December 19, 2009

The Frank L. McGuire Maritime Library:  
A Progress Report          by Brian Rogers

Our growing library has seen some important changes in recent months.  The most visible of these is the influx of donated book collections from Robert Bachman of Waterford and the estate of Dan Wolverton, and a notable collection of ship models and books from Robert Stewart of Mystic.  Archie Chester continues to donate useful books, while more recent donors include Jennifer Hillhouse, Roger Clements, Oliver Porter, Stan Gaby and the planning office of the City of New London.  We have also bought a number of choice titles from Bill Abt of Mystic, a dealer in nautical books. This welcome activity has called for some adjustment of the shelving so that the new material, well over 650 volumes, could be accommodated while awaiting cataloging.  This project will begin early in 2010 with two new library volunteers.  Among the many nautical topics represented in the new material are U.S. and British naval history (including the War of 1812,) marine art, the great age of sail, polar exploration, yachting, fishing schooners, liners and merchant ships, and submarines.

This past summer Robert Stewart gave us ten exquisite models of 20th century American and British passenger and merchant vessels, each in its own display case.  These are now displayed in the McGuire Library, adding to the already inviting ambience of our reading room, whose handsome floor-to-ceiling, wall-to-wall cherry bookcases were designed by Benjamin Martin and expertly crafted by the late cabinetmaker Bob Chalmers. In October Bob Stewart supplemented the models with his extensive book collection on ship model building and many well-illustrated books on passenger liners, merchant ships, and sailing vessels.  

Our book holdings are listed in the Connecticut State Library online catalog, "iConn," a system enabling Connecticut residents to locate a book wherever it may be held in libraries across the state.  The ID number of one's public library card is required to enter the system, and from there it is relatively easy to determine what libraries own a given book.  Susan Tamulevich and Library Volunteer Brian Rogers attended an iConn training session in November.

We have also made progress in organizing our non-book materials.  Some of these, like Harold Cone's extensive research notes on New London history, and the glass-plate negative photographs, have been at the Custom House for many years.  Other material, including New London-related articles in l9th century illustrated newspapers, historic photographs and postcards, and manuscripts of various kinds, needs to be inventoried so we can let the public know what we have.  We will publicize these holdings in a new library component in our website currently being planned.  In the meantime, an exhibit of selected books, newspapers and photographs from the library has been on view on the main floor this fall and will continue into January, and we will exhibit other library items from time to time in the future.

The Frank L. McGuire Maritime Library was named in memory of the late New London attorney after his death in 1990.  Frank was a founder of the New London Maritime Society, working closely with the late Lucille Showalter and many others to save the landmark Custom House, rehabilitate it and turn it into a museum of New London's maritime heritage.  Among other things, he was instrumental in raising nearly a half million dollars for this work.  The library was re-dedicated to Frank's memory at the Maritime Society's annual Christmas celebration on December 17.  

Naming of the 
Archibald J. Chester, Jr. Reading Room
The following announcement was made by Library Volunteer Brian Rogers directly after his remarks regarding the re-dedication of the Frank L. McGuire Maritime Library at the Society Christmas Party on December 17, 2009.

One of the McGuire Library's most devoted friends for many years has been long-time board member Archie Chester. 

For a long time now Archie has been donating books to the collection, usually in memory of family members or ancestors. The books just appear from time to time, marked by one or another of Archie's distinctive rubber stamps that specify in whose memory they have been given. We have no idea how many books have come to us in this way, but the number is considerable.Archie has been a loyal board member, helping to see the Museum through good times and bad. He has introduced friends to the Maritime Society and brought at least one, Bob Stewart, to board membership. He serves as a docent on a regular basis. He hosts the 2nd-Friday cribbage games in the brick-walled function room off the spruced-up Lower Level corridor. Some of Archie's book donations occupy a bookcase in that room, and a companion case was recently placed there to house Bob Stewart's collection of ship modeling books. Our grandfather clock now stands there too, under Robert Mills's graceful ceiling arches. With its red-brick walls and ceiling reminding us of its early 19th century origins, and the ship models on display, the room is one of the most characterful in the building, suitable for meetings, discussions, classes, receptions or even intimate dinner parties. As more Museum programs and exhibits take place on the Lower Level, this room will become an even more visible feature of the Custom House.

