112-year-old Massachusetts library seeks historic title
TYNGSBOROUGH >> Historical Commission member Herb Morton stands amid a stack of boxes in the basement of the 112-year-old Littlefield Library.
"I think we have some bones in one of them," he said casually, trying to remember.
Yes, he's referring to human bones — bones from the old Tyng crypt that used to be on the land that now houses the Brinley Terrace apartment complex.
They're among a trove of historic treasures held in the old library, now serving as a museum of sorts and a meeting place for the commission.
This year, good news has arrived for the library and the old Winslow School next door — they will be listed on the state's Register of Historic Places.
That's because they've been nominated to be listed on the National Registry of Historic Places, a designation determined by the National Park Service.
It's an achievement years in the making, one that could qualify the buildings for state and federal preservation grants.
And with the Old Town Hall already listed on the National Registry, the move will continue to shape up a town center that Tyngsboro has been trying to solidify for years.
"It's just a part of helping to create and identify the town center, and make it a more vibrant and interesting and attractive place for residents," said Assistant Town Administrator Matt Hanson.
The national designation does not come with a set of restrictions beyond local regulations, unless the property uses state or federal funds for improvement.
"It can also potentially create protections if the town adopts, say, a local historic district, or adopts regulations for what could be done on buildings listed," Hanson said.
Both buildings meet certain historical criteria required for consideration on the National Registry.
The Littlefield Library, built in 1904, was constructed in memory of Lucy Littlefield. Her mother donated money to the town for the building after she died.
Its construction coincided with the Free Library Movement of the time period.
That initiative sought to expand access to information to all people, beyond just the wealthy who could afford their own private book collections.
But the building is also unique because it's one of the first libraries used solely as a library, according to Historical Commission member Marie Lambert.
"Libraries used to be in the school or the Town Hall," she said. "They didn't have their own buildings."
Before the Littlefield Library, the town used to share a library in its Town Hall with what is now Nashua, according to Morton.
Today, the building stores any historical artifacts people wish to donate to the town — an old-fashioned washing machine, a Prussian helmet, even a delicate will from 1675.
Morton and Lambert hope the building will serve as a museum.
It just needs a new paint job, they said, and eventually a roof replacement for the front part of the building that still has the red roof slats.
But next door, the Winslow School needs more work.
Its main entrance is roped off, with rotting wood that makes the building currently unusable.
But Morton said the integrity of the building — its beams and frame — is still good.
Built in 1892, the building was the new home of the Winslow School that used to be just over the Dunstable town line, Morton said.
The school expanded with additions in 1915 and 1948.
It housed grades 1-8 back when Tyngsboro high-school students went to either Lowell or Nashua to continue their education.
In more modern years, the school served elementary grades up through 2002.
The town fixed the school's leaky roof, but the building now has peeling paint and an old boiler with steam heat that needs to be upgraded, Morton said.
"When a building has been empty and there's no work done on a regular basis, of course it's going to suffer," Lambert said.
Standing before the field out back, Lambert envisions a space for a town common.
Once fixed, Morton and Lambert see the building as future town offices.
The current Town Hall offices, they argue, just don't offer enough space — and inside the Winslow School, space is roughly twice as big with 15-foot-high ceilings, Morton said.
For now, as the town continues restoration on the First Parish Meeting House next door, all there is to do is wait for national approval.
"It's just part of our history," Morton said of preserving the two buildings. A lot of people in town would like to save them and have them appear the same as they do now," he said.
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