The old adage, “History is all around us” rings true here in Kennebunkport. If we are at the Louis T. Graves Memorial Public Library on Maine Street, it is literally embedded in the walls.
I have written about the Kennebunk Bank for which the brick building was erected in 1813. Observant Library patrons can still see the old bank vault where gold and silver was kept under three locks and three keys to be turned simultaneously by three bank officials. Customs records were later stored in the vault while the Kennebunk Customs District occupied at least part of the building from 1815-1913.
Once a busy office in a busy seaport, Kennebunk Customs District collected just 15 cents between the years 1890 and 1894. The second floor of the building was leased to The Kennebunkport Library Association in 1898 as a source of income for the Customs District. Customs Collector George Cousens tried to resign in 1902 for lack of work but for political reasons his resignation was not accepted and in 1906 he was re-appointed against his will. The Kennebunk Customs District finally closed in 1913. The Kennebunkport Library Association petitioned the Federal Government to donate the building to them for a library but instead, the government put it up for sale.
Ezra Thompson was Arundel’s Harvard educated schoolmaster from 1768 until his death in 1798. The location of his grave site was unknown when his gravestone was found lying face down in one of Edwin Smith’s pastures off Goose Rocks Road.
Nationally renowned, local artist, Abbott Graves stepped up and bought the Customs House at auction for $13,00.00 in July of 1920 and made a 20 x 35 foot addition on the back. He had Schoolmaster, Ezra Thompson’s gravestone cleaned and embedded into the brick exterior of the building to serve as a reminder of the importance of learning. You can still see it at the foot of the ramp.
Abbott Graves also painted a mural on the plaster wall above the fireplace in the 1920 addition. He chose to depict explorer Martin Pring and his ships ‘Speedwell’ and ‘Discoverer’ sailing the vast Atlantic on their way to the Kennebunk River in 1603. Martin Pring and his crew were the first Englishmen on record to sail into the Kennebunk River and document its particulars.
Mr. and Mrs. Abbot Graves turned the brick library building over to the Kennebunkport Library Association in 1921 on the condition it be called the Louis T. Graves Memorial Public Library in memory of their son Louis Talbot Graves. Louis had died of the Spanish Flu on January 26, 1920 after surviving a tour during World War I in the Aviation Branch of the United States Army.
Nearly a decade later a group of Kennebunkport literary dignitaries led by Newspaperman Francis Noble raised money to create a children’s department to be proud of upstairs at the library. To raise money for the transformation, Noble directed plays and entertainments performed by local children. Summer and year-round residents donated tables, chairs, and cushioned window seats, as well as about 4000 children’s books including some written by local authors, Kenneth Roberts, Margaret Deland and Booth Tarkington. What makes the Children’s Department really extraordinary to this day are the beautiful oil murals painted directly onto the plaster at the top of the walls by Turbats Creek artist Louis D. Norton in 1930. He illustrated well-known fairy tales as his “Gift to the youth of Kennebunkport.”