Portland, settled in the late 1600’s, was part of Middletown and known as East Middletown. In 1767, a separate town, which included the area of East Hampton, was founded and was called Chatham. The first known library was begun in 1782. It was called Chatham Library and, by 1815, owned 322 volumes. A RepublicanLibrary was formed in 1795 and had 200 volumes by the same year.
In 1841, Portland separated from Chatham. In 1848, the Portland Lyceum was founded. The Lyceum loaned books and members held debates. In 1884, the Portland Library, as a subscription library, was operating from the office of H.J. Fisk, a dentist. Members paid $1.00 a year membership fee and owned 350 volumes.
In 1895, the town voted to establish a Public Library, with an appropriation to not exceed $300 for the fitting of a room in the new Town Hall. The Portland Library Association gave its books to the new library. It opened on Saturday, May 4, 1895 with 800 volumes and 77 subscribers. A member had to be 14 years old, and only one book could be borrowed at a time.
In July, Horace Buck, a Worcester, Massachusetts business man, formerly of Portland, offered $2,000 to build a new library to be given his name. The Town contributed $1,000 and quarry owners donated the brownstone. After construction began, Mr. Buck gave another $500. He did not live to see the new library and after his death, $2,500 more was given by his estate. The library grew with two additions and the establishment of a Children’s Room.
In 1977, the Selectmen formed a Site and Building Committee to study the needs of the town. A new library was a priority, and Gretchen Hammerstein, of the Groton Public Library, was chosen to write the library building program.
On October 30, 1978, a Building Committee was elected at a Town Meeting, and planning for a new library was underway. Twice weekly informational meetings were held with the architectural firm of Jeter, Cook and Jepson, to which the public was invited. A referendum was held on January 16, 1980, in which the townspeople voted two to one for the new library. The H. Wales Lines firm was chosen to construct it and on August 18, 1980, the formal groundbreaking took place. Marie T. Larson, the First Selectman, and Marion Wannerstrom, former Library Director, were the first to break ground. Everyone present then participated, including Library Director Mary K. Flood.
On November 13, 1980, the Committee held the Topping-off ceremony when the last piece of steel, with a hemlock branch attached, was put in place. The cornerstone was laid on Thursday, October 22, 1981 and the new library was completed in December of that year.
The contents of the old library were moved to the new building on January 16, 1982, two years from the day of the referendum. Enthusiastic volunteers and the men of Co. C, 1st Batallion, 169th Infantry of the Connecticut National Guard moved 60,000 books and equipment in approximately four hours. The Portland Library opened to the public on Monday, January 25, 1982.
The building of this beautiful, well-working library is a tribute to the people of Portland and will provide library service for generations to come.