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Vermont’s First Library Building

Post Mills’ 1867 Icon Looks Back At 150 Years

  • The Peabody Librarian Peter Blodgett spends two days a week at the Peabody Library in Post Mills, Vt. keeping hours of 5 - 8 p.m. on Tuesdays and 2 - 8 p.m. on Wednesdays. Blodgett also works at the Latham Library in Thetford. Wednesday, May 18, 2016. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Connor Kutter-Walker, 8, of Thetford, left, and Andrew Fraser, 7, right, of Thetford Center, play chess during the Wednesday after school program at the Peabody Library in Post Mills, Vt. May 18, 2016. Built by George Peabody in 1867 in Post Mills, Vt., it is the oldest library building in Vermont that remains an active library. Wednesday, May 18, 2016. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • The north wall of the Peabody Library's balcony contains what remains of its original collection of books. Post Mills, Vt. Wednesday, May 18, 2016. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Librarian Peter Blodgett spends two days a week at the Peabody Library in Post Mills, Vt. keeping hours of 5 - 8 p.m. on Tuesdays and 2 - 8 p.m. on Wednesdays. Blodgett also works at the Latham Library in Thetford. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • On February 14, 1866, the Post Mills Lyceum debated the question, "Resolved that the right of suffrage ought to be extended to the ladies." The Peabody Library, where the journal is now kept, became the home of the Lyceum's weekly debates upon its completion the following year in 1867. Wednesday, May 18, 2016. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Librarian Peter Blodgett lends out a book to Connor Kutter-Walker, 8, of Thetford, as Levi Smith, 7, of Thetford, left, and Adrianna Hayes, 6, of Thetford, right, wait to be picked up at the end of the after school program at the Peabody Library in Post Mills, Vt., Wednesday, May 18, 2016. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Connor Kutter-Walker, 8, of Thetford, right, and Levi Smith, 7, of Thetford, left, leave the Peabody Library in Post Mills, Vt. following the after school program Wednesday, May 18, 2016. The building was painted and renovated in 2002 to repair stressed plaster and lath. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.



For the Valley News
Friday, May 20, 2016

One summer day in the first decade of the 19th century, George Peabody left his home in South Danvers, Mass., and began walking to Post Mills to visit his maternal grandfather, Jeremiah Dodge.

The teenager was too poor to afford transport, and during the 10-day journey he chopped firewood in return for sleeping quarters in the livery stables of local inns. Peabody spent the winter with Dodge, and during his visit he became particularly close to his aunt and uncle, whose names were recorded as “Mr. and Mrs. Eliphalet Dodge.”

The memory of them and the small village never left Peabody, and in 1866, the 71-year-old, who was then a millionaire, donated $5,000 for the construction of a library in Post Mills.

Celebrating its 150th anniversary this year, the George Peabody Library is the oldest library in Vermont built specifically as a library. Blending Greek Revival and Italianate Revival architectural characteristics, the one-room library is simply furnished with a long wooden table and rows of crisp white bookshelves on the main floor. Two curved staircases lead to an open balcony, bordered in white woodwork and a wrought iron railing. The small, but awe-inspiring, space is rooted in the past, but the library remains a vital part of 21st-century Thetford.

On a recent afternoon, Peter Blodgett, librarian of both the Peabody and nearby Latham library in Thetford Hill, glowed with pride as he pulled out photo albums and books cataloging the history of the library. Blodgett has been at the helm for the past 30 years, and knows every nook and cranny of the building — which is on the National Register of Historic Places for its architectural and historical significance.

The soft-spoken Blodgett pointed out changes made in 2005 during a $25,000 renovation to stabilize the building and bring parts of it up to code. The project included repairing the original horsehair plaster on the ceiling and replacing tall bookshelves with shorter ones that don’t block the sweeping arches and large windows.

“There’s George, on his perch,” said Blodgett, gesturing to a sizable portrait of Peabody that hangs above the front door. The philanthropist gave the imposing oil painting, done in London, to the library three months before his death in 1869.

“Everything’s original except the carpet and the paint. This table is from 1866 and cost $15,” Blodgett said, tapping the long wooden table in the center of the room. “The chairs we’re sitting on are original and cost a dollar apiece. When this library opened there were two tables and a big potbellied stove in the middle.”

About 1,500 of the original volumes — chosen by a London book dealer at Peabody’s request — can still be found on the shelves that line the balcony in the one-room building. Despite their fragile condition, the books are available for public use in the library, though not in circulation.

“I want people to feel the magic within them,” Blodgett said.

While perusing the historic books one day in the early years of his tenure, Blodgett came upon a small, leather-bound journal dating from 1845. The pages are covered in tiny, neat script, and record the weekly meetings of the Lyceum, a group of about 60 men who met during the winter months to discuss the important issues of the day. A question was posed, two disputants were chosen to argue the affirmative and two the negative, and the next week the debate took place. There is no record of where the Lyceum met prior to moving to the newly constructed Peabody Library after it opened in 1867.

“It’s always been in this building,” Blodgett said while slowly turning the journal’s worn pages. “I found it the first or second year I was here, going through the shelves up there. I was thrilled.”

Blodgett runs his fingers along the names of the members and the group’s constitution, before moving on to the first meeting entry from Dec. 5, 1845: The following question was then discussed. Is it probable that the present form of government in Great Britain will continue permanently, or change in a few years to one more Republican? The journal recorded, The question was decided by the board in the negative according to the weight of the argument. By the Society in the affirmative according to its merits.

The last meeting entry is from 1873. By then a few women had joined the group, though they were not allowed to debate; and questions about women’s suffrage, the morality of slavery, and New England seceding from the nation had been debated. When asked why the journal isn’t kept in a protective case, Blodgett responds, “You have to touch history.”

Though steeped in the past, the Peabody Library has kept pace with the times, and is a vital part of the community. It’s open two evenings per week, and there is a children’s program Wednesday afternoons. In addition to holding about 6,000 volumes, the library offers DVDs and audio and e-books, including for download on its website.

The building doesn’t have a bathroom, but it does have WiFi, and it’s a subject of consternation among Blodgett and the trustees that many people who don’t patronize the library sit outside or in the parking lot and use it.

“This is a temple of thought where anyone of any age can come seeking the information they need to know. You can do that at the (Latham) library, but it was built in 1976, and it doesn’t have a room like this,” Blodgett said smiling.

The room is in pristine condition, and the balcony, tall windows and arches give it an almost spiritual aura. Blodgett believes that the history of the room, architecture, and ghosts add to the experience of seeking knowledge. And when he speaks of ghosts, it is through personal experience.

One bitterly cold January night about 25 years ago, Blodgett’s car wouldn’t start, and he decided to sleep at the library. As he lay down in the balcony on a makeshift bed of carpet pads, and pulled his coat over him he suddenly felt as if someone were sitting on his chest.

“It was pitch black, and I couldn’t see anything,” Blodgett recalled. “I said out loud, ‘Look, you know who I am, I’ve been coming here for five years. My car won’t start, I’m not going to hurt anything in the library,’ and the weight lifted off me.”

Blodgett quickly moved downstairs, saying he wanted to get as far away from the balcony as possible. “I think it was either George or a guardian spirit of the library.”

It just might have been George, according to Thetford resident Quinn Corcoran, 10, who visits the library twice a week. She said she reads a lot, and the library is a nice, quiet place to hang out.

“I sometimes see his eyes move,” Corcoran said, looking up at the portrait of Peabody. “When I used to come here for the after-school program, I’d look up at him while reading a book and his eyes moved.”

Jaimie Seaton is a veteran journalist. She lives in Hanover.