Site Number 43.  John Webster Hall.  Built in 1884, this is Newmarket’s first and only public library building.  But there were earlier libraries.  In 1801 Wentworth Cheswill joined four other townsmen to establish Newmarket’s first library.  It was a private subscription library, and in his will, Cheswill left his share in the “Newmarket Social Library” to his wife.

    There is no record of a public library until 1880 when Newmarket selectmen appointed a library committee.  Attorney E. A. Keep was the librarian; he housed the books in his law office and published open hours.  In the 1881 town report Mr. Keep wrote that there were 1094 volumes, with an average weekly circulation of 300.

    This building had ties with the Newmarket Manufacturing Company since the beginning.  The company provided the land on the corner of Elm and Main Streets, and the benefactor Capt. John Webster had worked for the company for 50 years.

    At age 21, John Webster went to sea. After he traveled the world, survived a shipwreck, and became the master of a ship, he returned home to Salem, Massachusetts.  He was hired as Paymaster by the Newmarket Manufacturing Company.  He moved to Newmarket and became the Mill Agent in 1846.

    After retiring, Captain Webster built this library.  It was expressly for the town’s mill workers but was also available to “every citizen of the place, free of expense.”  Costing over $12,000, “John Webster Hall” had gas lighting and steam heat; a Boston newspaper described it:

    The rooms were finely finished in hard wood, an amusement room for each sex, connected by folding doors, with a toilet and coat-room…

    Captain Webster returned to town for the dedication in November 1884.  In his will he bequeathed an additional $10,000 for the library’s support.  The building was managed by the Newmarket Social Union—a new group with both town and mill representation.  Among its subgroups, the Committee on Lectures and Education had four clergymen and the local undertaker. The only one that included women was Amusements

    John Webster Hall hosted all sorts of gatherings.  In 1895 the Young Mens’ League debated the question “Should Women be allowed to vote in Town, State and National elections and hold office?”

    At one point John Webster Hall had a gym, with a basketball team practicing here in November 1905Four months later the town appropriated funds “to put in good condition the Public Library Building known as John Webster Hall.”  Once it was fixed up, more girls’ organizations met here—the Girls’ Club, Camp Fire Girls, the Girls’ Sewing Club, and the Polish Girls’ English Class.

    In 1916, the nearby tenements were moved, and the library became dwarfed by the huge Mill No. 8.  In 1923 Mill Agent Walter B. Gallant cut the cord between the mills and the building, handing total control to the town. That is when John Webster Hall became the Newmarket Public Library.

    Both pandemics—in 1918 and in 2020—interrupted service for weeks. Other closures have been exceptionally rare.  The 1993 addition doubled the size of the building, but the library was closed for just a few days.  A longer shutdown was in 1982, when the portico was discovered to have no foundation.  With no other way in or out of the building, the library remained closed until a back door was installed.  The front entrance was reopened after the portico was rebuilt.

    John Webster once lived across the street in the brick Agents’ House, Site Number 44.

    END OF AUDIO TEXT. See below for photos and more information.

    Site#  43  Newmarket Public Library

    (photo of library taken between 1900 and 1917)

    Wentworth Cheswill and the Social Library

    The first reference we have of a Newmarket library is when Wentworth Cheswill donated $13,000 to join four other townsmen to establish Newmarket’s first library in 1801; however, that was a “Social Library” and not a public library.  

    “Social Libraries” of the time were private subscription libraries where membership was restricted to the paid shareholders/subscribers ranging from a dozen to between four and five hundred (mostly) men.

    The late 18th century saw a rise in subscription libraries intended for the use of tradesmen such as  Benjamin Franklin who founded the first American subscription library in Philadelphia when he formed “a club of mutual improvements” calling themselves the “Junto”.  Few men at the time had an extensive private library;  but by joining resources they could afford to puchase and  share publications that they otherwise could not afford on their own.

