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Things You Never Knew About Old Portsmouth Library

Portsmouth Academy 200 Year History

A 1976 addition increased the Portsmouth PUblic Library by 10,000 square feet and connected two 1810 brick buildings/

 -- In 1966 a local historian discovered evidence that the Portsmouth Academy was not designed by the famous architect Charles Bulfinch. The story was front-page news. Librarian Dorothy Vaughan continued to insist that Bulfinch might have visited Portsmouth or inspired the design. The documents proving that Nutter designed the building were presented to the city librarian, but later disappeared from the library collection. Luckily, the evidence had been photographed by architectural historian James Garvin, who became curator of Strawbery Banke Museum. When the gold-leafed Bulfinch sign finally came down in the 1980s under city librarian Sherman Pridham, journalist Ray Brighton praised the act as the killing of a "sacred cow" and the end of "one of Portsmouth’s most carefully nurtured delusions." The missing Nutter documents were discovered in 2007 among the items donated to the NH Historical Society by the late Dorothy Vaughan who died in 2004 just shy of her 100th birthday.

 -- In 1973 plans to expand the library proposed tearing down the two old buildings and replacing them with a new modern library. Instead in 1976 a $660,000 renovation doubled the size of the connecting building, added 10,000 square feet, created offices and a children’s room, restored a circular staircase, and opened up the second floor balcony. The short-lived glass floor was removed and the 19th century skylight closed off. The redesign was largely supported by federal funds that required the city to abide by preservation guidelines during any future changes to the two historic buildings.

Soon the library was overcrowded again. Local readers will recall the long, sometimes contentious search for a new library site. Plans to repurpose the 1895 Cottage Hospital near the renovated City Hall fell flat in the mid-1990s. Then, despite a small vocal group of protestors, the city built an expansive new high-tech Portsmouth Public Library near the South Mill Pond. The historic move to the new location after 110-years opens a world of possibilities for the proposed Cultural Center. If the energy and dollars can be found, these two historic buildings will serve the community once more.

SOURCES: Vertical files at Portsmouth Public Library, private interviews and draft copy (January 2008) of "Historic Site Report for the Portsmouth Academy Building and Morton-Benedict House," by Laura B. Driemeyer, Ph.D., Architectural Historian, Preservation Company

Copyright © 2008 by J. Dennis Robinson, all rights reserved.



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