History and Significance of the Old Dyer Library Building
Prepared by Tom Hardiman, former curator of the Saco Museum,
for the Saco Historic Preservation Commission.
The City of Saco is considering the future of the former police station on Main
Street. This article reviews the history of that building.
The structure which currently houses the Saco Police Department was originally
constructed in 1893 as the first permanent home of the Dyer Library Association. It is a
one and a half story structure, which in massing and in details, like the pulvinated frieze
and broken-scroll pedimented dormers, is primarily Colonial Revival in design, but also
contains elements of the Romanesque in the band of arched windows on the main
facade, and suggestions of eclectic Queen Anne details, like the variation of window size
and type, and the geometric muntin patterns in the upper sashes of the windows.
As originally designed, the interior was largely one open space, divided visually
by a broad wooden double arch. The front space was the reading room, which featured
an oak common table and a large open fireplace. The rear space was the shelf stacks.
Adjoining the stacks were two small chambers, a conference room and the librarian's
office. The whole of the first floor was finished with panelled oak wainscotting with a
moulded rail cap. Both walls and ceiling were painted pure white to reflect light.
Although electricity had been introduced several years before the library was built, the
original light fixtures were gas mantles. The second floor was an unfinished garret until
1914, when it was fitted up as the children's room. At that time two new dormers were
added to the front of the roof, one on either side of the original center dormer.
The architect of the library was Horace Wadlin (1851 - 1925), of Reading,
Massachusetts. The library was the last of six buildings Wadlin is known to have
designed in Saco and Biddeford. The others are: the Pepperrell Park Water Tower,
1887, Biddeford High School, 1888, Thornton Academy, 1889, York Corporation
Agent's House, 1889, and the chapel at Laurel Hill Cemetery, 1890. Of these six
commissions, all but the Pepperrell Park Tower came after Wadlin had resigned from
regular architectural practice, and all but the Biddeford High School are projects with
links to the execution of the will of the philanthropist Cornelius Sweetser, who was a
distant cousin of Wadlin. Sweetser left the Dyer Library $10,000 as a maintenance
fund. The building fund was provided by the estate of Mrs. John C. Bradbury, but the
Association Secretary at the time of the building was Hampden Fairfield, the executor
of the Sweetser estate. The general contractor was J. H. Randall of Portland and the
mason was Edwin R. Bradbury of Saco.
After more than a half century in this building, the Dyer Library moved north in
1955 to the home of former board president F. C. Deering. The old library building
was used as a District Court House, then by the York County Health Services, and
finally by the Saco Police Department. It is interesting to note that in its 103 year
history, the building has always served a public purpose.
This building is important to the history and the streetscape of Saco. It is
among the most sophisticated eclectic Colonial Revival buildings in York County. It is
also significant for its associations with Horace Wadlin, who, besides being an
accomplished architect, was the head librarian at the Boston Public Library.
Except for the insertion of a modern commercial door, the exterior of the
building has changed little since 1914. The surviving original window sash and other
wood trim should be a priority in a future restoration plan. The open concept of the
original interior plan should make the structure amenable to a wide variety of uses
which would not alter or destroy the remaining original fabric of the building. The
Saco Historic Preservation Commission is keenly interested in seeing this important
building preserved and reused in a sympathetic manner.