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Turning 200, Nahant Public Library needs sprucing up

Nahant, Ma. 3-4-19. The Nahant Public Library turns 200 this year. (Owen O'Rourke)

NAHANT — The Nahant Public Library, the third oldest municipal library in the state, is two centuries old and in need of major care.

Repairs to the building are estimated to cost upwards of $400,000.

More information about the cost associated with the work will be revealed when an architect’s report is completed in April, said Library Director Sharon Hawkes, but the cost of repairing damage to the building’s terrace, and additional repairs to the building outlined in an exterior assessment made last year, is $400,000.

A $70,000 grant from the Massachusetts Historical Commission will go toward fixing the terrace and an application for additional funding will be filed with the town’s Community Preservation Committee for additional money for the interior repairs, she said. A series of fundraising events are intended to make up the difference.

The library started as a collection of “ten hundred books” given to the town by summer visitor William Wood in 1819.

At the time, Nahant was transitioning from being strictly farmland to a vacation destination as people started visiting from Boston to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city, said Hawkes.

Wood collected novels from friends and acquaintances and brought them to a one-room schoolhouse in town to create a library. He drafted a plan to raise money through book rentals to fund tree planting projects.

Roughly 300 books of the 1,000-volume collection remain, said Hawkes. About two-thirds have either disappeared or disintegrated. The books were originally housed at the one-room schoolhouse. They were transferred to Town Hall and, 76 years after the library’s founding, the collection finally had a permanent home in its current National Register building.

The building, which sits beside Town Hall, was constructed during the time Sen. Henry Cabot Lodge was the library’s chairman. Boston craftsmen, known for work in places such as the Boston State House, the Columbian Exposition in Chicago, and St. John’s Cathedral in New York, contributed to making the building beautiful.

While the building remains beautiful, it is in need of some care, said Hawkes.

The building will need some tender loving care to prepare it for its next hundred years, she said.

Recent assessments revealed the urgent need to repair the terrace, but also to address safety, electricity, water, heat, and accessibility needs as well as basic repairs.

The Library Board of Trustees are combining bicentennial celebrating with information sharing about the building’s needs, to launch a major capital fundraising campaign.

The Friends of the Library and Nahant Cultural Council will support the Library’s anniversary with a fundraising concert by celebrity John Davidson on May 18.

Davidson has been a singer-songwriter, a TV game show host and a guest host for Johnny Carson. He most recently starred in the national touring companies of “Wicked” and “Finding Neverland.” Tickets, at $25 each, can be purchased at the library.

On June 1 at 7 p.m., history reigns at a birthday celebration for the Nahant Public Library. The event will showcase the library’s history through tours and exhibits. Trustees will describe their plans to care for the building. Proclamations and cake will abound. This event is free, though donations to the Friends of the Library Building Fund will be gratefully accepted.

On Sunday, June 16 at 3 p.m., the Apollo Club men’s chorus will return for its genial concert of show tunes, spirituals, and choral favorites. The concert will be free, sponsored by the Friends of the Library, but any donations will be applied to the Building Fund.

For further information about any of these events, please call Nahant Public Library at 781-581-0306.

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