To honor Archie Chester for his manifold contributions to the New London Maritime Society over many years, and for his abiding loyalty to the Custom House Museum, I have been given the privilege of announcing that this room of which I speak is to be known henceforth as the Archibald J. Chester, Jr. Reading Room. I'm sure he will forgive us if we refer to it as the "Archie Chester Room," or even, when in a hurry, as the "Chester Room." No matter how we say it, it has a nice ring. Congratulations, Archie, and thank you!
20 August 2010
The Frank L. McGuire Maritime Library:  
A Progress Report        
 by Brian Rogers

We are pleased to report that our maritime history library is again fulfilling the mission envisioned by its founders.  When it was dedicated to the memory of Attorney Frank Lewis McGuire in 1988, the library was only a lofty goal:  the room and its cherry bookcases were both handsome and largely empty.  The nucleus of the future library was on hand, however, including the late Lucille Showalter's maritime books, customs records, the papers of New London historian Harold Cone, and some interesting plate glass negatives.  The jewels of the collection were architect Robert Mills's 1833 renderings of the Custom House he designed.  Useful as these resources were to the museum director and the occasional visitor, they did not comprise a library in the sense of an organized collection of books and other materials readily accessible to users.

The picture began to change in time, however, and over the years the Frank L. McGuire Library came closer to what its founders had in mind: a maritime history resource available to the greater New London community and its visitors. As has been reported earlier, the collections have grown exponentially in the past two years through the gifts of many generous donors.  We are also buying books with a library fund recently enlarged by several of Frank McGuire's close friends and family members.  Laurie Deredita, retired Director of Special Collections and Archives at Connecticut College, has been hard at work since early this year to enter the hundreds of backlogged titles into the statewide library database, iConn, which serves as our online catalog.  (Note to members:  we will be glad to help you make the best use of the iConn system --  just give the librarian a call at (860) 572-0291 or email him at   

Another gift received in recent months is the research archive formed by Robert Bachman of Waterford in preparation for a book about the War of 1812 which was to focus on the two major events of that war which occurred here:  the blockade of New London by the Royal Navy and its attack on Stonington.  The book was never written, but the files are useful nevertheless, having been drawn from both British and American archival collections to reflect the perspectives of both countries.  The Bachman archive will be used in connection with a 2012 bicentennial exhibition being jointly planned by the Custom House, Mystic Seaport, Lyman Allyn Museum, New London County Historical Society, and Stonington Historical Society.

Perhaps the workings of the McGuire Library may be best described through the queries it receives.  Since the rededication of the Library at the Maritime Society's December meeting, we have responded to a request from England for information about the steam yacht Warrior that went aground off Fishers Island in 1916; from a Museum visitor about shipbuilding firms in New London and Groton;  from a New Zealand historian about the fate of the New London whaler, Chelsea, that foundered there in 1845; from a Penn State graduate student who came to us and to Mystic Seaport to research the place of whalemen in society;  from a local woman about the destruction of two American vessels in Niantic Bay in the War of 1812;  from a California man about the Frink whaling firms and vessels of New London;  from a New Jerseyite about the maritime officers school at Fort Trumbull in World War II and its newsletter, the Trumbullog;  from a descendant of a Montville family regarding New London shipping companies in the l8th century and the role of ships' cabin boys; and from a July visitor researching a New London whaling vessel, Halcyon, lost off the coast of Western Australia in 1844. 

