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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.

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