(Note 2 – I split this chapter in half to make for shorter reading. This is the first half )
Amesbury had one of the best libraries of any of the little towns in the region. There were a few others that were nice, even more ornate, but I think Amesbury’s was larger than those. I visited it much less often than I felt i should. I almost felt embarrassed when i came, in, like I had purposefully stayed away from a place I knew I belonged.
I entered the library through the back doors and headed to the main desk. The desk was closer to the front doors, but I never liked coming through the formal entrance off of Main Street. The back door was easier to reach from my house, anyway, so why should I walk around the building? The librarian smiled as I approached.
“Hi,” I said. “Is the historical society open today? The web site said it is on Tuesdays.” Lyndsey had recommended I check Barb’s story with the town’s historic society.
“Hello,” she said. “Yes, they’re open until 7 PM tonight. You can take the stairs back near the door you came in, but if you’ve never been up there, use the main staircase.”
The foyer area at the front of the library had a staircase on either side. They curved around and met in the middle on a little balcony. I walked up and into the historic society’s space.
The first thing I saw was a little museum. I guessed it took up between a quarter and a third of the total floor area. There were a few display cases with small objects and a couple of bigger artifacts, like a mannequin wearing an ornate late 19th century dress. The wall was covered in maps, drawings and photos, mostly of buildings around town. I recognized many, but some were long gone. I walked through the door at the far end into the main room.
The room was big, taking up the large part of the floor space. There were rows of shelves. Most were books, but there were also large file boxes on some of the shelves. A meeting table took up the middle of the room and I noticed desks shoved into odd nooks and crannies. I walked over to the big table and glanced at the titles of the books in one of the many piles on it.
“Can I help you?” I turned and saw a man standing up from a desk shoved behind some shelves. For a second the thought that he looked like a book-pixy crossed my mind. He was a few years older than me, perhaps early fifties, was short and had sharp features, giving him that pixyish appearance.
“Oh, hi,” I said. “I want to do some research into the town’s history and was looking for information.”
“You came to the right place, then,” he said. “My name is Mike McGuiness.” I recognized the name, and as he held out his hand, I realized that I had seen him before.
“Nice to meet you, Mike,” I said. “I’m Gill Baxter.”
“Hi Gill,” he said. “Now that I think of it, we’ve met. Anyway, how can I help you?”
“Well, to start off, I’m looking for information about the Goode Mill and Mansion. I also want to know about the events and fire of 1821 and, well, whatever you can tell me about the Goodes.”
“How many years do you have?” he asked. “I might be able to do a condensed version that would only take a few months, but… Or are you planning on going through the Margret Goode Collection?”
“The Margret Goode Collection?” I asked. “What’s that?”
“How long have you lived in town? Maybe 20 years or so?” I nodded. Why did everyone know that? “And you’ve never heard of the Margret Goode Collection… OK, I guess that’s where we have to start. We close at 7, so I’ll be brief.”
“OK, sounds good.”
“Well, I hope you know Margret, don’t you?”
“I think I’ve met two Margret Goodes. One a few times before she passed away and another that was a ghost.”
“Funny, Gill. I’m sure you heard that the first one, the one you call a ghost, left a lot to the town.”
“Yeah, the old mansion, maybe some money or something.”
“Exactly. She left the mansion and a lot of money for its upkeep. She also left a lot of artifacts, old equipment from the mill. I wish I knew what happened to it all. It would be priceless today, original equipment form the 1803 mill. She also left a huge amount of documents and money to build a place for them.”
“Documents? What types?”
“Everything. Letters going back to the early 18th century. Log books, receipts, manifests, diaries, you name it, it was in the collection. It was unbelievable what was in there. Some of the oldest newspaper clippings you can imagine, first from the cities and later more local, once papers hit this area. Every bit had to do with the Goode family and its holdings here in Amesbury.”
“Wow, a jack pot.”
“Yeah, so what happened was that when the family bought the mansion from the town, they said most of the money they paid had to be used for the library to hold all of the stuff Margret left. The town had a library already and didn’t want a new one, but a lot of other people chipped in. So with the money Margret left with the collection, what George paid for the mansion and all that came in, the town was able to build a library, the largest in the region at that time.”
“What happened to all of the money for the mansion? Was that used too?”
“No. This might seem strange, but it was sold with the mansion to be used only for upkeep. There is still a trust and every bit of work, from renovations to lawn mowing, is taken from the trust. No, the library fund was different.”
“The collection sat in boxes in the attic until the mid-1960s. The second Margret donated a lot of boxes filled with more material, things the first Margret didn’t have. She also gave the town a lot of money and said they needed to do more with the collection. Someone from UNH came up, a professor and a dozen grad students. They went through it all and cataloged it. See that large binder? That’s a copy of one part of the catalog. There are eight others just like it.”
“That’s just one part?”
“Yeah, the collection is huge. So then in the 1970s, Margret again had the town get that professor and his grad students back, and they made a synopsis of the collection. It took them over five years, but they came up with a six-volume set. The last volume held all of the foot notes and was just a way to connect quotes from the other five to the original catalog. See those volumes over there?’
“Wow. What, about 1500 pages each?”
“Yes. There are at least two copies, one here and one at UNH. I may be the only person to have read every page of it, though I know the one at UNH is often used in bits and pieces for research. I’ve actually read it cover to cover four times. I’ve also read most of it many times over as I research.”
I could tell he was proud of this, that he needed to let me know he was the expert. I was glad. I wouldn’t have to rely on Galvin, who wasn’t reliable, or Barbra, who seemed to have a vested interest.
“Great, then you are the man I am looking for,” I said.