Our preliminary sleuthing in response to these requests is done both at the Custom House and through the wealth of resources available on the Internet (among them the superb materials offered through the G. W. Blunt White Library at Mystic Seaport.)  More detailed research, if requested, is carried out on a fee basis. When visitors come to the Library by appointment, on the other hand, we are able to pull out relevant books and set them to reading and notetaking on their own.  Such an occasion was particularly notable this spring when a history class at UConn Avery Point taught by Elysa Engelman came for a Museum tour by Head Docent Bill LaRoue. Later the class spent an evening in the McGuire Library researching the history of our building for an application to the National Park Service nominating the Custom House as a site on the Underground Railroad Network to Freedom Trail.  A library serves in many different ways, but whether assisting individuals with personal research questions or working with students on a project of national significance, the McGuire Library, its volunteers and donors are proud to be fulfilling the dreams of our founders and forebears.
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2015  Annual Report of the Frank L. McGuire Maritime Library

The book collection on our shelves has long been the most visible part of the library, but this year we have been laying the groundwork to extend that visibility 
beyond the Custom House. In the months and years ahead, we intend to create 
digital versions of our archival collections that will allow visitors to view images and 
documents on our website. Among these collections are the papers of New London’s19th century customs collectors; 
the S.S. Tasco photos and logbooks relating to the salvage ship of the T. A. Scott company; the Dwight and Lila Lyman Fort Trumbull papers; the U.S. Maritime
Officers (Fort Trumbull) Training School archive; the Robert Bachman papers on
 the War of 1812 in Long Island Sound; the Harold Cone New London history papers; and the old postcard collection. Descriptive "Finding Aids," several of them prepared by Eugene MacMullan, left, will accompany each website presentation.

Due to the State’s continuing budget crisis, on July 1 the State Library shut down
“iConn,” the online cataloging and research system that had served Connecticut libraries for more than 25 years. We joined the system in 2010, to use it as our only catalog and to publicize our holdings throughout the State and beyond. A replacement system was to be introduced in October, but was not yet available in mid-November. Despite this handicap, a number of email requests were answered, and several visitors did research in the library.

To supplement the Museum’s current exhibition honoring the 225th anniversary 
of the Customs Service, the library is displaying albums made by Gene 
MacMullan to accommodate the papers of early New London collectors, together with books about the history of the service.

Brian Rogers, Librarian
Laurie Deredita, Associate Librarian
Eugene MacMullan, Conservator

November 16, 2015

On Saturday, April 10, 2010, friends of the Frank L. McGuire Maritime Research Library gathered to remember and honor Frank McGuire and rededicate the library at the Custom House Maritime Museum named in his honor. 

Twenty-seven years ago, Frank McGuire was a founder of the New London Maritime Society. Twenty years ago, in a moving editorial marking his passing, the New London Day wrote:

"The death of attorney Frank Lewis McGuire takes from this community a gentle, kindly man respected for his character and his goodness. In all his work he conveyed the strongest sense of the duty and the honor of public service. Yet he was never showy. That was out of character for him. Rather, he led by unobtrusive example. Though he did so in a quiet and dignified way, no one who knew him could fail to see the intensity of his commitment.

"He spent much time helping others. He did not do this for himself, but out of a genuine concern for people. He was not ambitious in the a worldly and selfish sense. But he was ambitious in advocating the public good. He wanted to improve life for his family, his friends and all the people of his community.

"He accomplished things because he instinctively knew the right thing to do. That wonderful sense of propriety was one of the most striking features of his personality. His high standards of conduct and his decency were models for members of the law profession. When he spoke, people knew clearly that he stood for principle.

"Outside the office, he was an easy, friendly companion. He had a lilting, Irish tenor voice, and he relished singing at parties. He also had a wonderful sense of humor. His simple kindness, gentlemanly qualities and courtly manner touched and aided people. He will be remembered."

Everyone gathered at the Custom House on April 10 did exactly that--remembering Frank with personal stories and sincere affection.