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Boscawen residents working to restore old town library

Inside Boscawen’s old town library on King Street, hundreds of historical treasures line the walls and sit among the old wooden bookshelves. They include portraits of famous New Hampshire faces such as Daniel Webster, an assortment of birth records and court documents dating back more than two centuries, and a collection of books by New Hampshire authors that fills a closet floor to ceiling.

Many of these unique artifacts have been simply collecting dust since operations stopped at the building in 2006, when a new public library was built on North Main Street. But if the Boscawen Committee for the Rehabilitation of the 1913 Library has its way, that’s all about to change. In honor of the library’s 100th birthday, the committee recently applied for grant money to help with the restoration of the building. Their goal is bring all of the town’s records, most of which are now kept in boxes, into the old library and open the space to the public as a hall of records and research library. Part of

the space might also be used as studio space for local artists to work and display their art, and the committee plans to work with the elementary school to get students using the library.

“In our hearts, what we’d love to do is restore that building both physically and for the public use,” said committee member Lorrie Carey. “We didn’t want a generation to grow up not knowing the library.”

The estimated cost of restoring the building is about $47,000. On Friday, the committee submitted an application for a grant through the state’s Land and Community Heritage Investment Program, which could cover up to half the cost. They’re also seeking designation as a “Seven to Save” building through the New Hampshire Preservation Alliance, which provides resources to preserve significant historical properties.

When the restoration is complete, the committee plans to dedicate it in honor of Dorothy Sanborn and Ethel Colby, two longtime library trustees who recently died.

Built in 1913, the library was designed in the beaux arts style by famed architect Guy Lowell, who also designed Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts and the New Hampshire Historical Society building in Concord. Five Boscawen residents donated the parcel of land on King Street to the town, and brothers John and Benjamin Kimball financed the construction. The building was put on the National Register of Historic Places in 1981.

“It’s an architectural gem,” said Elaine Clow, one of the committee members.

Shelves line the right side of the building upon entering, and the left side was once used as a reading room. Now, some books still sit on the wooden shelves, and the reading room side is stacked with old photos, a giant map of central New Hampshire from 1858 and other historical artifacts. Another room off the back contains a walk-in air-locked vault that was used by the selectmen and other town officials to store important materials. The basement was used in the 1950s and ’60s by the town’s civil defense program, and a closet still holds an old radio and safety equipment in case of a nuclear fallout.

The restoration will be completed in three phases, Town Administrator Michael Wright said. The first phase includes completing emergency repairs as they come up in order to limit damage to the building. For about the past five years, a small amount of money has been set aside in the town’s operating budget for this. The second phase will come if and when the committee receives the grant money, which should happen by late October. The LCHIP grant will come with a preservation guideline report that details what work needs to be done. The committee also plans to start a fundraising drive in January, and the town could create a new capital reserve fund for the project at the next town meeting.

Once the primary restoration is complete, phase three includes finishing touches, such as potentially installing environmentally friendly lighting. There is no official timeline on the project at this time, but Wright is hoping the building will be partially open by the end of 2014 and completed sometime in 2015.

Although the process of raising money and completely restoring the building will be a lengthy one, the committee members are excited by the prospect of having the old town library up and running again.

“I think the community’s sad that nothing has happened at that building for so long. I also think there are people and there are kids who don’t remember when that building was open,” said Adele Sanborn, a committee member and daughter-in-law of Dorothy Sanborn. “What a wonderful opportunity on a very busy Main Street and in the bustling town of Boscawen to have a building back open again.”

(Kathleen Ronayne can be reached at 369-3309 or kronayne@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @kronayne.)

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