The Kensington Social Library was honored by the United States Secretary of the Interior with placement on the National Register of Historic Places both for its architecture and for its ongoing role as a center of education in the community for more than 100 years.
According to the NH Division of Historical Resources, the Kensington Social Library remains largely unchanged since it opened in 1895. The first and only public library in town, it is still the community’s primary base for literary activities and is a regional example of late 19th-century revival-style architecture.
Incorporating both Classic Revival and Queen Anne styles, the one and a half story library has several defining features, including an inset porch that screens the center entrance and is supported by brick piers, a large sandstone panel inscribed “The Kensington Social Library” centered on the building’s façade, terra cotta trim, sandstone window sills, and original doors wood windows.
Constructed during a decade when library design evolved to allow better patron access to books, Kensington Social Library’s floorplan has changed little except for the relocation of the librarian’s desk and railing, which took place for an addition to the rear of the building in 1974.
The original library building is an open room with fireplaces at each end that have brick and terra cotta mantels. Grooved board wainscoting or original built-in bookcases cover the walls below the windows.
The second floor is a high-ceilinged meeting hall that retains all of its original features, including built-in bookcases, an opaque glass and metal chandelier, and an elaborately decorated cast iron parlor stove.
New Hampshire, which in 1717 became the first to establish a state library, was also the first state to enact legislation allowing municipal taxation for the support of libraries, in 1849. Dublin Juvenile Library was the first public library in the state and Peterborough Town Library, founded in 1833, was the first to serve all generations of readers.
Kensington’s library history began with a subscription library in 1798, which charged members .25 cents per year. Different social libraries were housed in private homes over the years and collections varied.
When the public library movement in New Hampshire grew after the Civil War. Joseph C. Hilliard, a Kensington native and Phillips Exeter Academy graduate who made his fortune in insurance, provided funds to purchase land for the town’s first public library and to build the building; he also donated 163 volumes.
Concord native George T. Tilden was the architect. A graduate of Phillips Exeter Academy and the Lowell Institute, the precursor of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, he also designed the Exeter public library, and the Dublin town hall.
Administered by the National Park Service, which is part of the U.S. Department of the Interior, the National Register of Historic Places is the nation’s official list of historic resources worthy of preservation and is part of a national program to coordinate and support public and private efforts to identify, evaluate and protect our historic and archaeological resources.
Listing to the National Register does not impose any new or additional restrictions or limitations on the use of private or non-federal properties. Listings identify historically significant properties and can serve as educational tools and increase heritage tourism opportunities. The rehabilitation of National Register-listed commercial or industrial buildings may qualify for certain federal tax provisions.
In NH, getting listed on the National Register means property owners can apply for grants such as the Land and Community Heritage Investment Program or LCHIP (lchip.org) and the Conservation License Plate Program.
For more information on the program, visit nh.gov/nhdhr or contact the Division of Historical Resources at 603-271-3583.
The Division of Historical Resources, the State Historic Preservation Office, was established in 1974 and is part of NH's Department of Natural and Cultural Resources.