BANGOR — Tabitha King’s fondness for the Bangor Public Library began long before she had experienced the exquisite thrill of seeing her books and those of her famous husband displayed on its shelves.
King, who grew up in Old Town, began visiting the Bangor Public Library when she was a teen-ager at John Bapst High School. The elegant old domed building on Harlow Street soon became a haven, a quiet retreat where she could escape the summer heat by slipping into the cool basement reading room and losing herself in a good book.
That musty lower level, with its dim lights, clanking pipes and charmingly outdated bathrooms, is no longer open to the browsing public. It has been replaced by new staff offices as part of the recent $8.5 million renovation and construction project, which is being unveiled to the public today.
Although King said recently that she’ll miss some of those funky, old-fashioned touches that abounded in the library’s darker recesses — she even pushed to have the pull-chain flushes sold at auction — she is excited about the restoration that not only saved the downtown landmark from decades of decay, but enhanced its classic beauty.
“I’m so pleased with how seamless the work is, how well it flows between the old and the new,” said King, whose donation of more than $2.5 million in matching funds sparked the successful fund-raising effort begun in the spring of 1995. “In some ways the restoration of the old building is the best part for me. The front entrance has been opened up, exposing those beautiful columns. And people will be able to use the third floor again, which was closed for so long. It returns the look of the library to what it was many years ago.”
Like every other book-loving resident of Bangor, King is looking forward to roaming the library again and acquainting herself slowly with its expanded quarters. With its elegant three-floor addition, and book stacks opened to the public for the first time in its 85-year history, the library is more than ever a place of exploration and discovery.
“It’s a lot less claustrophobic than the original,” said King, who served as chairwoman of the campaign. “The open stacks will be such a great benefit to people, and it will be nice to walk up the front steps and into the expanded circulation area.”
Libraries have always been high on the priority list of the Kings’ philanthropic foundation, which also has funded the construction of athletic fields, hospital wings and other civic amenities. In 1989, Tabitha and Stephen King donated $750,000 to the expansion costs for the Old Town Library. Just recently, their foundation provided a $50,000 matching grant for the renovation of the library in Southwest Harbor.
Yet when the Kings decided to support the Bangor library, they tried to do it anonymously at first. It was an unassuming gesture, based on the principle that a gift is a gift, no matter whose name is on the check.
“We didn’t intend that the donation would remain anonymous forever,” King said, “but we just weren’t sure what good it would do in the beginning to be publicly involved. Stephen and I were raised to not accept commendation for what we do. Over the years, though, we’ve been converted to the idea that matching funds and a public acknowledgement that the gift comes from us does have an influence on others to give.”
In the end, she said, it didn’t seem to matter that the King name was attached to the project.
“The people of Bangor love that library,” she said, “and the tremendous success of the drive was proof that it would have been successful anyway.”
King said her husband, who is working closely with the YMCA board these days to help restore its summer camp facilities, has yet to tour the Bangor library. But from what she has seen of the new-and-improved building, she is confident that their hefty donations could not have been better spent.
“As a community, we might have built something bigger, I suppose, or gaudier or more expensive,” King said. “But this seems to be just the right size for Bangor. It’s also a good place to have anybody’s books on the shelves, if you know what I mean.”