Fundraiser helps preserve history at the Old Southworth Library

Feb 10, 2018

Elsie Haskell remembers a small boy racing up the steps of the Old Southworth Library on Elm Street, stopping at the bronze statue of William Shakespeare and exclaiming ‘Hi Will!”’

For many years, Haskell worked at the library as a volunteer and up to assistant director. Now 93, Haskell does not want to lose a building full of history that was her “second home.”

“It’s been part of our town before we were a part of the town and it should remain part of our town,” Haskell said. “It should not be sold. It’s historic, it’s beautiful and as a library it indeed has many stories to tell.”

Haskell was one of about 200 people gathered at the Allendale Country Club on February 9 to reopen the shuttered building as an arts center. Organized by the Dartmouth Cultural Center, Inc., the event included a dinner, silent auction, and raffles, and raised $3,500.

In 2016, the Select Board raised the question of selling the property after longtime tenant Dartmouth Natural Resources Trust moved out. The measure to authorize the sale was defeated at the June 2016 Town Meeting amid strong opposition from residents.

Last fall, the Select Board again approached the sale or reuse of the building. The non-profit organization was formed to propose a lease of the building, and convinced the board to hold off on making a decision until at least March 15.

In the meantime, the organization aims to raise $18,000, the amount the town said it needs to lease the property for one year. The fundraiser dinner is the group’s one and only big event before that date.

The nonprofit will have to go in front on the board again, but aren’t quite sure of what to expect. Founder Kathleen DelSordo said she has a feeling the town will ask for another request for proposals.

Planning Board member John Sousa was also in attendance at the fundraiser. He said he highly supports the organization’s bid to use the building as a cultural and educational center, but is puzzled as to why town boards and officials are scrutinizing the zoning of the property. DelSordo’s group had to produce paperwork to prove the proposed building use fits in with the building’s existing residential zoning.

“I don’t know why they’re being questioned so severely,” Sousa said, adding that there is a strong interest in town to preserve the building.

DelSordo said the organization will look to grants and cooperation with the town for more funding if the request is approved. The organization is looking into finishing the paperwork to make the building a historic site with the National Historic Registry. Back in the 1980s paperwork was started but never finished.

Dartmouth Cultural Center Inc. President Heather Stivison and Vice President Jill Law both said they want to make the building a place residents can go for arts and education, while reaching out to senior citizens.

In December, residents were able to take a peek inside the building. DelSordo heard stories that showed her what really makes saving the property so important.

“It’s the history of our town that goes with the library,” DelSordo said. “The stories of the people walking through were incredible, as children how they learned to love books and who the librarians were. There was just so much history and culture and feeling for the old library.”

For more information about Dartmouth Cultural Center, Inc., visit