2017-09-29 / Community

A Window on the Past

South Portland library efforts come to fruition
By Kathryn Onos DiPhilippo
South Portland Historical Society


South Portland Public Library under construction in 1966. (Courtesy photo) South Portland Public Library under construction in 1966. (Courtesy photo) We recently received a wonderful donation at the historical society from Janis Barrows, the daughter of Ken Cass, who was the owner of Casburage Company, Inc., the contracting company that built South Portland Public Library. Janis brought in a scrapbook that had been kept by her family, containing photographs of the library during construction, as well as news articles related to it.

While there is a fairly detailed written history of the origins of the library that appeared in the program written for the library’s dedication ceremony on April 2, 1967, we had not previously seen actual photographs like these that showed the library building while it was under construction.

For a city the size of South Portland, we were a little late in the game at forming our public library. I’ve been grateful over the years that it was created as a city department – a miniscule portion of all of our property tax bills supports the library budget, eliminating the need for our library to have a development staff to raise money to ensure its operation. It is entirely more practical and cost effective for us all to support the library’s operation in this manner.

There were several aborted attempts to create our library in earlier years. One, which I do wish had seen some success, was an early attempt in 1938 to create a public library and have it located within the old Knightville School building that once stood in Legion Square (where the post office parking lot is now located). That would have made for a beautiful library building, but alas, plans didn’t move forward and the building was removed instead so that a gas station could go in on that site for some years.

Skip forward to 1952, with residents still wanting a public library, an agreement was reached with Portland Public Library so that residents here could cross the bridge and at least borrow books from that library. This worked for a while, but we have a lot of residents. In 1959, then City Manager Bernal Allen proposed opening the high school library to the public (this was when the high school and junior high schools were swapping buildings, with the high school moving to Highland Avenue). In 1961, the high school library opened to the public on two nights each week.

In 1962, the newly formed South Portland Junior Chamber of Commerce started a fundraising campaign to build a library, but that campaign was not successful.

The final impetus for creation of our public library came from Terry Christy’s eighth-grade social studies class at South Portland Junior High in 1964. The students did their research and, with the help of Mr. Christy, presented the proposal for a public library. This plea finally brought the city to action and the result was the groundbreaking of our current library in October 1965. Also in 1965, the public library “opened” in Brown School with an acting director at first, Sarah White Jackson, before our first library director, Ann Bauer, was appointed in September 1965. The building construction was completed later in 1966 and the library opened its doors on Dec. 10, 1966.

If you have photographs or artifacts related to South Portland’s past, we would love to hear from you. You can reach South Portland Historical Society at its museum at 55 Bug Light Park (open daily, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.), by phone at 767-7299, by email at sphistory04106@gmail.com, or on Facebook.

Kathryn Onos DiPhilippo is executive director of South Portland Historical Society.

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