This September, the Carnegie section of the Saugerties Public Library turns 100.
Why is it called a Carnegie library? The reason is that between 1883 and 1929, Andrew Carnegie, steel magnate and philanthropist, granted monies to small towns all over the United States to build libraries. He required that the town demonstrate the need for a library, provide the site for the building, contribute ten percent of the cost of running the library each year and give free service to all citizens.
Andrew Carnegie came to the United States as a poor Scottish immigrant. Through self-education, hard work and canny business moves, he became a billionaire and one of the so-called robber barons who built the infrastructure of this country. Railroads, bridges, highways and cheap coal came from the plans of men like Carnegie, and often upon the backs of the cheap labor available before protective labor laws were enacted during the presidency of Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
Also stated among the criteria for receiving money from the Carnegie Corporation was the requirement that the people asking must be, “industrious and ambitious; not those who need everything done for them, but those who, being most anxious and able to help themselves, deserve and will be benefited by help from others.”
The trustees of the 1914 Saugerties library knew that the residents of their town — hard-working brick makers, former bluestone quarrymen, paper mill workers, farmers and merchants — were all hard-working and interested in moving upward in society through education. Therefore, they initiated correspondence with the Carnegie Corporation to ask for a grant to establish a proper public library. They described their library, housed in an upper floor in the Odd Fellows Hall on Main St., as dark, over-crowded, and lacking room for a growing collection.
A timeline created by the Friends of the Library will be on display at the end of this month. It shows the first contact made by the Carnegie Corporation to the Saugerties library on July 15, 1914. The grant committee, upon review, decided that ambitious and hard-working Saugerties met their founder’s criteria and awarded $12,500 to the community for the building of a new public library.
The design of the Carnegie libraries varied somewhat from town to town. However, two items had to be included in each set of plans. It was necessary to have an entry staircase to symbolize persons being elevated by learning and had to include a lamppost on the street to symbolize enlightenment through reading.
Saugerties’ original building covered 8,365 square feet and contained the Moravian tile fireplace now residing near the circulation desk of the new library. Groundbreaking for the building was achieved on April 5, 1915. It was dedicated on September 14, 1915.
The librarian at the time was Leta McAdams, who was succeeded by the library’s longest serving head librarian, Anna Voerg, who served from 1921-1950. This reportedly formidable woman served Saugerties readers as librarian from 1921-1950.
Far-reaching dreams were held and enacted by library trustees and the public who, “being ambitious and able to help themselves,” made a series of decisions beginning in those early years which ultimately led to the building and programs we benefit from today.
Our current public library has been called a “crown jewel” of Saugerties. It has an interesting history based on the successes of the original Carnegie Library and the generosity of the Saugerties community.
Commemorating the anniversary
The Friends of the Saugerties Public Library in conjunction with The League of Women Voters have big plans for the centennial celebration. Director Frank Rees calls 2015 “a year of activity dedicated to keeping the library collection relevant to the community and circulating among all of our citizens.”
There will be a timeline displayed in the library itself noting important dates in the history of the institution. Attached to it will be memorabilia from the history room’s collection.
Carnegie Library book bags will be for sale at a cost of $5 in the library and at every Friends of the Library meeting.
On Thursday, Feb. 19 at 7 p.m. the film, “Iron-Jawed Angels,” about the early suffragettes, will be shown in conjunction with the League of Women Voters.
Gretchen Nau, graphic artist, has donated her design of two original posters to be displayed around town to remind all of the significant date.
A Sunday lecture series will take place once a month from 2-4 p.m. beginning on March 16 with a talk by Vernon Benjamin about his aunt, librarian Annie Voerg.
The annual Book Fair will be held June 6 at the Kiwanis Ice Rink with a birthday theme.
The library dedication weekend, Sept. 18-20, will feature a film on Friday evening, Sept. 18; an ice cream social and birthday party with family activities and crafting from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 19; and Dr. David Nasaw, author of the definitive biography, “Andrew Carnegie,” will speak from 2-4 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 20. A reception will follow.
There will be a sign-up sheet in the library for volunteers willing to help with any of these events. The organizers are also seeking additional ideas for the celebration from individuals and community leaders.
–Irene Rivera Hurst, Library Board trustee