Portsmouth Free Public Library grew out of a proposal by the Rev. J. Sturgis Pearce of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church to a group of interested Portsmouth residents on March 18, 1897. Earlier, in 1893, some members of the Church had formed a Thursday Evening Club to discuss literary and cultural matters. As the club grew, it became more and more difficult to have meetings of the club at a member’s home as had been the custom. And so, at a public meeting of the club in 1897 attended by 55 people, Rev. Pearce proposed the establishment of a public library called the Portsmouth Free Public Library Association. The building site committee was extremely gratified when a member of the Library Association, John L. Borden, donated a parcel of land at the corner of Freeborn Street and East Main Road for the Library building. Plans were drawn up and with a great deal of volunteer help, the Library was built at cost of $2,363. The original officers of the Association chartered in 1897 were Rev. Pearce, Benjamin C. Sherman and Samuel Sanford. The first collection of books came largely from donations, one notable donation being that of 500 volumes by Mr. Charles A. Greene.
Additions and renovations in 1931, 1965, 1975, 1990, and 2001 have increased the size of the building to approximately 9,515 square feet serving the Portsmouth community. The Library has one separate meeting room for public use. There are approximately 75,000 items in the Library. The Library is owned and operated
by the corporation “The Portsmouth Free Public Library Association”.