Libraries are more than just places to check out a best seller or a hit movie.
They are workspaces and gathering places. Hudson Valley’s modern libraries are also technology hubs.
But there are also libraries in existence for more than 100 years. These libraries have fascinating stories to tell and provide a unique perspective into the history of their communities, including the Nyack Library, built in 1903 with support from financier Andrew Carnegie.
“Nearly 1,700 Carnegie Libraries in the United States were created with financial support from Mr. Carnegie,” explained Nyack Library Director Angela Strong. “All he asked was that a suitable site was furnished and that the community would provide at least 10% of the gift to support ongoing operations.”
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Many of these historic structures are already the center of community life, but for one week each year, all are in the spotlight: National Library Week.
This year, it runs April 3-9.
Here is a look at 5 historic libraries and what’s planned for National Library Week.
The history: When the library was founded in 1897, it asked patrons for $1 to join. It has been expanded over the years, but its original core building on South Broadway, funded with $15,000 by Andrew Carnegie, was built in 1903.
Its first Librarian, Helen Powell, joined the staff in 1892, later serving as Library Director until her death in 1957 at the age of 85. The building has undergone several expansions that doubled the size of the Carnegie building (1973) and and added a dedicated Children’s Room (1967). In 2007, a $10 million expansion was opened that took 4 years to complete.
What you’ll find there: Early literacy, music and movement programs, craft and STEM programs, book clubs, parenting programs, along with concerts, special productions and a popular annual Summer Reading Program. Highlights include the Carnegie Concert series, the annual Nyack Poetry Walk, and this year’s National Library Week celebration on April 6 from 4 to 6 pm
Celebrate Library Week: The Youth Services Department will offer bookmark crafts, anti-stress kits, and more while supplies last. April 6 is a Scholastic Book Fair with books for sale, storytime and giveaways.
Visit: The Nyack Library, 59 S. Broadway, Nyack. 845-358-3370; nyacklibrary.org. Hours: Monday to Thursday, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.; Friday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Sunday noon to 4 p.m.
Irvington Public Library
The history: The Irvington Library began in the middle of the 19th century as a small collection loaned out from the “Little Red Schoolhouse” on Main Street. Helen Gould, daughter of Gilded Age financier Jay Gould, contributed $15,000 for the construction of a new library. Louis Comfort Tiffany was contracted to design its interior. Tiffany was familiar with the area as he had spent summers in the village in his youth at an estate owned by his father.
The library operated there until the 1990s when it outgrew its space moved into the former Lord & Burnham Co. at the foot of Main Street. Lord & Burnham manufactured greenhouses for the estates along the Hudson, among other places, including for the New York Botanical Garden.
The building, which was built in the 1880s, was renovated to house the library on the first floor and 22 affordable housing units on the upper floors. The library opened in its new location in January 2000.
Much of the library’s former space in the Village Hall was turned over to other village departments, but the old reference room was retained and painstakingly restored. The project won an Award for Excellence from the Greater Hudson Heritage Network in 2014. Christened “The Tiffany Reading Room,” it opened to the public in December 2012.
It is one of only five complete Tiffany interiors left in this country. The room is currently closed to the public (but that may change), since there were concerns that cleaning products that people wanted to use during the pandemic might not be safe for the finishes in this historic room.
Unique touch: “As a nod to our heritage, the library at the bottom of the hill was decorated with the Tiffany turtleback glass lamps that used to light the end of the bookcases of the original library,” noted Library Director Rosemarie Gatzek. “They line the hallway leading from the center of the library to the Children’s Room.”
When the Irvington Village Hall reopens, patrons may also access the Tiffany Reading Room, which will be open the same hours as the Village Hall from 9 am to 4 pm
Events: “The Titanic,” with Toni McKeen, April 9, 5-6:30 pm This virtual program answers the questions, who was the captain of the Carpathia and how did he prepare to receive the survivors? How accurate were the depictions in the Titanic movie? To register, more info go to irvingtonlibrary.org
Visit: Irvington Public Library, 12 South Astor St., Irvington-on-Hudson. 914-591-7840; irvingtonlibrary.org. Hours: Monday, Wednesday, Friday, 10 am to 5 pm, Tuesday, Thursday, 10 am to 9 pm, Sunday, 10 am to 5 pm
The Rye Free Reading Room
Rye’s library, the Rye Free Reading Room, was established in 1884, primarily as a place for young men to escape the negative effects of saloons.
The history: In 1905, Sarah Parsons, a widow of a prominent city father, bequeathed the present site with its view of the Village Green. In 1913, entirely funded by community donations, its Georgian brick building opened. The architects were New York-based Upjohn & Constable, and construction was carried out by the DH Beary firm in Rye.
