The Elting Memorial Library in New Paltz serves more than 14,000 residents and has a total circulation of more than 95,000 items annually, according to library director John Giralico. And that doesn’t even include the extensive amount of materials available to borrow through the Mid-Hudson Library System’s interlibrary loan program. But today’s library is far more than a repository of items to check out; the 21st-century library places as great an importance on providing a community gathering spot and access to technology, educational programs and exhibits as it does on loaning out materials. “We’re really a hub for the community,” says Giralico. “Our focus is on extending our programs and exhibitions and being a place where people can meet up with other people.”
And in a way, that’s how it’s been all along. Early incarnations of the present library in New Paltz were set up as reading rooms, where local newspaper articles noted that cake and ice cream were served at the opening of one and another was a spot to find newspapers, magazines and “a good place for anyone to spend a short time while waiting for the trolley car.” With information provided by Carol Johnson, coordinator of Elting Memorial Library’s Haviland-Heidgerd Historical Collection, what follows is a brief history of libraries in New Paltz.
The first documented library in New Paltz was located in the Old Fort on Huguenot Street, set up in 1817 with 62 subscribers who contributed $3.50 each and paid annual dues of 25 cents. The library moved to the newly built Academy on Huguenot Street in 1834, remaining there for 50 years until the building was destroyed by fire in 1884.
In the years that followed, small reading rooms were established by women’s organizations throughout the village, like the one started by The Women’s Christian Temperance Union in 1894 and another sponsored by the Ladies Aid Society of the Reformed Church in 1901, offering “modern fiction, biography and books of travel.” The cost to check out a book was five cents.
The Normal School in town lost its library through a major fire that occurred on campus April 18, 1906, just before the students came back from their Easter break. A temporary library was set up a year later at 60-62 Main Street for “men and young men of this vicinity and workers on the aqueduct,” but after the Normal School building reopened in January of 1909, a committee of seven women in the New Paltz Study Club — June Bliss, Katherine E. Hasbrouck, Laura M. DuBois, Mary S. Vanderlyn, Elizabeth A. LeFevre, Magdalene Elting and Lanetta E. DuBois — took over the space on Main Street to open a reading room and circulating library “for the public use of the people of New Paltz,” offering two daily newspapers, magazines and approximately 75 books donated by friends.
The Study Club assumed the expenses of the reading room and hired Flora Schoonmaker as librarian. But when applying for a charter, they realized that their location would not meet the standards set by the state university system, so a new and larger location was found at 68 Main Street. A provisional charter was granted to the New Paltz Free Library by the Regents of the University of the State of New York on April 1, 1909, and the Village of New Paltz assumed the rent payments for the rooms.
The library was granted its permanent charter to operate in December of 1915. (The Absolute Charter certification now hangs in the library’s Losee Reading Room.) Within a few years, however, a larger space was necessary; the holdings of the library had reached 3,000 books and had a circulation of more than 9,000. When local resident Theora Hasbrouck died in December of 1919, library trustees began negotiations to purchase her home at 93 Main Street, where the current library is today.
Lanetta Elting DuBois, one of the original seven women of the New Paltz Study Club who founded the library, persuaded her cousin, native New Paltz resident Philip LeFevre Elting, to purchase the property for $4,000. The building was gifted to the town on condition that it be named Elting Memorial Library and with the understanding that proper arrangements would be made for its upkeep.
The building was transformed from a private home to a library by Myron Teller, an architect from Kingston, and the Elting Memorial Library was officially opened to the public on October 9, 1920. A formal dedication was held a week later on October 16. Philip Elting’s brother, Victor, formally presented the building to the Village of New Paltz, accepted by Dr. Clarence Woolsey, mayor.
The new library grew into its space gradually. At first only the two rooms on the west side of the building were used, then shelves were added to the center hall and east room and a children’s room was set up. In anticipation of future expansion, the Elting brothers, Philip and Victor, donated funds in 1922 to purchase the lot next door.
Many fundraisers to support the library as promised were held over the years that followed, from carnivals and card parties to tag sales and cocktail parties and collections of pennies and waste paper to be sold for profit. The building’s last resident, Theora Hasbrouck, had maintained a beautiful garden at the site, which became the scene of many garden party fundraisers. The first Library Fair was held on August 4, 1956, raising $439, and in 1957 the profits nearly doubled, to $833. (Today, the annual fundraiser continues, generating more than $20,000 annually to support the library.)
The same year as that second Library Fair, the heating system was extended to the second floor of the library and the west room and upper hall opened to the public. That was followed by the east room’s conversion to a magazine and reference room on the second floor two years later. Since then, the library lot has been enlarged by the purchase of two more properties along North Front Street and the land along Church Street where the library parking lot is now located.
The first major addition to the Elting Memorial Library was a 46-foot by 19-foot wing added to provide a youth center in 1962. More than $25,000 was raised in the community in just eight months to build the space.
The library’s Haviland-Heidgerd Historical Collection was first named “The Mary Stuart Haviland History Collection” in 1965 in recognition of local resident Mary Stuart Vanderlyn Haviland, who was a generous supporter of the library for more than 60 years and donated a great deal of material to the local history archives. The collection was renamed the Haviland-Heidgerd Historical Collection in 1973, with the name of its first director, William Heidgerd, added in appreciation of his efforts in archiving local history and genealogy at the library.
Current library director John Giralico began his tenure in 1974, the seventh (and first male) director of the Elting Memorial Library. Prior to his taking the helm were Flora Schoonmaker from 1909-1911, Catherine Deyo Schoonmaker from 1911-1933, Carrie Vail from 1933-1945, Marion Allen from 1945-1948, Jennie Lee Dann from 1948-1957 and Janet Bracken from 1957-1974.
By the mid-1970s, the population of New Paltz had doubled since the last library addition in 1962 and with that, the demand for library services had grown. A fund drive was established to expand again and through a grant and community contributions, a new wing was opened in November of 1978. The space provided a new home for the Haviland-Heidgerd Historical Collection and an enlarged children’s and reference area. Later that year the board of trustees named the new wing for its president, Karen Connor, in acknowledgement of her efforts getting the wing built. One month later, the Board of Regents of the University of the State of New York amended the charter of the Elting Memorial Library to change the number of trustees from nine to twelve and included the entire Town of New Paltz in its service area.
The stone building the Elting Memorial Library is housed in was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2004.
The last expansion of the library was completed in August of 2006, tripling its size. The project was some six years in the making, with $3.5 million raised to renovate the existing building, substantially increasing its usable space.
Since 2006, the Elting Memorial Library has not seen any major changes. Giralico says they will continue to emphasize all that the library has to offer, from numerous databases and free genealogy and language-learning resources to unusual programming like the recent Diwali Festival and the upcoming Chinese New Year celebration. Many people are unaware that Elting Memorial Library offers a home delivery service staffed by volunteers, he says, and he points out that despite Netflix and other such services, borrowing of DVDs through the library accounts for some 20 percent of their circulation.
For more information, call (845) 255-5030 or visit www.eltinglibrary.org.
This is the first installment in a five-part series featuring the history of local libraries. Next week, the spotlight will be on the Highland Public Library.