SKOWHEGAN — Down a new staircase at the Skowhegan Free Public Library to a new basement finished with computers, a genealogy room, conference room and artwork on the walls, is a poem that winds in posted sections all the way to the bottom.

It’s E.E. Cummings’ “In Just”: “… spring when the world is mud-luscious … when the world is puddle-wonderful,” the poem reads. Such was the view on a recent muddy day visit to the library, where $1.5 million in renovation over the past few years has brought the 1889 Queen Anne-style bibliotheca into the broadband era of high-speed Internet.

Library Director Dale Jandreau said more than $1.5 million has been raised and spent, top to bottom, at the library, from a new roof and repaired chimney to the finished basement, where the public can browse the Internet on six computers and research family history from Atlantic Canada, Maine and the rest of New England. There are also two new computers in the children’s library on the second floor for children to use, Jandreau said.

“We have a staff person on each floor now” Jandreau said. There are four employees, including Jandreau, and a janitor as well.

The “Maple and Mud” art show in the basement is part of what Jandreau hopes will be an ongoing display venue, in which the artists can show their work; and if they sell a piece, they will donate 15 percent to the library’s continuing fundraising efforts.

There also are six sculpture pieces by Maine artist Bernard Langlais in the library.


Jandreau said the money for library renovation has come from grants, fundraising and private donations.

The library’s annual operating budget — this year it was about $97,000 — is part of the town budget. This year, Jandreau said, the library will request $104,000 at Town Meeting in June.


Library visitors such as Ashley Winter, of Skowhegan, come for the Internet access and stay for the peace and quiet. Winter was doing research in the genealogy room on a recent visit.

“I come down here for some quiet space,” she said at her laptop, linked inside the library by high-speed Internet service. “I think this is good. I didn’t see what it looked like before, but I like this space. It’s a nice addition.”

The basement has new floors and refurbished ornate brick alcoves, all held up by a thick, 6-feet-tall granite foundation. The renovation is coordinated by contractor Stephen Dionne, of Dionne and Son Builders, of Skowhegan.


What the basement was before renovation was a dank, dark cellar with dirt floors, Jandreau said.

“They used this for storage years ago,” he said. “It was very bad down here. A lot of things had molded. There was rotting down here. It was an old basement where they just stored things for years.”

Jandreau said a cleaning crew was hired a few years ago and sorted through the items that could be salvaged from the basement.

“They got rid of what was junk, sold what was good to help raise funds for the renovations and went on from there,” he said. “When they finished, it was all open space down here. It was bare ground and everything was open.”

Genealogy research is done on the house computer using the Destiny Catalog System, which includes free access at the library to

Computer search results and donations of books and other historic data are cataloged on shelves in “general guide” sections — Maine towns, family names, vital statistics — births and deaths. There also is a section on Skowhegan Area High School yearbooks, personal journals, and cemetery records.


Library volunteer Jim Barto, of Skowhegan, said he comes to the library basement to do genealogy searches on microfilm and from donated files.

“I look up genealogy work on the different history of people in Skowhegan to help other people find their ancestries,” Barto said. “I’ve done work on the Governor Coburn family — they’re buried in the Southside Cemetery — and different local families that had a lot of history in town, including the Sampson’s drugstore family and LaCasse’s shoe store and different businesses. I give the information to the library and they put it in here in books and records, write it all up.”

Others taking advantage of the high-speed Internet access at the library on a recent visit included Robert Sturtevant, who was browsing Facebook and Youtube; and Mark Williams, who likes to search websites for antiques.

“It’s a nice setup down here — really nice,” Williams said of the computers, which previously were on the main floor of the library.


Renovation and restoration of the 1889 public library, which got underway in 2009, got a boost in 2014 with the receipt of a $255,000 grant from the Next Generation Foundation to be used toward installation of an elevator.


Jandreau said the elevator’s total cost is expected to be about $535,000, and the installation will have to go out for bids.

A new back door to the library has been cut through the old brick for access to the main building and to the area where the elevator will be, he said. The elevator will have five stops from the renovated basement to a mezzanine and the top floor of the library.

There is new electrical wiring, a heating and cooling system, re-glazed original windows, brick facade work, sewer connections, two new furnaces and a fire-safety sprinkler system.

Even the climbing ivy on the outside of the building had to be uprooted and removed because it was eating into the mortar holding the bricks together.

The genealogy research room and computer room in the renovated basement opened in February, complete with a small kitchenette for the staff, handicapped-accessible restrooms, meeting rooms and classrooms.

Next Generation Foundation, a nonprofit, charitable organization founded in Maine in 2000, said in a news release in 2014 that organizers were impressed with the many strengths of the Skowhegan library and its support staff and volunteers. The group called the library a “stunning brick building that is being carefully and lovingly restored.”


Among the first grants for the project was $50,000 from the Stephen and Tabitha King Foundation in 2010.

Fundraising began in earnest in 2009 with a $100,000 donation from Skowhegan Savings Bank. Both the bank and the library were founded by Abner Coburn, a Skowhegan industrialist and philanthropist who was Maine’s governor during part of the Civil War. Other donations have come from the Davis Family Foundation, the Ladd Foundation, the Margaret E. Burnham Charitable Trust and the Maine Community Foundation.

A $90,000 sprinkler system was installed with the help of a $50,000 grant through the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“Generous donations like that … there’s a lot of good people out here,” Jandreau said. “It’s proof positive that there’s a lot of good people out there willing to help.”

Doug Harlow — 612-2367

[email protected]


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