Deerfield's Soldiers Memorial
originally published in the Communicator, June, 2009

by Mel Graykin

The next time you go to the library in town (you do go to the library regularly, don’t you?) take a look around before you go in the front door.  You will notice several plaques on the wall with the names of men and women from Deerfield who served in the nation’s military during wartime.  Take a moment to read these names.  And then, if you will, go back down the steps and look up at the building you were about to enter.  You will see the words, “Solidiers Memorial.”

Most everyone in town thinks of that building as the Philbrick-James Library, named for John D. Philbrick and Frederick P. James who made the first library in Deerfield possible.  But they are mistaken.  The town’s library was established in 1880, and was first housed upstairs in the Town Hall.  It wasn’t until later that the Soldiers Memorial building was erected, housing not only the library but the W.R.C. meeting room as well. 

In 1911, the Woman's Relief Corps (auxiliary to the Grand Army of the Republic, who fought the Civil War) offered "to present to the town of Deerfield a building suitably arranged for a library and small assembly hall, to be known as Soldiers Memorial, to be kept forever as a memorial to all soldiers or defenders of this country who claim Deerfield as their home. This building is to be the property of the town on condition of its being kept in repair forever by said town." The W.R.C. reserved the right of using the assembly hall (now the children's room of the library) for themselves. 

Benefactor Julia James Butterfield (widow of Frederick P. James) provided half the funds and the W.R.C. raised the rest, largely through the dedicated efforts of Cora E. Wilson, Laura A. Marston and Ada L. Clark, whose names are on a plaque inside. The famed NH architect Chase Roy Whitcher was chosen to design the building, and in 1914, the building was dedicated.

The W.R.C. declined in membership over the years, and the library grew, eventually taking over the entire building as it does now.  Today, the library is in greater demand than ever before, providing books and movies free of charge, a meeting area for town organizations, and Internet access to those who need it to seek jobs and information. 

Libraries work on the front lines every day, helping people to exercise their right to access information without fear of censorship or persecution.  But take a moment when you go to our library and remember that the building itself is a memorial to those who fought to secure those freedoms for us.