July 1 – 7, 2016Vol. 18, No. 4

Memories of The Old Belgrade Lakes Library

The old Belgrade Lakes Library, now gone, sat on a small lot diagonally across from the lime house.

by Rod Johnson

The quaint little library that you see in the photo once was alive and well right in the middle of Belgrade Lakes village. Sadly, it no longer exists, and this is the true story of its demise.

My parent's house was ten feet or so to the south with barely enough space to drive an auto between the two. My friends and I played around the building from the early 1950s, though it remained locked and we were not allowed inside. Peeking in the windows was common of course, and the building was totally intact and still had a few books on the shelves. The straight-back oak chairs and a library-type desk or two were in perfect order.

To my knowledge and memory, the library was never operated during that era and had essentially been abandoned. This is only a guess, but I imagine it was only ever used in the summer months, though I do recall a small wood or coal stove and a fieldstone hearth and chimney.

As the years went by the building showed more and more the lack of maintenance. During the 1960s I recall the roof had started to leak and water puddles could be seen through the windows accumulating on the floor.

When I came home from my service time in 1971, my wife and I bought the house on the north side of the library property. My mother was still living in the house on the south side. It was clear that the building was an eyesore and the idea came to either fix it and make it usable or tear it down if we could.

After inquiring at the selectmen's office as to the ownership, we were told that the property and building were donated by the Hersom sisters, founders of the Camp Abena girls camp — I do not know when. The women had stated in the deed that the property would revert to them or their heirs should the library cease operating.

The selectmen decided to begin taxing the property so they could take ownership and then dispose of it. A tax was levied on the property that year to the Hersom heirs, but none was found, so the tax was left unpaid. The town took the property and claimed it a liability.

At town meeting in 1972 or 1973, I offered to purchase the property for the back taxes of $26 (yes, twenty six dollars). The voters agreed, with the stipulation that the building be torn down and the small lot of 40' ext. 60' be attached to my lot.

Over the next few months my friends and I tore it down piece by piece and burned it in a bonfire right on site. The only known pieces that were saved are the two white pillars and they can be easily seen on the house owned by Jan Partridge just south of Day's store. I still have two of the oak chairs.

We asked the Colby College library department to come see, if any of the remaining books were special in any way. They found and took a few Maine authors but found that silverfish were in some of the books and couldn't risk contaminating another library.

The current group called Friends of The Belgrade Library are working on recording any information that can be collected about this library and also a precursor to this that was located in a private home of a Damren family member. If anyone has any remembrances, photos, or written documents concerning this piece of our Belgrade history, please contact my sister-in-law, Friends member Judy Johnson at 495-2101, or Linda McLoon of the Belgrade Historical Society. Thanks, TLB

Rod Johnson was born and raised in the Belgrade Lakes in the 1950s and '60s.