    Although we don’t know the final number of subscribers in Newmarket’s “Social Library”, it was likely limited to a couple of dozen or so.  In his will he left  his share in the “Newmarket Social Library” to his wife to use during her lifetime.    As far as his private library, it was an extensive collection of  books and his own manuscripts.  The only specific book title we have on record comes from Nellie Palmer George in her 1916  published article on the iinterior of the old Cheswill Mansion — that particular book  was “The Power of Parliaments,” printed in London, 1715.  It had the book plate of Edward Mosley and was the gift of Capt. Benjamin Torry to Wentworth Cheswill. 

    Another contributor to the Social library was Josiah Adams (1748-1809); he lived in present day Newfields and was married to General James Hill’s sister. His estate listed a share in the New Market Library and nine volumes of NH Laws. 


    Cheswill’s will of 1807, with codicil in 1817 stipulated:

     I also order that my Library and collection of manuscripts to be kept safe and all together by my wife for her own use during life, then to be disposed of herein after directed only excepting that if any of my posterity should desire the use of any of the books and give caution to return the same again in reasonable time they may be lent out to them, provided that only one book be out of said library in the hands of any one heir at the same time.  I also give my said wife the use of my share in the Social Library in Newmarket during life”.

    After his wife’s death…”Likewise the Library to be sold all together to such of my children as to whom will advance their largest sum therefor, which sum is to be divided among all my children as aforesaid. And in like manner my share in New Market Social Library to be then transferred at said Library to such of my children as will give the most, for the equal benefit of all of them”, dated  March 17, 1807;  the Codicil is dated 14 April 1817.

    Currently, as far as we know, his personal library as well as his share in the Social Library was sold to one of his heirs.  Who purchased his library and what became of his books are questions needing further research - which is still ongoing.   Wentworth’s son Thomas Cheswell ( 1770-1841) mentions not one book in his will—not even a family bible.  The closest thing to a book in his inventory upon his death was one old bookcase.


    Public Libraries

    The New Hampshire State Legislature in 1849 became the first state in the Union to pass a law authorizing towns to raise money to establish and maintain their own libraries. That decision was based on the success of the first tax-supported public library in the country which was in 1833 in the town of Peterborough, N.H.   Once that law was passed it was not uncommon for “social libraries” to be absorbed into “public libraries” as was the case in 1896 when the Ladies Social Library of Derry, NH turned their books over to the new Chester Free Library in that town.

    Newmarket’s Public Library

    1880 is the first Library Report published in the Town Report.

    The town’s first public library may  have been at Attorney E. A. Keep’s law offices in 1880.   In October of that year the town selectmen appointed a library committee to make all arrangements relating to a town library.  The committee appointed  as town librarian  Attorney E.A. Keep, and he maintained the library in his Law Office.  He published hours as Wednesdays and Saturdays from 2 to 5 and 7 to 8 p.m..  We do not know the source of the collection. 

    The very first Town Librarian Report published in a Town Report was in February 1881 for the 1880 Fiscal Year, seen here on the left.

    (photo- Newmarket Public Libary taken between 1900 and 1917)


    Newmarket’s First Public Library Building

    Not surprisingly, the Newmarket Manufacturing Company was involved in the creation of Newmarket’s first permanent public library building.  While the mills did not fund construction of the building itself,  NMCo provided the land.  The benefactor was a man who had spent 50 years in the employ of the company—Capt. John Webster (1804-1891).  It was his intention to build a library for the benefit of the employees of NMCo, but which would be open to “every citizen of the place, free of expense.”          — Boston Daily Globe, Nov. 15, 1884 

    Originally from Salem, Massachussetts, John Webster went to sea as a Captain’s Clerk at the age of 21.  During the next seven years he traveled the world; he survived a shipwreck and rescued its cargo, and later became the master of a ship. 

