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History of the Library


The first lending library in Pembroke was not a tax-supported public library in the modern sense. It was a proprietary library of the type seen throughout New England in the late 1700s and early 1800s. Incorporated on December 7, 1798 as the Proprietors of the Pembroke Library, this organization purchased its books through “assessments” or taxes levied each year on its shareholders, who were the only people permitted to borrow its books.

In an almost miraculous instance of longevity, the Proprietors of the Pembroke Library have continued their corporate life from 1798 to the present. When recognized as a non-profit corporation under the laws of New Hampshire, the Proprietors of the Pembroke Library will assume the role of a friends’ organization that will support the work and the welfare of the Pembroke Town Library.

The Pembroke Town Library, the town’s first tax-supported public library, was born when the New Hampshire legislature passed some of the nation’s most progressive library laws in the 1890’s. An innovative law of 1891 required the state to assist towns that voted to establish a tax-supported, free public library. To get the local library established, the state gave such towns $100 worth of books and professional guidance in librarianship. In 1895, the legislature passed a law, the first of its kind in the nation, requiring each town to appropriate funds to establish a public library and to appoint a board of library trustees unless the electorate voted each year specifically not to do so.

The law of 1895 spurred the founding of the Pembroke Town Library in 1896. New town libraries of the period were often housed in any available room, and Pembroke’s library was no exception. The library was first kept by M. Henry Knox, a tailor with a shop in the now-destroyed Baker’s Block on Glass Street in Suncook. After Knox’s death in 1923, the library moved to another storefront in the same building. In 1937, following a fire in Baker’s Block, the library moved to similar quarters on Main Street. At that time, the library committee obtained a rendering from Boston architect Wilber V. Hunt (formerly of Epsom) of a brick library they hoped to build for $13,000. The town began to set aside $500 a year toward a building fund, although this practice lapsed after some years.

In 1981, the library moved to the Marston House on Pembroke Street, a small dwelling leased from the Pembroke School District. Although this move gave the library a free-standing home, the Marston House was inadequate to Pembroke’s library needs.

After a lapse of sixty years, planning for a proper library building resumed in June, 1997. Designed by Peter Tennant, AIA, of the Manchester firm of Tennant/Wallace Architects, the building was dedicated on June 14, 2003. With 205 years of library history, and 107 years of free public library service, the Town of Pembroke has now provided itself with an appropriate public library building.

Summary of library locations:

1896-1923(27 years)Knox Tailor Shop, Baker’s Block, 11 Glass Street
1923-1937(14 years)Another storefront in Baker’s Block, 15 Glass Street
1837-1981(44 years)136 Main Street
1981-2003(22 years)Marston House, 261 Pembroke Street
2003New Pembroke Town Library Building

Write up provided by James L. Garvin – 2003

For more detailed information about the history of the library, a scrapbook is available at the library.

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