Portland Public Library is the main library of the public library system in Portland, Maine, USA. It is located at 5 Monument Square on Congress Street in the Old Port neighborhood of Portland. The library has three neighborhood branches, Burbank branch (in Deering), Peaks Island branch, and Riverton branch.
The Portland Athenaeum (1826–1876) was a subscription library incorporated in Portland by “Ichabod Nichols, Edward Payson, Albion K. Parris, Prentiss Mellen, William P. Preble, Ashur Ware, Stephen Longfellow, Nicholas Emery, Isaac Adams, Simon Greenleaf, Joseph Adams, William Willis, William B. Sewall, Charles S. Daveis, Robert Ilsley, Andrew L. Emerson, John Mussey, William Swan, Alford Richardson, Barrett Potter, Eliphalet Greely, James C. Churchill, George Warren, Nathaniel Mitchell, Benjamin Willis, Jeremiah Haskell, Oliver Gerrish, Joseph Harrod, Jacob Knight, Henry Smith [and] William Wood.” As gratefully noted in a local newspaper in 1826:
Such an institution has long been a desideratum among us. Other towns inferior to this in size and wealth have gone before us in the career of literary enterprize … and yet we are not willing to allow that there is any lack of literary elements in the town, but they lie scattered and dormant. There is no common centre of gravity to bring them into healthful action; they are like coals lying asunder which give no heat. We have scholars in town … but their lights are hid under a bushel. … We want an institution which shall bring them in contact, and give them the benefit of mutual light and heat, and action. … [It] shall combine a reading-room, a library and cabinet. … It is contemplated to unite, if practicable, the two reading-rooms now open in town, together with the Portland Library.
Early supporters included Stephen Longfellow (father of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow), and William Willis. By 1856, the Athenaeum had “160 proprietors and … a library, in the hall second story of the Canal Bank building [on Middle Street], of 8,500 volumes.” James Merrill served as librarian, c. 1850.
In 1861, the Athenaeum erected a brick building on a lot previously purchased in Plum street. By 1864, the library contained 10,647 bound books, and additional pamphlets.
In 1866, the Great Fire swept through Portland, and the Athenaeum lost its collection in the flames.