    He must have decided to settle down after that.  He married Martha Buffington (the daughter of another Salem seafaring man) and in 1832 took a position as Paymaster of NMCo, moving to Newmarket.  In 1846, Captain John Webster became the fourth Mill Agent for NMCo.  

    While there is no clear record of where the Websters lived during their early years in Newmarket, their son John Buffington Webster, born in 1835, likely grew up here.  At the age of 12 the boy was enrolled in Phillips Exeter Academy.  The Websters also took care of Martha’s orphaned niece Martha Webster Frost.  In 1841 the little girl stitched “New Market” into a sampler that is now on display in the Stone School Museum.  Seven years old at the time, she also stitched some initials on the sampler—hers “MWF” and “GWF” (those of her half-brother George Washington Frost, who would become the mill agent after Capt. Webster).

    The Webster family suffered a devastating loss in 1851, when 15-year-old John, enrolled in a Massachusetts boarding school, was accidentally killed by the discharge of a gun in the hands of a schoolmate.  A few years later Capt. Webster resigned as mill agent.  He and Martha returned to Salem where he had a life size oil portrait of his son displayed in his study—a tribute to a life cut short.

                                                 On Febrary 23, 1884, The Newmarket Advertiser printed the article seen here:

    While Capt. Webster no longer lived in town, he didn’t leave the company.  He remained as treasurer—a position he kept until 1882 when he resigned due to failing health.  But he didn’t forget Newmarket, and quietly laid plans for a public library.  The architect was Mr. Clough of Boston; the contractors were the Howe Brothers of Lowell.  The cost of construction was over $12,000—the total expense of which was met by Capt. Webster’s personal funds.  Only after construction began did Capt. Webster announce his donation of funds to build a public library on a the vacant lot donated by the NMCo.  on the corner of Elm and Main Streets.

    Capt. Webster returned to Newmarket for the dedication ceremony on November 14, at which he presented to the library committee $3000 to form the nucleus of a fund for maintaining the library.  The following month the John Webster Hall opened to the public.  For its opening Mr. Webster sent a complete set of the Atlantic Magazine, bound in 52 volumes dated 1858 to 1883;   He also sent six bound volumes of Putnam’s Magazine.

    According to a Nov. 1884 Advertiser article:  the Advertiser applauded itself for having run a number of articles about the new building and the plans being made for its use.   The original plans for a cupola had been abandoned in favor of a large additional round tower room, to be used for storage.  And the large east-facing windows (once part of the plan) were instead walled in.  Newmarket’s new building had gas lighting and steam heating; and more than books were on offer. There were two “amusement rooms” — one for ladies and one for the men. When finished, it was a handsome brick building with an impressive portico over the entrance.  It housed a lecture hall as well as reading rooms. 

    The Boston Daily Globe described it: The rooms were finely finished in hard wood, amusement room for each sex, connected by folding doors, a toilet and coat-room…The reading room will be supplied with the current literature of the day, and a library will be purchased as soon as practicable.  The trustees of the town library have been offered the use of the building, and will doubtless accept and remove the books there.  Today the building was formally presented to the trustees, Messrs. J. H. Sawyer and John D. W. Joy of Boston and S. A. Haley, C. E. Tasker and A. J. Nichols of Newmarket, who shall maintain and govern the institution…

    So this new building—meant for the employees of the NMCo. and the general public—was managed by a library committee comprised of three NMCo. officials ( J. H. Sawyer and John D. W. Joy of Boston and Mill Agnet Ambrose Nichols); the only town representation was two wealthy Newmarket businesmen (S.A. Haley & Charles E. Tasker). 

