Teaching an Old Library New Tricks
Written by J. Dennis Robinson
Page 1 of 3
Here’s a hot winter tip. The Langdon Library is selling off a great collection of audio books and videotapes for $2 each. Where is the Langdon Library, you ask? Well, it’s right smack in the heart of historic Newington Village, five miles from downtown Portsmouth. What say? You didn’t know there was a downtown Newington? (Continued below)
Scott Campbell understands. As the only full-time employee (31 hours per week) of the diminutive town library, he’s heard it all before. His office is located under a stairway in the 1892 brick building with 18,000 items crammed into 1,620 square feet of usable space. This is the quintessential small town New England library. Newington has a population of just over 800 souls. But it is unique in that the town’s main street dead ends just a few yards from the library driveway. Once you reach the end of Nimble Hill Road, the only way out is back the way you came.
“I hear the words ‘quaint’ and ‘charming’ a lot,” Campbell says from visitors describing both the Langdon Library and Newington Village.
Another finger and he could tick off the buildings in the Old Town Center on one hand – old meetinghouse and cemetery, old library, old town hall (now housing the historical society), the old saltbox, the old school, and the old parsonage.
“We have no post office, no general store, no corner bar, and no coffee shop,” Campbell points out. “This is it. This is where people meet. I should probably get a pickle barrel. The social center of the town falls on two time-honored institutions – the public library and the dump, or as we call it, the ‘transfer station.’ People ‘doing the circuit’ on Saturday morning usually stop in.”
The five Newingtons
Newington, of course, also has the giant malls. Most visitors and locals see little else of this once flourishing farm community except store after store after store. We get a glimpse of the early colonial settlement at “Bloody Point,” now Hilton Point. Here the bustling Spaulding Turnpike crosses Little Bay en route to Great Bay. This protected natural estuary, New Hampshire’s “hidden inner coast” could not be more different than the populated commercial slice of town nearby. Across from the malls there is also the industrial corridor along the Piscataqua River, home to Sprague Energy and the Newington Power Station
Some say that Newington sold its soul to the commercial district in exchange for a low tax rate. But the real shock came in 1951 when the federal government swallowed 4,000 acres of the town, buying land or taking it by eminent domain to build a two-mile runway. Pease Air force Base survived 40 years, leaving behind a toxic dump site requiring a costly federal clean-up. Today the Pease International Tradeport there is a thriving industrial zone. The federal air base cut the Old Town Center off from the planet and, now that the thunderous jet bombers are gone, the locals seem to relish their isolation.
Somehow the village survived, trapped in space and time. The parsonage dates to 1699 and the church to 1712, making it the oldest operating Congregational meetinghouse in the country. The funds for the Langdon Library came largely from Woodbury Langdon, a descendent of Gov. John Langdon whose mansion still stands in the center of Portsmouth. This same philanthropist also saved the Portsmouth Historical Society (aka the John Paul Jones House) from destruction in 1920. Woodbury Langdon supplemented the funds raised by the city for the Newington library, and then he and his wife left a considerable bequest to keep the doors open.
LANGDON LIRBARY CONTINUED
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