Written by: Megan Owens
Have you ever been in a building where you can sit in the audience in one country while watching a live performance on stage in another? It’s a peculiar situation, to be sure. But that’s exactly the setup at the Haskell Free Library and Opera House, which straddles the international border between the United States and Canada in Stanstead, Quebec and Derby Line, Vermont (Farfan, n.d.).
This remarkable building was intentionally constructed to sit between the U.S. and Canada, in the hopes that it would provide an opportunity for “learning and cultural enrichment” to communities on both sides of the border (Farfan, n.d., para. 2). According to the library’s web page, the building was a gift of Martha Stewart Haskell and her son, Colonel Horace Stewart Haskell, in honor of Mrs. Haskell’s late husband, Carlos. The cost upon its completion in 1904 totaled to approximately $50,000. Many of the materials used to build the library and opera house were locally sourced, and its construction provides robust examples of late Victorian and Georgian Neo-Classicist architecture. The interior is also intentionally preserved, from the furniture and stage scenery to the collection of performers’ signatures adorning the walls of the dressing rooms in the opera house. These interesting features aside, however, the unique character of the Haskell Free Library and Opera House extends beyond its outward appearance.
The building itself is wholly unique; there’s not another like it in either country. One of the library’s big draws is its positioning on the international border. When watching a performance in the second floor opera house, most of the audience is positioned on the U.S. side of the border, while the stage itself resides in Canada. The front door of the library opens into Vermont in the U.S., while the collections themselves are on the Canadian side. The reading room, in keeping with the mission of the institution, is international (Farfan, n.d.). Indeed, the Haskell Free Library and Opera House may be the only library in the U.S. that doesn’t—technically—hold any books!
The charming nature of the library’s location is certainly a tourist attraction. But the library is also a unique reminder of how libraries can and should serve their patrons, regardless of where they may hail from or what language they may speak. The library continues to be an important part of its local communities and a treasured local institution and historic site. Performances are still held in the opera house each season, and the library continues to offer resources to support its users, even in unprecedented circumstances.
Farfan, M. History. Haskell Free Library & Opera House. https://haskellopera.com/history/