Kittery library was gift of Portsmouth heiress
By J. Dennis Robinson
Editor’s note: This is the first of a two-part feature on the Rice Public Library in Kittery, Maine. The second part will run in Tuesday’s paper.
As Kittery struggles over whether and where to build a new library, let us pause to remember how the “old” library came to be.
Thank Arabella Rice of Portsmouth. Her $30,000 bequest made the beautiful 1889 brick “gem” possible. Her initials are sculpted above the entrance to the Rice Public Library. A marble plaque in her honor is partially hidden behind the entrance door.
We have no portrait of Arabella. Born in Portsmouth in 1822, she was the youngest of four sisters, and the only surviving daughter of Capt. Robert and Charlotte Rice. Her father, an influential banker and wealthy merchant, died when Arabella was 31. Her mother died during the Civil War, leaving the last member of the family living in a mansion that stood at the corner of Islington and Parker streets. Her house, reportedly built of pink brick imported from England, was torn down in the 1920s. Today it is the site of a single-story auto parts store.
Portsmouth librarian Dorothy Vaughan liked to imagine that the wealthy Arabella attracted a parade of suitors. Vaughan popularized the story, likely imaginary, of a handsome Naval officer who knocked on Arabella’s front door with a bouquet of flowers. The gentleman reportedly lost his footing, stumbled and fell. Thinking he was drunk, Arabella slammed the door. “There goes a fortune!” the sailor was said to exclaim.
I do hereby bequeath
Arabella Rice died of typhoid fever at age 50 on Sept. 4, 1872. She was buried in Portsmouth’s South Cemetery under a tombstone decorated with sheaves of rice. It is from her will, written five years before her death, that we discover Arabella.
Her fortune came from a portfolio of bank notes, government bonds and railroad stocks. She left a total of $30,000 to a few relatives. They included New Hampshire Gov. Ichabod Goodwin, married to Arabella’s cousin.