BETHLEHEM — The Bethlehem Public Library celebrates its 100th anniversary this year. What better way to celebrate than in a brand-new building that is triple the size of its former location, three rooms on the main floor of the Town House, which was constructed in 1913.
And the icing on the anniversary cake – the new library was constructed without taxpayer money and is completely paid for. All taxpayers will have to worry about in the future is utilities and maintenance.
The new facility is the gift of Arthur Jobin, who left $1.5 million to the town for a new library in his will. He grew up in Bethlehem, and although he did not live there during his adult life, he never forgot the little town and came back to visit often.
His sister, Muriel Brown, was the town librarian for 33 years and he left the money in her memory.
Bethlehem residents celebrated all day Saturday with a ribbon cutting and open house.
Arthur Jobin had no children, but Muriel had four, and three of them and many other family members, were present Saturday for the ribbon cutting, which was done by one of Muriel's children, Bruce Brown.
Sons Bruce and Curtis Brown still live in Bethlehem, as to do many other descendents. Bruce served on the building committee for the library.
Seeing the crowd present, Library Trustee Doug Harman noted there's an old saying, "build it and they will come."
Bruce Brown spoke about his uncle, who he said everyone called "Bud" or "Buddy."
Arthur was born in 1921 in Manchester, but the Jobin family was from Bethlehem and that's where he grew up. He fought World War II from a B17 bomber and was shot down. After the war he went to St. Louis University and then worked for United Airlines from 1948-2002, when he retired, at which point he moved from California to Nevada, where he died in 2009.
"He was a money saver," Bruce said, stating the obvious, to the laughter of those present. "At some point he decided the money he'd saved would go Bethlehem for a library. We've talked about it as a family and no one knows how, when or why he decided that."
Jobin was very specific about the fact that the library must be new, Library Director Laura Clerkin said. The money could not be used to buy land and could not be used to renovate or add to any existing building.
The library was built on the site of the former Maplehurst Hotel. The town had acquired the site and a warrant article at a previous town meeting gave permission for the town to give it to the library for a new building.
Fire Chief Jack Anderson was able to get a grant to take down the old hotel, which contained asbestos.
The new library is just a couple doors down, and on the same side of the road as the elementary school, which will make it easy for students to use it.
The architect was E.H. Danson of St. Johnsbury, Vt., and the builder was H.B. Cummings of Woodsville.
"We tried to keep the work as local as possible," Clerkin said.
Library trustees also listened to what the townspeople wanted, she said. The old library's rooms had lots of wood and townspeople said they'd miss that and so the builder was told the new library had to be warm and have lots of wood.
Providing more space was a main concern when planning the building. The old library had very little space for people to sit and work. The new library has people space throughout. It has better shelving and the whole building has wireless Internet capability.
"We hope people will just come in and sit," Clerkin said.
The move out of the town house will mean the selectmen's and welfare office can move out of the second floor closets they're in. They will be taking over the three rooms now vacant.
"We hope this is a catalyst for new business," Clerkin said. "It says this is a town that cares about its people."