Topsham library to celebrate launch of new award

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TOPSHAM — Nearly 75 years after Sarah Whitten bequeathed her 1838 family home to the town for use as a library, her name continues to be closely associated with the institution.

There’s the Whitten Society – created by the Topsham Public Library to honor those who, like the group’s namesake, give much to the facility. An annual donation of at least $120 earns one membership.

And now there’s the Sarah Whitten Community Award, which recognizes an individual, organization or business that “has provided significant community service to the library,” Susan Preece, the library’s executive director, said Dec. 18.

The inaugural Whitten award will be presented to Brunswick artist Consuelo G. “Connie” Bailey, the library’s volunteer gallery coordinator for several years, Preece said.

“She really put our gallery on the map,” Preece noted.

The library will honor Bailey Feb. 6, 2015, at a wine-and-cheese event for Whitten Society members.

Because alcohol is not allowed on town properties, the library needed an exception to that policy from the Board of Selectmen, which on Dec. 18 unanimously approved the one-time variance. Children won’t be allowed at the after-hours reception, and the library will have appropriate caterer licensing, Preece said.

The town’s library history dates back to 1803, with the founding of the Social Library of Topsham. The first Topsham Public Library opened in the second floor of the old Androscoggin Engine House on Main Street in 1931 with 1,500 books.

Ten years later, thanks to Whitten’s gift of her Pleasant Street family home, the library moved there and was named after her.

When a long-range plan determined that Topsham’s increasing population had outgrown the 1,000-square-foot library, the institution moved in 2000 to space leased by School Administrative District 75 at the Topsham Navy Annex.

The library’s current 11-acre property was found the following year, and the town in 2002 approved a $1.5 million bond to build a new library. An additional $1 million for the project came through fundraising.

The existing 13,000-square-foot library opened in May 2004.

Alex Lear can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 113 or alear@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @learics.

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A Maine native and Colby College graduate, Alex has been covering coastal communities since 2001, and currently handles Bath, Topsham, Cumberland, and North Yarmouth. He and his wife, Lauren, live in the Portland area, and Alex recently released his third album of original music.