Cornish residents to hear library plans

  • Library volunteer Caroline Storrs, right, waves to Michael Edward, of Cornish, not pictured, as his wife Lauren and son Leo, 1, leave the George H. Stowell Free Library on Wednesday, June 16, 2021. The town has discussed adding running water, septic and an accessible entrance to the building in recent years, and Cornish resident Colleen O'Neill has offered to donate the vacant general store she owns for use as the town's library. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to James M. Patterson

  • Property owner Colleen O’Neill and store owner Mark Abrams stand in front of the Cornish General Store on Thursday, Aug. 18, 2016, in Cornish, N.H. O’Neill, widow of “Catcher in the Rye” author J.D. Salinger, has offered to donate the store building, which has been closed since 2017, to be converted into a library. The offer was announced at Town Meeting on Tuesday. (Valley News - Mac Snyder) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to Mac Snyder

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 9/28/2022 3:27:17 PM
Modified: 9/28/2022 3:27:18 PM

CORNISH — After 15 months of study, a town committee will present to residents a pair of proposals to improve the town’s library.

The first, which would move the library to the former Cornish General Store building in Cornish Flat, is up for discussion Thursday night at 6:30 at Cornish Town Hall.

The second, which would renovate the town’s G.H. Stowell Free Library, will be discussed at 6:30 Tuesday evening, also at the Town Hall.

Preliminary designs for the two proposals are available at the town website. The Library Exploratory Committee, formed in July 2021, will reveal cost estimates for both plans at the public meetings.

The Selectboard and Library Trustees created the seven-member committee to study whether it would be in the town’s interest to accept the general store property as a gift from owner Colleen O’Neill, who offered it to the town as a library and community center at last year’s Town Meeting after the Library Trustees inquired about it. The committee also studied what it would cost to update the existing library, which lacks running water, is not accessible to people with disabilities and has no further space to expand the library’s collections.

“I think the committee and the Selectboard wanted to respond to what we’re hearing from the community,” Laura Cousineau, a library trustee and chair of the exploratory committee, said this week.

The choice facing Cornish residents is this: Accept the gift of the general store building, which would be fully renovated to accommodate a library and community center at no cost to taxpayers, or renovate the 110-year-old Stowell Library.

The two presentations are preliminary to a vote at Town Meeting next spring on whether to accept the gift of the new library.

Minutes of the Library Exploratory Committee indicate that there are many complications to the proposal to establish a new library in the store building. While a new nonprofit, the Cornish Community Initiative, would raise private donations to cover the cost of turning the store into a library, the town would have to pay to furnish the new space. And the town would then have to jump through some hoops to free the Stowell Library from its current use so it could be redeployed, perhaps as a home, to the town historical society, which has outgrown its space next door.

But the main questions on Cornish residents’ minds is what either of the proposals would cost, according to surveys taken by the committee. While there’s a substantial fundraising effort behind the new library, there is relatively little behind a renovation of the Stowell Library, which opened in 1912, though the town acquired a small parcel of neighboring land a few years ago to enable improvement.

Views on the gift of the store building range from enthusiasm to the common complaint that libraries are no longer required in the internet era. About half of Cornish survey respondents said they don’t use the Stowell Library. Whether that’s because it has little space for public programs and events is unclear.

“My hope is that people won’t think just of their own use, but that they’ll think of what the town needs,” Cousineau said.

The general store was a gathering place, and supporters of the plan to turn it into a library would like it to become one again. Unlike the current library, it has lots of parking, is easily accessible and has running water. It also contains a commercial kitchen, which would enable town organizations to hold community meals.

Some residents would like to see the store reopen, but that result seems unlikely. The store closed in 2013, then reopened in 2017 before closing again 18 months later. It’s been shuttered since, though the building has been used as a stove shop and still houses two apartments, uses that would end if the library plan is approved.

If voters turn it down, then the town would have to look elsewhere for a functional library. O’Neill said in a presentation in July that if the town votes not to accept the building, she would likely put it on the market.

Alex Hanson can be reached at or 603-727-3207.

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