In April of 1871, the town of Windham began to lay the foundation for the establishment of a library with the funds bequeathed to the town by Colonel Nesmith. On May 9th of that year, the first books were purchased and placed in a room on the upper floor of the town hall; a room on that floor had been specially prepared for the purpose. As the library grew in size, it became necessary to move a part of the ever expanding collection into another room. By the early 1880s, Windham’s citizens were borrowing approximately 4,500 hundred books annually from the library; at that time there were just under 2,500 books in the collection. The Nesmith Library remained confined to the insufficient space in the town hall for for over twenty years. However, in 1897 George Washington Armstrong, a descendant of one of the founding families of Windham, was alerted to the need of a library by Leonard Morrison. Armstrong was an avid reader of the “Reports of the New Hampshire Library Commissioners”, which gave details about all of the libraries in the state; such details as the building they were housed in, their size, and whether or not they were a gift from a generous benefactor. Morrison knew of Armstrong’s interest in libraries and forwarded him a copy with the suggestion that he could provide funding for a building to be constructed to house the collection of the Nesmith Library. However, Morrison did not immediately receive an answer from Armstrong, it would be nearly a year before he made a visit to Morrison’s home in Windham. On that May afternoon, Armstrong informed Morrison that he had given it thought, and decided that he would pay for the erection of a library. The townspeople of Windham first heard of this plan on June 12, 1898. It was that same month that a town meeting was held vote to construct the building; Windham’s citizens voted in favor of accepting the gift of a library, as well as the condition that the site be selected by the selectmen and the donor. The meeting was then adjourned for ten minutes so that those present could have a chance to survey the chosen the site. On July 16 it was officially decided to make the town center the site of the Armstrong Memorial Building.
Prior to the groundbreaking on July 24, William Weare Dinsmoor was chosen as the architect for the project. The fieldstone construction was the decision of Armstrong, and it was uncommon in rural areas at the time. Morrison remarked that the “..material was new to us as a building material, which is used by the rich and opulent in all the cities, in their abodes, and in their rustic homes.” The stonelaying was done by Loren Emerson Bailey, a native of Windham but a resident of Salem at the time. George William Thom, the building’s carpenter, also had a connection to Windham, being a descendant one of the earliest settlers of Windham, William Thom. Masonry work for the project was completed by Moses Colby Page, a Windham resident. The stones selected for the building were taken from an old wall from the pasture of William Harris and James Cochran, which had fallen into disrepair. More specifically, the stones selected were from the northern section of the wall because they were covered in moss; this would give the stone a unique tone and appearance. The interior of the building was completed in naturally finished cypress, with polished Georgia pine floors. The building was outfitted with enough shelving to house 10,000 books to meet the future needs of a library, which consisted of only a few thousand volumes at the time the construction was completed. The Armstrong Memorial Building was completed in January of 1899, and the dedication ceremony was held on January 4.
Derek Saffie is an avid Windham historian who enjoys researching and sharing his collection with all those interested in the history of the New England town.