NAHANT — Two hundred years ago, Nahant Public Library began as a gift to the town of about “10 hundred” volumes of books from a summer visitor named William Wood.
The books were placed in the town’s first schoolhouse in 1819. Seventy-six years later, in 1895, plans for a full library, the same that currently sits on Pleasant Street, were constructed. While the building has only been around for 124 years, Nahanters celebrated the volume of books’ 200th birthday Saturday night with a historical tour, wine, burgers, and a lot of cake.
A bicentennial birthday wasn’t the only reason town residents spent an evening at the library. They were there in an effort to help raise $400,000 for much-needed repairs and renovations to the building.
“People don’t understand what it means to keep a library maintained and in shape,” said Daniel Munnelly, a member of the board of trustees for the Nahant Public Library fund. “The town is putting in their level best and we’re wicked happy about that.”
The library already received a $70,000 grant from the Massachusetts Historical Commission for immediate repairs to the terrace, and Town Meeting members voted in April to borrow $40,000 for preservation of the historic building. The library building fund needs help coming up with the rest.
“It’s important for us to keep track of historical things here,” said longtime resident Jeanne Savage. “We like everything in our little town.”
The celebration’s historical tour included a breakdown of some of the century-old paintings that line the walls of the library, a display of the four framed original letters that initiated the giving of the books from Woods in 1819, and some words from Nahant native Esther Johnson, who has direct lineage to Caleb and Joseph Johnson, whose signatures were in the letters.
The library received a joint resolution, passed by both houses, to congratulate the library on its bicentennial and citations from Congressman Seth Moulton, Governor Charles Baker, and a proclamation from the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners.
“How lucky we are to have this library continuing so that all generations, now and in the future, can appreciate all the work being put into it,” said 97-year-old Calantha Sears, a third-generation Nahanter. “What I get a thrill from when I come here is when young people walk in here. After all, they are the future of this place.”