Around the Region

Volunteers reviving historic Willimantic Library

By Mike Lange
Staff Writer

    WILLIMANTIC — Not many Maine communities with only 150 year-round residents have their own public library. A notable exception, however, is Willimantic whose library has been reborn, so to speak, thanks to a group of dedicated volunteers.

NE-WillLibMap-DC-PO-35Observer photo/Mike Lange

    MAPPING THE PAST — Dave Thayer shows one of the antique roll-up maps in the Willimantic Public Library.

    The library, located in the Norton’s Corner one-room schoolhouse built in the late 1800s, was dormant for many years, said Dave Thayer, one of the volunteers. “It was actually used as a school until the 1960s,” Thayer said. “But until recently, it didn’t even have electricity.”
    Now the library has power, heat and a growing collection of books for readers of all ages and free Wi-Fi, Thayer said. “That’s a huge plus for the community. Some folks even park out front to use it when we’re closed,” Thayer said. “But it’s great for kids with laptops who don’t have Internet access at home.”
    And while the town’s population is small, it nearly doubles during the summer months with many seasonal homes in Willimantic and nearby Elliottsville.

NE-WillLibInt-DC-PO-35Observer photo/Mike Lange

    LIVING HISTORY — The Willimantic Public Library, left photo, has kept the original desks, shelves and woodstove that were used in the one-room schoolhouse.

    The library still maintains its schoolhouse theme with some of the original desks, bookshelves, maps, globe and woodstove still in place. Although the maps are a bit fragile, they’re still usable for youngsters interested in geography and history. Vietnam, for example, is still named French Indo-China on an Asian map and Belize is still British Honduras on a map of Central America.
    The blackboards are more than likely made from slate mined in nearby Monson, Thayer said. “We don’t use the woodstove anymore, but we’re keeping it on display,” he said.
    The library also hosts workshops for youngsters like the recent fairy house presentation by Gentle Adventures, and a class on making homemade greeting cards taught by Thayer’s wife, Madeline. There are plans this fall to hold a “flat-knitting” class so kids can learn how to make their own knitted caps.

NE-WillLibExt-DC-PO-35Observer photo/Mike Lange

    HISTORIC AND FUNCTIONAL — The Willimantic Public Library is housed in the town’s former one-room schoolhouse. The structure was built in the 1880s and was still used as a school until the 1960s.

    While the library is only open from 12-3 p.m. Saturdays, Thayer said that the goal is to get enough volunteers to expand the hours. “We also have some work to do before winter,” he said. “The town paid for the roof replacement a while back, but we still need to paint the building and insulate it so it’s easier to heat.”
    The Willimantic Library could also use more books, especially by currently-popular authors. Anyone who would to donate volumes can contact Thayer at 997-2960 or Prudy Turner at 997-3531. “History means a lot to the community,” Thayer said, “and the library is a very important part of it.”

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