    Then came was another layer of management:  as the new building opened, a group of about 100 townspeople and members of the  Social Union met in the John Webster Hall for the purpose of organizing both the town Library and a new Newmarket Social Union.  The meeting was called to order by S.A. Haley who was subsequently chosen chairman of the evening.  E. A. Keep, Esq. oversaw a committee to select the following officers for the new Association:

    President -  S. A. Haley;

    Vice President - Lafayette Hall;

    Treasurer -  T. M. Joy;

    Secretary -  F. H. Pinkham;

    Committee on Building - A. J. Nichols (Mill Agent), N.H. Leavitt, W.W. Durrell

    Committee on Library - five businessmen

    Committee on Lectures and Education -  five men: an undertaker and four clergymen [one can only imagine the controversial and exciting lectures discussed]

    Committee on Amusements -  seven men and six women.

    It was determined that the Association would hold its business meetings once a month, but the building would be open every weekday evening, for the improvement and enjoyment of various means of instruction and amusement for which it was designed. The total new charter membership numbered about 250 people.

    When John Webster died in 1891 his will bequeathed to the town $10,000 in trust for the use of the library and for purchase of books.  This too was done without publicity; indeed, the grant was not well known by townspeople until well after his death.   See Walking Tour (Site No. 44 - the Mill Agent’s House) for more extensive biography on Capt. John Webster.  

    John Webster Hall:  The First Forty Years

    Excerpts from The Newmarket Advertiser show John Webster Hall being used for all sorts of activities; and the variety of groups that used the facility give a good reflection of town culture.  Quotes are in bold  italics.

    11/7/1885:  The John Webster Musical Association formed — to meet every Thursday.

    10/7/1893:  Professor Carlton of Bradford spoke on “Values” to the members of the Young Men’s League last Sunday afternoon.

    12/16/1893:  Quite a crowd was present at John Webster Hall last Friday evening, it being the opening night of the new Gym.

    1/6/1894:  Meetings of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union were held here every first and third Wednesday.

    11/9/1895:  The topic of a debate by the Young Men’s League on Monday evening Nov. 11, 1895 will be:  “Should Women be allowed to vote in Town, State and National elections and hold office?”

    9/12/1896:  The annual meeting of the Newmarket  Manufacturing Company stockholders was held here.

    10/2/1903:  The Boys’ Improvement Club meeting was about athletics.

    11/27/1903:  Mr. Gibbs, teacher in the gymnasium at John Webster Hall hs severed his engagement with the Newmarket Manufacturing Company and left town last week.

    1/6/1905:  A number of young men interested in athletics met at John Webster Hall Monday evening—sponsored by Mill Agent Garner.

    11/10/1905A basketball team is being organized and will meet for practice at John Webster Hall.

    3/2/1906:  The Newmarket Town Meeting Article 5 was to appropriate money to match NMCo funding to put in good condition the Public Library Building known as John Webster Hall.

    12/7/1906:  The newly fitted reading and amusement room wll be open to the public Friday evening.  Free entertainment is mentioned.

    1/15/1909:  The Newmarket Women’s Club held a whist party here. 

    5/12/1916:  The weekly schedule for John Webster Hall was posted, showing a band rehearsal on Monday evening, and the Boy Scouts meeting here on Tuesday and Friday evenings.  Wednesday evening hosted the Newmarket Girls’ Club; and Thursday had two girls’ groups meeting—the Polish Girls’ English class and the Camp Fire Girls.  The schedule also mentions that the Library was open Monday, Wednesday and Saturday afternoons and every evening until 9 pm.   

    1/26/1917:  The room over the stack room at the John Webster Hall is being remodelled for the use of the Newmarket Girls’ Club…

    The work must have been done shortly, as can be seen by this clipping of the March 3, 1917 schedule.  (The People’s Singing Orchestra appears several times in these schedules.)  Also in 1917 was a weeklong program held at John Webster Hall:  Baby and Child Welfare Week.

    October-November 1918:   The Spanish Flu Pandemic closed the library for a few weeks

    5/23/1919:  There was an announcement of a banquet for the returned WWI soldiers to be held in John Webster Hall.  Tickets were limited to 125, in addition to the soldiers—which must have made it a very crowded event.

