Incorporated in 1817, the gorgeous Portsmouth Athenaeum, with the second-oldest reading room in the country, is filled with original antiques and artifacts, cozy nooks, and an impressive collection of rare books and manuscripts.
Named after Athena, the Greek goddess of wisdom, athenaeums were private institutions founded to promote reading and discourse, similar to public libraries but supported by membership dues. Today, only a handful remain open in the U.S. “It’s pretty remarkable for a small city to have a resource like this,” says Thomas Hardiman, the Athenaeum Keeper. “We try to preserve the atmosphere of a well-read 19th-century library.”
Anyone is welcome to browse the books or attend a program at the Athenaeum, including talks, art shows, and concerts. Or, visitors can simply grab a seat at one of the antique library tables and soak up the handsome neoclassical building’s historic ambience. Notes Hardiman, “Many people just come in to read the morning newspaper in one of our beautiful rooms.”
Portsmouth Athenaeum is located at 9 Market Square. Admission is free, but annual memberships are available. Open 1–4 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays; and 10 a.m.–4 p.m. Saturdays. 1-603-431-2538; portsmouthathenaeum.org.