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Portland History & Special Collections

Portland Public Library is the major research and preservation resource for the history of the Greater Portland area. Based in the Portland Room, our special collections are rich with printed books, archival documents, manuscripts, local periodicals, maps, photographs, and directories that showcase the history and development of the city of Portland.

We collect, preserve, and provide access to Portland-related special collections.  We conserve archival artifacts and offer an array of documentation about the life of Portland including its residents, activities, businesses, and the physical attributes of the city.  We manage the Portland Room, which is a welcoming research space, and is an active community partner with local researchers, educators, archivists, historians, and educational institutions serving all age groups to preserve and tell Portland’s narrative history.

Open hours:
Monday – Thursday: 10am-7pm
Friday: 10am-6pm
Closed Saturdays and Sundays

Greater Portland’s only writing group dedicated to journal and memoir writing! Journalists are encouraged to produce creative, reflective writing through the use of autobiographic and historic elements in PPL’s collections, including memoirs, archives, journalism, letter correspondence, & the history of writing in material culture.

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Children’s Special Collection books

The Children’s Special Collection in the Portland Room comprises over 600 classic children’s books, most of which were published in the 19th- and early 20th-centuries. These books provide an overview of the subject matter and period book bindings. Many are beautifully illustrated by notable artists such as Arthur Rackham, N.C. Wyeth, C.E. Brook, Kate Greenaway, and others.

For additional, online reading, the digitized Baldwin Library of Historical Children’s Literature offers a vast, open-source collection of more than 115,000 volumes published in the United States and Great Britain from the mid-1600s to present day.

Children’s Theatre of Maine Archive

Launched in 1924 by the Junior League of Portland to bring “good theatre to children,” the Children’s Theatre of Maine is America’s oldest continuing children’s theatre. Drawing the attention of Bette Davis and Gary Merrill, the Children’s Theatre gained notoriety in the 1950s. Former CTM actors include Linda Lavin, Judd Nelson, Tony Shalhoub, and Andrea Martin. The Theatre archives are now available for research in the Portland Room and some pieces are also in our Digital Commons online collection.

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Jewish Oral History Project

The library’s Portland Room includes a special collection of recordings of interviews with Portland’s elder Jewish community members. The first set, made by Konnilyn G. Feig in 1976 and 1977, comprises the Portland Jewish Oral History Project and includes the original recordings and print transcripts. In partnership with the comprehensive Documenting Maine Jewry project, the Library also provides online access to an ongoing collection of contemporary interviews made by the local Jewish community itself.

Note (as of December 2017): The digital recordings are currently being reformatted for faster downloads. A few are currently accessible and more will be added as they become available, via this page. Please feel free to contact the Portland Room with any questions. 

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Related Online Resources »
Portland Press Herald Still Film Negative Collection

The Portland Public Library manages the 1936-2003 photographic still film negative collection  from the Portland Press Herald, an immense documentation of Portland’s history through the lens of the daily newspaper’s photography. PPL is conserving and indexing the collection of 800,000 images and selectively scanning them for photo essays on the Life of the Library Blog, the Main Library’s “Aerial Portland” exhibit, and our Digital Commons online collection.

Goodwin and Richards Historical Atlases Online

Two historic atlases of Portland are now available online in our Digital Commons collection. Goodwin Atlas: 1882 covers revaluation plans of Portland produced by City Engineer William A. Goodwin in 1882. The 82 large-format plates show lots, streets, addresses, property owners, and more during the aftermath of the Great Fire of 1866 and 1900 when the city boundaries extended.

Richards Atlas: 1914 contains 24 double-page color maps of Portland and South Portland, documenting property lots, buildings, owners’ names, electric and steam railways, sewer lines, water mains, etc.

Related Items in our Catalog »
Up Next at the Library:
Maine Suffrage Centennial6:00pm - 7:30pm
Maine Suffrage Centennial
Journaling in the Library5:30pm - 7:00pm
Main Library
Journaling in the Library5:30pm - 7:00pm
Main Library
From the PPL blog:
Control Those Porcupines: UMaine Extension Bulletins
Some highlights from the library's collection of bulletins from UMaine Extension Service.   More »
Diary or Almanac? Enoch Freeman’s annotated almanac/diary (1729-1786)
Enoch Freeman's diary, handwritten on the blank pages of almanacs, posed a cataloging dilemma.   More »
Contact the Librarian
Abraham A. Schechter   Email »
Special Collections Librarian & Archivist
207-871-1700 x747
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