The History of Baxter Memorial Library

The Baxter Memorial Library was built in 1908. The gift of James Phinney Baxter, the library building is constructed of pink granite and the interior is completed in red oak.

When James Phinney Baxter moved the Baxter House to its present location and built Baxter Memorial Library where the house once stood, his intent was that the library and house/museum should stand as a memorial to his father, Dr. Elihu Baxter.

The library is now a department of the Town of Gorham, governed by town ordinance and advised by a nine member board of trustees.

With the opening of a new addition in February of 2003, and the re-opening of the original building in May of 2003, the library has added considerable space while blending the old with the new in a complementary manner.

The library continues to preserve the Baxter family legacy in our collections, including J.P. Baxter's journals and the Maine Collection, an accumulation of Gorham history, Maine history, and books written by local authors.

The Library
by James Phinney Baxter

Though tombs the dust of Men of Genius claim,
They still survive immortalized by Fame,
Here with them Thou mayst hold communion still,
And of Their Wisdom freely drink Thy fill.

But what is learned that must Thou wisely do
If Thou wouldst reap, for this is ever true,
Who learns and learns but does not what He knows,
Is One who plows and plows but never sows.
James Phinney Baxter
Photo Courtesy of Dr. Houghton White and Mary White

James Phinney Baxter's obituary, from Sprague's Journal of Maine History, Volume 9, April, May, June, 1921 No. 2., follows:


James Phinney Baxter
Sprague's Journal of Maine History
Volume 9, April, May, June, 1921 No. 2
Page 78-80

James Phinney Baxter
(by the Editor)

A brilliant human light was extinguished, when, on Sunday, May 8, 1921, at his home in Portland, occurred the death of James Phinney Baxter, father of Governor Percival P. Baxter. It is only the truth to say that he was one of the greatest of Maine's eminent men of the present generation. He was born in Gorham, Maine, March 23, 1831, the son of Dr. Elihu and Sarah (Cone) Baxter. When nine years of age his parents moved to Portland which was ever after his home. At that time there was in Port- land a far famed school for boys known as "Master Jackson's School." He was a scholar there until thirteen years of age when he attended the Lynn Academy four years. At first his parents were desirous of his becoming a lawyer and he entered the office of Rufus Choate in Boston for this purpose, but failing health compelled him to return to Portland, and his legal studies thus interrupted were never resumed. He entered into the business of importing dry goods with the late William G. Davis who was later prominent in the affairs of the Maine Central Railroad. Baxter and Davis were pioneers in the canning and packing business and Maine owes them much for successfully developing this great industry in our State.

Possibly his experience as a boy in the Portland schools convinced him that the opportunities for improving educational conditions there were vast. But from whatever source his inspiration may have come he was for a lifetime a consistent and persistent advocate of whatever would advance the cause of education in his city and state.

Successful in all of his undertakings he acquired a large fortune, but wealth did not narrow his vision, shrivel his manhood, or dry up his milk of human kindness. His benevolence and philanthropy as a private citizen and his activities in organized charities are known to all men.

To his native town and his adopted city he has donated public libraries, and has made other munificent gifts in other directions of a public nature. The city of Portland and the State of Maine have in innumerable ways been benefited by his life efforts.

A publicist of strong convictions, fearless in his positions when believing that he was right, he was long an important factor and a moulder of thought in political and public affairs. And yet political management as such never appealed to him. He never held but one important office, so far as we are aware, which was when the people of his city demanded his services as mayor which position he held for six years.

He was at the time of his death president of the Portland Public Library, the Baxter Library of Gorham, the Benevolent Society and since 1890 of the Maine Historical Society, also an overseer of Bowdoin College. He was connected with the New England Historical and Genealogical Society, the American Antiquarian Society, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the Massachusetts Historical Society and the Old Colony Historical Society. He also held the office of secretary of foreign correspondence of the American Antiquarian Society.

But this many sided man will be best known in the field of literature and historical research, and as an authority on New England history, especially that portion of it pertaining to Maine's colonial period. In this regard he has left monuments for himself which will last through the ages.

His intellectual activities for the past century have amazed those of his friends who fully realized what a buy life he led along other and diverse lines. In his younger days Mr. Baxter contributed poetry to literary journals like The Home Journal, Shillaber's Carpet Bag, Godey's Lady's Book, the Portland Transcript, etc. We have not the necessary data at hand to enumerate all of his labors as an author. Williamson's Bibliography of Maine, published in 1896, has a list of twenty-seven at that time. Among his most important works are the Trelawney Papers, George Cleve and His Times, the British Invasion from the North, Sir Ferdinando Gorges and His Province of Maine, The Pioneers of New France in New England, The Voyages of Jacques Cartier, Journal of Lieut. William Digby, 1776-1777. Only six years ago (1915), he contributed to the literature of the world an important and learned study of the Bacon-Shakespeare controversy. This was published under the title of "The Greatest of Literary Problems" and elicited much discussion among reviewers and men of letters.

Twenty-four volumes of the Documentary History of Maine, have been published all of them part of the Collections of the Maine Historical Society. The first two volumes were edited by William Willis, and Charles Deane, and the two volumes of the Farnham Papers, were edited by Mary Frances Farnham. The other twenty volumes which include the Trelawney Papers, were edited by Mr. Baxter. The nineteen volumes of the Baxter Manuscripts represent one of the greatest feats of historical research ever performed by any one person that we have knowledge of. Mr. Baxter, at his own expense visited and personally examined all of the records, letters, deeds, or writings of any description pertaining to the history of Maine, in the Archives of Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Montreal, Quebec, London, and Paris, and procured copies of them. These are what constitute the "Baxter Manuscripts." They are invaluable to all students of Maine history. No accurate story of Maine's Colonial and Revolutionary periods, or of any parts thereof, can ever in all the fulness of time, be written or compiled without reference to them.

It is truly a large footprint on the sands of time. It is the record of a great and worthy achievement.

© 1998 Courtesy of the Androscoggin Historical Society

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