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  • Writer's pictureJoe Pace

Granite State of Mind, #41: Wiggin Memorial Library, Stratham

We spent many years as kids wiggin' out

Yeah, I know. That's the Stratham Historical Society Building now. The town library is over on Bunker HIll Ave, part of the municipal complex that used to be the elementary school (more on SMS another time). But that little stone structure on the corner of Winnicutt and Portsmouth Ave, just in front of the fire station, will always be the Wiggin Library to me. That's where my mother would take us to - her love of books is something she passed on to both my brother Al and me, though we tend more to the acquiring than the borrowing approach. She'd browse through the upstairs shelves trying to find something she hadn't already read, while we would head downstairs to the children's section. It wasn't as easy as it sounds - the narrow stair had a transom window, and on that sill sprawled a massive sage-green cactus, lying in wait to rake the unsuspecting child with its razor needles. I had nightmares about that cactus. It was an epic quest for me to get past it, my own Cerberus or Whomping Willow. I had to earn my books through an act of courage.

And what books. Encylopedia Brown, Paddington Bear, Fudge, Motorcycle Mouse, books on knights and vikings and space ships and everything else. This was before the internet, when the sum total of human knowledge could be found in encyclopedias or in libraries. It was awesome, knowing that whatever I wanted, it was in there somewhere if I knew how to find it. Card catalogues became treasure maps, and some books we borrowed again and again. I can specifically remember a reference volume on Star Trek (there was only the original series then - well, and the cartoon). We must have read that thing to pieces. I've spent a lot of hours in the Exeter Library (both as a patron and public official), in Dimond at UNH, and even school libraries at McLean and Puget Sound and PEA. But that stone building in Stratham, that's what I always think of first when I think of a library.

That stone, by the way, is New Hampshire granite. Stratham has a long history with libraries - the earliest community library associations dating back to the 1790s. New Hampshire enacted legislation in 1891 authorizing and mandating free public libraries, and Stratham was in the vanguard complying with the law, appropriating $100 that same year for the purpose. Emma Wiggin, a founder of the Stratham Athenaem that preceded the library, left $10,000 in her will for the construction of a public library, and in 1911 that bequest resulted in that beautiful building on Portsmouth Ave. I bet the cactus is still there, too.

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