Former Hudson zoo site home to state's newest free library

Derek and Jennifer LeClair and their children, Noah, 9, Gavin, 10, and Alessia, 3, are the stewards of Hudson's new Little Free Library in Benson Park. As part of an international literacy movement, the program gives passers-by the chance to exchange free books with one another.

HUDSON — The opening of a Little Free Library in Benson Park last month has proven an exciting new chapter in the lives of one Hudson family.

Jennifer LeClair learned of the international movement earlier this year and, while intrigued at the prospect, initially didn’t think it was an option for her.

“I live on a busy road where the cars just go speeding by,” LeClair said. “And these little libraries are usually placed in front yards or on sidewalks.”

LeClair, who lives within walking distance of the park with her husband, Derek, and children Gavin, 10, Noah, 9, and Alessia, 3, said she found inspiration during one of her family’s regular park outings.

“Just seeing all of the wonderful volunteers that were there working so hard to make the park such a beautiful place made me want to give back,” LeClair said.

Noting the former amusement park and zoo’s rich history, the family soon realized they’d found the perfect spot for a suburban reading oasis.

“There’s even a literary reference inside Benson’s,” LeClair said, noting the life-sized “Old Woman Who Lives in a Shoe” display that dates to the park’s heyday. “So having a free book exchange really completes the picture.”

In 2009, the Little Free Library program began in Wisconsin. Operating on a “borrow one, leave one” basis, passers-by are encouraged to share their favorite books with one another at their leisure.

Inspired by Andrew Carnegie’s support of 2,500 libraries more than a century ago, program founders also found inspiration in the many coffee shops and public places that have encouraged book-sharing.

These days there are about 15,000 “Little Free Libraries” around the world, though there are just a small handful of them in New Hampshire, according to the organization’s website,

Other locations in the Granite State are at North Main Street in Wolfeboro and at 178 South St. in Milford. A complete map of all library listings is featured on the website.

LeClair said the Hudson location isn’t listed there yet since it’s barely a month old, but it would be posted on the site within several weeks.

A contractor by trade, Derek LeClair designed and built Hudson’s little library after getting the blessings of the Benson Park Committee.

The two-story structure, which resembles a large dollhouse, is set on a tree-covered hillside overlooking the building that was once home to a gorilla named Colossus.

Derek, whose day job is building human-sized houses with his company AlphaCon LLC Additions & Remodeling, said it was a labor of love.

“Jen knew she wanted it to hold more books than an average Little Free Library, so I added a children’s book annex off the side,” he said. “The most important thing is that it’s water-tight and sturdy enough for everyday use.”

Since opening its pint-sized doors in mid-July, Hudson’s tiniest library has been well-utilized by the community, with many expressing their appreciation on the Bensons Little Free Library Facebook page.

“In its basic form, it’s a charming box full of books,” Jennifer LeClair said. “But in a greater sense, the hope is to promote literacy and a love of reading while building a community gathering place.”