Most of the following information is taken from Rudy VanVeghten’s Filling the Void: History of the Meredith Public Library.
In the late 1880’s the citizens of Meredith began to demand a public library. Books were very costly and only the wealthy could afford to purchase them. The town wanted a literary outlet and George F. Sanborn, publisher of The Meredith News, wrote of the need for a public library. He worked with former resident, John Smith, Jr. for the town to purchase his collection of 800 books and the Meredith Public Library opened its doors in the spring of 1882 for the first time. Its location was a room on the second floor of the Sanborn house annex and shared its space with The Meredith News and George F. Sanborn was the first librarian. At the end of the first year there were 125 library patrons, 1200 volumes, and a weekly circulation of about 150 books.
Over the next twenty years the library would bounce to several locations with several librarians before finding its current home. On November 1, 1899 Benjamin M. Smith of Beverly, MA wrote a letter to the Meredith selectman. He fondly recounted his days living in Meredith and offered to build a public library as a memorial to his parents, both of whom died in Meredith. If the town agreed to purchase the land adjacent to the Baptist Church, he would pay to have a library built on that spot for not less than $10,000.00. After much debate and discussion, the town agreed to Smith’s wishes and purchased the land.
In 1900, George Swan of Beverly, MA was the final architect chosen to design the new structure and village residents watched as the handsome Classical brick structure grew. As the town meeting of 1901 approached, the library trustees wrote, “The year 1900 has been a notable one in Meredith’s history, for it has marked the erection of a beautiful new Library, on a spot once disfigured by unsightly buildings. This new structure, with its graceful proportions and pleasing, harmonious interior, will ever be a fitting memorial to the good taste and generosity of the donor, Mr. Benjamin M. Smith of Beverly, MA., who has devoted his time and energies unceasingly to perfecting every detail of the building which bears his name.”
Letters set in relief over the doorway read ‘Benajmin M. Smith Memorial Library A.D. 1900.’ A bronze plaque inside the entrance contains the message, ‘Presented to the town of Meredith by Benjamin M. Smith in memory of his parents, John and Mary Smith.”
Sidewalks of red brick matching the library walls led to the front and rear entrances of the new building. Inside trim was in dark brown ash. A description of the layout from The News noted that “the building contains a reading room, conversation hall, delivery room, trustees’ room and apartments for books. The cases, when all have been placed in position will have a capacity of 24,000 books. A handsome town clock adorns the front of the building. The building also contains a splendidly fitted toilet room, is supplied with electric lights and heated by hot air. A fire-proof vault has been placed in the building and the town records will be kept therein hereafter."
The new building was dedicated on June 17, 1901. Near perfect weather and festive decorations along Main Street greeted the hundred or so dignitaries. Accounts of the ceremony appeared in newspapers even as far south as Boston.
In 1985, the library was placed on the National Register of Historic Places for its architectural design. David Ruell of the Lakes Region Planning Board in the application for acceptance to the National Register described the library as follows, “The Benjamin M. Smith Memorial Library is not only Meredith’s finest public building, but also one of the Lakes Region’s most attractive libraries.”
Shortly thereafter the library underwent a major renovation. An addition designed by Christopher Williams, gave the library an additional 4000 square feet and was completed in December 1988. An audiovisual room, reading room and staff work stations occupied the once cramped first floor of the old part of the library. On the balcony, older children and young adult materials were housed and the attic was converted into a beautiful children’s room. In the new wing, a chairlift was added to give the library handicap access. On the first floor were placed adult fiction and large print books, the second floor had non-fiction and reference and in the basement a large community room, complete with kitchen and furnished through a donation by the Meredith Rotary Club.
Today the library houses over 40,000 items including books, audio books, magazines, DVDs, and CDs. It has numerous computers with Internet access for patron use and our wireless connection is always available. It also has an online collection of audio books and e-books which can be downloaded from our Website so that even busy commuters who can't always come to the library can still avail themselves of our services. There are programs for all ages and a Children's Room that is always hopping with activity.
George F. Sanborn and Benjamin M. Smith likely could not envision what the library would become over one hundred years later, but the trustees, Friends, staff and patrons of the Meredith Public Library hope that they would be pleased.