The history of the Southport Library begins prior to 1906 when Susan and Rebecca Zabriskie moved to Newagen from New York. They had a large collection of books, many of them inherited from their father, a pastor of the Dutch Reform Church. Since there was no library on Southport, they decided to lend their collection out to the neighborhood. At first the books were loaned from the ladies’ cottage on Bayberry Lane. In 1906, the books were moved into a small building on the (Newagen) Town Landing Road which was called “The Bayberry Camp Library”. It was open every afternoon in the summer and on Saturday afternoon in the winter. In 1909, the sisters hired Edith Snowman, a fifteen-year-old from the neighborhood, to serve as librarian, a position she held for the next fifty years. The Zabriskie sisters gave a sum of money annually for the purchase of new books, and other people donated as well. There was a stage at one end of the building, so it was used for neighborhood get-togethers, especially the annual Christmas Eve party.
In 1947, Southport consolidated its grammar schools, so the one-room schoolhouse at Newagen became available. Two fortuitous things happened around that time: the two Zabriskie sisters donated their five thousand book collection to the town, and the town set aside some money for a memorial to the town’s veterans of World Wars I and II. At the suggestion of Charlie Pinkham, the town decided to “kill two birds with one stone” and turn the vacant schoolhouse into a memorial library. The committee appointed to accomplish this included Cecil Pierce, Kenneth Pinkham, and Ralph Gray, who was married to Edith Snowman, the librarian. Volunteers cleaned and painted the building, carried the five thousand books up the road, and donated more books, money, and furniture. With the library now funded by the town, Edith (Snowman) Gray received a salary of five dollars a week. The new library was dedicated on Memorial Day, 1948. There is a plaque on a stone outside the building, which says that the library is a memorial to those who have served in all wars. It is the first stop for the Southport Island parade on Memorial Day. Inside, on the front wall, the town’s veterans are listed from WWI through Viet Nam. Also outside the building is a plaque on a stone in memory of Rachel Carson, who had a cottage on the Salt Pond Road and did considerable research for her book, “Silent Spring”, on the shore in front of her cottage. When Edith Gray retired in 1959, her daughter, Marjorie Barter, became the librarian. During her tenure, a second room was built to house the reference books, adult non-fiction, and a beautiful tropical butterfly collection donated by Mr. and Mrs. Stanley Marr. Marge retired in 1967 and was succeeded by her sister, Jeanette Emerson, who served until retiring in 1974. Priscilla Harriman, the first person not in the Gray family to hold the job in 65 years, followed, and she held the position until 1980.
The fifth librarian, Flora (Flo) Walker, was appointed in 1980. She was the first who actually had library training. She had worked in the Medford, MA library before retiring to Southport to live near her son and family. Flo started cataloging the library – a big task by 1980 - one that is now complete. Before that, books were just shelved by category, and the librarian memorized their placement.
Funded almost entirely by donation, a third room was added while Flo was in charge, allowing the children’s books to finally get out of the old schoolhouse coatroom and have their own space. When ill health forced Flo to retire in 1989, Linda Brewer, who had been working with Flo and found no one else willing to take the position, became the librarian and serves to this day. Until most recently, the Southport Library never had more than one staff member working at a time, so it always relied heavily on volunteers and still does. The Library Aides group was started in 1928 and has had its summer book and bake sale every year since. The members also volunteer their time to work in the library during the winter, and also help in keeping a section of the shelves stocked with used books for sale.
The library is still run much like a neighborhood project, and no fees are charged. However, there is a jar on the circulation desk with the label, “Guilt Money”. Until 2012, library cards were not used and just a name and address were kept on file. This has now changed with books and library cards barcoded for easy scanning at the circulation desk.
The library is open Tuesday and Thursday, from 9-4 and 7-9, and on Saturdays from 9-4, year-round. Additional hours are added during the summer months. This is a popular year-round, gathering place for the community, and on Tuesday and Thursday mornings, coffee and freshly baked treats are available. Good conversation and friendship flourish here.
A fourth addition to the building was added in 1996 to house the fiction collection. There was also funding to improve the landscaping around the library at this time.
The library has grown significantly in recent years, and now has a collection of over 30,000 books, periodicals, CD’s, DVD’s and audio books, as well as two additional staff members! The library is also a Wi-Fi “hot spot” on the island with free Internet access, a number of computer terminals, and an online catalogue.
In 2009, successful fund-raising led to yet another needed, new addition. The Friends of the Library, headed by Jean Hawley, raised close to one million dollars over a ten year period, resulting in a large two-story, 30’x80’ addition with two handicapped-accessible bathrooms, an office, an elevator, and a dozen storage closets. Adult fiction and non-fiction moved into the new rooms, making the original, overstuffed library roomy and pleasant. Dr. and Mrs. Juriga donated ten signed and numbered Roger Tory Peterson prints to grace the walls and Cy Seifert’s brilliant idea of asking people to donate their college chairs provided much-needed furniture for all the new space. At this time thirty chairs have been donated. Additional funds were raised to provide attractively re-designed landscaping around the new and original portions of the building, highlighting the Rachel Carson garden in front. The Southport Island Association was a lead contributor to this project. Most recently, in 2012, renovation of the older rooms in the original building has been done, and plans have been formed to improve the parking lot. If any of the funds raised for all of these projects remain, they will become the start of an endowment fund.
Note: Many thanks are extended to retired librarian, Linda J. Brewer, who prepared this history for a presentation to the Boothbay Harbor Rotary Club.