish immigrant who had started working in a Rhode Island mill as a bobbin boy at the age of eight. He was a self-educated man whose belief in the importance of a public library to provide all citizens with opportunities for advancement was so strong that he gave both the funds to purchase the library’s current home and monies to provide for its maintenance—a gift that was repeated by both of his daughters, Jane Owen and Lena McArthur.”

    Here’s a really dashing photo of Mr. McArthur in his Civil War uniform

    • MCWriTers says:

      Renee…another of my favorite libraries. I still recall a truly memorable plate of “finger cookies” you served us at an event there. Thanks so much for sharing this story, and the photo.


  2. John Clark says:

    Great post and tribute to Maine libraries. Much nicer than the snarky political cartoon in yesterday’s Bangor Daily News.

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