     (photo: Library 1917-1932 surrounding by the Great Weave Shed)

    Mill No. 8 and John Webster Hall: 

    When the giant Weave Shed, Mill # 8 was built,  all the houses along the High/Main/Elm/Spring Street block were moved.  Only the library was left where it was — like a small postage stamp.  With the exception of the two old brick boarding houses on Main Street all the other houses were made of wood and easy to move.  One of the old brick boarding houses had outlived its use and was demolished.  The huge brick John Webster Hall would have been almost impossible to move,  so it was left in place where it remains today.  In 1932  the Weave Shed was abandoned when the NMCo. left town. It was torn down for scrap metal during WW II, and the bricks salvaged.  (School kids would show up during lunch breaks and after school with their cold chisels and hammers to chip and turn in clean bricks for a penny apiece.)   All that was left was a massive empty parking lot and the large water tower until Eddie’s Garage appeared in the 1960s. 

    1923 - John Webster Hall becomes Newmarket Public Library — no longer operating under the auspices of the NMCo. 

    In February 1923, The Newmarket Advertiser printed the annual report of the Trustees of the Public Library.  It marked the end of an era in one short unassuming sentence: John Webster Hall has been throroughly repaired and the entire building given over to the public library by Agent Walter B. Gallant.   The report continued: the stack-room had been changed to the other end of the building and the room formerly used as a library would be furnished as a reading room with tables, drop lights and comfortable chairs.  The librarian’s desk and children’s department will be in the middle room.  The trustees hoped to be able to open by the first of March.   After that, the town began funding the library more robustly.  In 1921, the library received $800 from the town.  In 1922, the library received $1000.  The 1923-24 report shows an appropriation of twice that—$2000.  There is no report of any monies coming from NMCo.  

    1941 — Mary (AKA May) Gordon was hired as the Town Librarian—perhaps the longest-serving librarian in Newmarket.  She remained for 27 years until her passing in 1968. She was also an accomplished pianist — part of the Kendrigan-Gordon Orchestra.  She played for the Star Theatre for many years.   [A study of all of Newmarket’s librarians is another topic for another time.] 

    1979 Wind Damage

    A straight line 90 mph wind gust hurled down Elm Street out over the Bay taking slate tiles off the tower room roof with it.  The tiles went sailing through the air and impaled trees and mobile homes on the other side of  the river on Heron Point.  It was extremely fortunate that no one was injured.  There was minor water damage done to the inside of the tower room.  Even the New York Times covered the story:  

    NEWMARKET, N.H., Aug. 27, 1979 (AP)—

    “A tornado ripped through this small southeastern New Hampshire town tonight, uprooting trees, ripping roofs off buildings and plunging the town into darkness, the authorities said.  No injuries were reported, although four mobile homes were picked up and smashed. The tornado hit at the height of a violent band of thunderstorms that swept across the state”.

    1982:  Construction Woes

    Almost 100 years had passed when, in the process of adding a handicapped access to the entranceway in 1982, it was discovered by workmen that the huge portico had no firm foundation. It was resting on only a layer of bick laid on top a bed of clay and was therefore considered unsafe —in danger of collapse.  With no other entrance, the library had to close, and the available funds had to be reallocated for a back entrance on the northeast side of the office.  The Trustees then sought (and finally received) emergency funding from the town to secure the portico on new solid footing.   

    1993:  A Long-awaited Addition Doubled the Space

    By the mid 1980’s increased use of the library made it evident to everyone that the hundred-year-old  building could not keep up with the demands of a growing populace and 20th century technology.  There were suggestions that a newer facility be built on the outskirts of town, but that suggestion was roundly and vocally opposed by users and non-users alike who wanted the library to stay in the historic building.  In 1988 voters approved an article setting up and funding a five-year Capital Reserve Fund anticipating an $80,000 each year.  This became an annual challenge at Town Meeting, and each year Library trustees and their supporters had to advocate for the project to continue.  As final estimates came in, 1992 was spent in major fundraising for the newly planned addition.   Once private grant funding was secured, the town closed the Capital Reserve donation and stopped adding to it well before the approved five year period was over.   