By 1915 the library’s second floor was being used by the Red Cross as headquarters, and by 1918, Thursdays were completely devoted to the War Relief Program. The library was expanded in 1951 with a new west wing for library collections. In February 1968 the library debuted a new reference wing, the basement level children’s room with its beautifully landscaped separate entrance.
The last expansion was done in 2003 to add a new program wing and expanded children’s room. In 2018, the library renovated the historic first and second floors, adding quiet study spaces, a new teen space, and a conference room.
“Two beloved librarians helped the library develop into the community jewel it remains today,” said Library Director Chris Shoemaker. “Marcia Dalphin became the Head Librarian in 1920 and guided it as her personal realm for the next 33 years, while Doris Bird began her library service as a volunteer in 1909 and served as a Children’s Librarian until 1974 with a lifelong love of connecting literature to youngsters all across Rye,”
Unique touch: You can cozy up to read or meet friends in front of two wood-burning fireplaces.
Visit: Rye Free Reading Room, 1061 Boston Post Road, Rye. 914-231-3160; ryelibrary.org. Hours: Monday to Thursday, 9:30 am to 8 pm, Friday, 9:30 am to 5:30 pm, Saturday, 10 am to 5 pm, Sunday, noon to 5 pm
The history: In the late 1920s, Tarrytown residents Worcester Reed Warner and his wife, Cornelia Blakemore Warner decided to have a library built as a gift to the community.
The couple engaged Walter Dabney Blair to design the library building and construction began in 1928. While construction progressed, the library’s first Board of Trustees was organized, with several prominent local residents serving as charter members.
On Feb. 22, 1929, the Warner Library held a dedication ceremony. Reed Warner died later that same year while traveling in Germany with his wife. After his death, Cornelia Warner and their daughter, Helen Blakemore Warner, continued their interest in the Warner Library and remained active as benefactors of many community causes.
Uniquetouch: The huge bronze front doors. The Warners found the huge doors while on a trip to Italy. The eight-foot high panels depict the Coronation of Venice as Queen of the Adriatic. The couple purchased the two panels and had them shipped to New York.
“There are multiple amazing things here at the Warner Library. I’m partial to the view of the Tappan Zee bridge from our main reading room, especially when lit up at night,” said the library’s director Jessica Pacciotti.
Events: The library is celebrating National Poetry Month throughout April.
Visit: Warner Library, 121 N. Broadway, Tarrytown, 914-631-7734; www.warnerlibrary.org. Hours: Monday to Wednesday, 10 am to 6 pm, Thursday, 1 pm to 9 pm, Friday and Saturday, 1 pm to 5 pm
Originally called The King’s Daughter Library, the Village Branch Library in Haverstraw has a history that goes back to the Gilded Age, explained Library Director Claudia Depkin.
“The Haverstraw King’s Daughters Public Library has been an anchor of the community for over 126 years,” said Depkin. “The building that is now our Village Branch was the headquarters of the rescue operations for the 1906 Haverstraw landslide. Today, we hold programs of all sorts at both our buildings, from early literacy to psychic readings to art lessons. We have it all. ”
The history: The wives of the wealthy brickyard owners of Haverstraw came together to create a local chapter of the women’s civic organization the King’s Daughters. In 1895 their petition to create a public library was approved by the New York State Board of Regents. The branch library opened in 1903 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The library held its 126th birthday celebration in November.
Uniquetouch: The library has a signature cocktail named for it: The King’s Daughter made with Chambord, Amaretto, vodka, and half & half.
Events: The library will screen “West Side Story,” April 8,9.
Visit: Village Branch (historic), 85 Main St., Haverstraw, 845-429-3445; hkdpl.org Hours: Monday, noon to 8 pm, Tuesday to Thursday, 10 am to 6 pm, Friday, 10 am to 5:30 pm, Saturday, 10 am to 5 pm
Main Library, 10 West Ramapo Road, Garnerville, 845-786-3800; hkdpl.org Hours: Monday to Thursday, 10 am to 8 pm, Friday, 10 am to 5:30 pm, Saturday, 10 am to 5 pm, Sunday, 1 to 5 pm (closed on Sundays in the summer).
Shhh, Molly Shannon is speaking!
Actress Molly Shannon is the honorary chair of National Library Week. “My mom was a librarian. She encouraged kids to read,” said Shannon. “So, the work of librarians and libraries has such a special place in my heart.”
This year’s theme takes a look at how libraries serve to connect communities to books, resources, programs, and, of course, each other.
Shannon just published a memoir, “Hello, Molly!”
Donna Christopher is a Hudson Valley freelance writer. Contact her from her at email@example.com