Text and photos
by Rachel Morin
Patrons and visitors to the Auburn Public Library this past month have noticed a display near the Library Street entrance of two finials in a sad state of disrepair.
Today, a dozen of these distinctive and beautiful copper finials need critical repair, amounting to over $7,000. The two finials represent the 12 finials on the front and back dormers of the building.
These dormers open into the Local History Room on the second floor of the original Carnegie Building. There are two finials on either side of the dormers; six on the front of the building and six on the backside. The remaining larger finials in the fleur de lis motif are unaffected and in good condition.
Jim Wilkins, APL Development Director, said the finials have been the victim of the Maine weather—snow, ice and rain have slowly taken their toll, eroding and deteriorating them. Also snow and ice sliding off the slate roof onto the dormers may have had a hand in damaging them.
More than 50 years ago, a cost-saving repair was made on these finials using tin sheet metal, rather than copper. Unfortunately, this was not a good solution as tin rusts and all 12 of the finials are seriously damaged.
Gaping holes in the metal have become comfortable nesting boxes for birds and have allowed water, snow and ice to penetrate the brick façade. The damage on each of the finials cannot be seen from the street level because it is on the backside of each finial.
Wilkins related how the damage was discovered by Chuck St. Hilaire when he went up on the roof to replace some of the slate shingles that came down last winter. “If St. Hilaire hadn’t discovered the extensive erosion on the finials, we wouldn’t have known about it until water started seeping through a ceiling,” he said. “We are fortunate it was discovered before more damage occurred.”
This past summer, Chuck St. Hilaire Masonry Restoration & Roofing started the process of removing the old tin and replacing it with copper. Repairs will also be made to the damaged wood and masonry under each of the finials.
St. Hilarie is using copper to make the repairs to avoid the rusting problem. He is snipping out the damaged tin, bending the new copper to duplicate the removed tin and then soldering the copper back in place. He is not duplicating the decorative copper petals that are visible from the street, as that would be expensive and difficult to find a craftsman who could do that kind of work.
He will also repair the underlying brickwork and wood that has been damaged by water leaking into the rotted holes. He will also cover the cap on the brickwork and place the finial on top, which will provide a double layer of protection.
These beautiful hand-wrought copper finials have graced the rooftop of the Auburn Public Library since 1904. They have been an immediately recognizable feature of Auburn’s beautiful iconic library.
I wondered who were the artists who created these beautiful works of art in 1904. “The craftsmen are unknown,” Wilkins said. “There aren’t any records.”
In 1984, the Auburn Public Library was added to the National Register of Historic Places in the State of Maine.
In 2007, at the end of the “Building for the New Century” capital campaign, the Auburn Public Library was presented with a Statewide Historic Preservation Honor Award for excellence in preservation, restoration and compatible new addition design by Maine Preservation.
The display invites patrons, friends and visitors to the library to help protect and repair these architectural gems. One anonymous donor, who cares deeply for the Auburn Public Library and is proud of the historic building and comes to the library almost every day to read the newspapers, has donated $1,200 to restore two of the finials. He wanted to ensure his library was ready to weather another 108 Maine winters!
Other donations have started to come in, which allows for a third finial to be repaired. Nine more to go! If anyone would like to make a contribution towards the restoration of these beautiful finials and help maintain the Auburn Public Library’s historic Carnegie building, please contact Jim Wilkins, at 333-6640, ext. 2023 or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.