    As outlined in the Library’s 1992 Town Report:

    The Library Trustees had to match a $20,000 in grants by year’s end.  Local fund raising began in earnest, letters were written, first to area businesses, then to library patrons, finally to anyone else we could think of; raffles were held; used books were sold; a donation jar became a fixture at the checkout desk; Election Day donors got a copy of Melissa Zych’s exquisite sketch of the library. Individuals and local businesses responded with gifts ranging from a few dollars to a thousand dollars.

    Two other charitable foundations donated to the cause, as well.  With nearly $21,000 donated by December 31, 1992, we reached our goal! The Smith Foundation $10,000 award has since arrived; and we await the last and largest piece of our financial mosaic from the Love Foundation.   In summary, we expect that there will be $80,000 available for the library expansion project that has not come from Newmarket taxpayers.

    In 1993 During the entire construction period, the library closed for only three days due to safety concerns.  The newly renovated building was designed around many considerations: such as a meeting room that could adapt to many uses; more work space for employees, centralized visibility and control, historic and handicap accessibility considerations, need for more stack space, a larger reference area, a children’s room that is both accessible and separate, capacity to computerize in several years. With the help of architect Don Sumner, the new layout addressed all of these considerations.  David Whitcher was the builder, and the dedication  was held April 17, 1994.  The addition was named the  C. Isabel Donovan Addition in honor of her many years of service as Newmarket Library Trustee. 

    (photo of the new rear addition with roofline windows mirroring the existing tower room windows)

    Many Newmarket residents helped the Trustees with the huge, inescapable job of moving every book in the library—sometimes several times. Among these were Carol Barnes, Art Proulx, Katherine Farr,  John Edwards, Christine Bauer, Kathy and Bob Couture, Jack and Nancy Brown, Jan Boyle, Joan Pike, Kate Clark and the members of the Newmarket High School Honor Society.  

    David Walker and the Public Works Department also helped, transporting heavy library furniture, such as donated card catalogs from Cambridge. The Vitronic Corporation also donated furniture. 

    The Library and the 2020 Pandemic 

    During the Covid-19 pandemic the library building itself closed to the public in mid-March.  However, by June,  the Newmarket Public Library operated with a window delivery system.   Patrons were able to reserve items online, with a phone call, or via email.  They could then pick up their items at the front window.

    The upgraded state-wide interlibrary loan system was back and running at the beginning of September and  patrons had the option of searching the state-wide database to put reserves on items at other libraries. The system worked well and patrons took advantage of it. The library staff  followed  ALA guidelines for quarantining returned items for a period of 72 hours.

    The library website and server were upgraded to better deliver more referral information and online links concerning the pandemic/medical  information and referrals.   The website continued with access to their own numerous links to online programs, including Story Time with Miss Nicole. and there were zoom lectures for the general public.

    The staff still provided copying and faxing services and loaned several ipads/laptops with a wireless connection.  They spent their down time painting the interior of the library and organized and reshelving the collections, and on March 15, 2021 the library reopened for in-person browsing.

    The Public Works Department installed plexi-glass partitions at the Circulation Desk to ensure a safe experience for all.  By the fall of 2021 the library was open to the public 47 hours a weeks. 

    During the pandemic longtime Library Director Carrie Gadbois retired, as did Children’s Librarian Ellisa Arbogast.  During these times of uncertainity, the Trustees hired new Library Director  Kerry Cronin.

    The One Constant Fixture

    For well over 100 years the weathervane atop the library has withstood the ravages of time — of natural disasters including northeasters, blizzards, and heat waves;  and of man-made changes during renovations and reconstructions. 

    It was here before the giant weaveshed blocked the southwest wind, and after the tornado stretched its tenacity to hold on.   The unique design of half-sail and half-compass is still holding on today.