New Paltz library marks milestone, eyes expansion

The Elting Memorial Library’s executive board for 2020 (L-R): Sarah Holstead, outgoing president Linda Welles, June Wheeler, president Robert Miller and Alison Nash. Jason Warren is not pictured. (Photo by Lauren Thomas)

If you think you remember the Elting Memorial Library celebrating its centennial back in 2009, you’re not wrong. That was indeed 100 years from the date when seven women from the New Paltz Study Club, inspired by the opening of a new Normal School building after the original one was destroyed by a 1906 fire, decided that the town needed a Free Library Association. So, they opened a reading room at 60-62 Main Street: the first iteration of what was to become the modern library the town knows today. A few months later it relocated to larger quarters at 68 Main Street. The Regents of the University of the State of New York granted the New Paltz Free Library a provisional charter on April 1, 1909, and an absolute charter on December 2, 1915.

It was not until 1920, however, that the library acquired a permanent home for its rapidly growing collection, as well as its name. Upon the death in December 1919 of Theora Hasbrouck, owner of an 18th-century stone building at 93 Main Street that had long been in the hands of the Elting family, the library trustees met and began negotiating for its purchase. Library Association president Lanetta Elting DuBois secured a $4,000 donation from her cousin, Philip LeFevre Elting — a New Paltz native who had relocated to Chicago and done very well in the paint manufacturing business — which he gave on the condition that the building thenceforward be known as the Elting Memorial Library. Kingston architect Myron Teller was hired to adapt the house to its new purpose, and it was opened to the public on Saturday, October 9, 1920.


So, this year the library has a valid excuse to host centenary hoopla all over again. “We took possession 100 years ago on March 22, and the building was occupied by October,” says library director John Giralico. “So we’ll be celebrating throughout the year.” The festival is being billed as “100 Years at 93 Main Street.” Some of the events being organized will be one-time-only, while others will be “tailored” versions of “customary” annual activities, according to Giralico. For example, the Teen Photo Contest, hosted each April, will this year add a new category: “a photo of something that existed 100 years ago.” As part of the library’s roster of Black History Month educational offerings, Ron Fields, a library board member who’s a regular on the local swing dance scene, will host a 1920s-themed presentation on February 18 on “Harlem and the Lindy Hop Experience,” including archival film clips from the Savoy Ballroom and a live Lindy demo.

At least one other event with a Roaring ‘20s flavor is likely to be offered in the fall, Giralico says, possibly involving period costumes, but details are still sketchy. Much of what’s to come is still in the planning stages. Two special 100 Years at 93 Main Street events are on the calendar already, however: A PowerPoint presentation on the history of the building and the library will be conducted on March 21 by Haviland-Heidgerd Historical Collection director Carol Johnson, coinciding with the opening of an exhibition of old photos and documents. The library recently obtained a grant to do a dendrochronology study of the wooden beams used in the oldest part of the structure, and the results of that research, which should help pinpoint the date of the original building’s construction, will be unveiled during Johnson’s talk. And architectural historian Bill Rhoads will give a lecture on May 3 on what New Paltz looked like in 1920.

Plans for all these thematic events aren’t the only things keeping the library folks busy this year. They’ve just had some board turnover; the annual meeting of the Library Association on January 23 was the last at which Linda Welles will preside, her maximum third three-year term on the board having expired. She will be succeeded as president by former vice president Robert Miller, who was elected at the monthly meeting of the Elting Library board that followed. Sarah Holsted was named first vice president and June Wheeler second vice president, while incumbents Alison Nash and Jason Warren were returned to their posts as secretary and treasurer. A new board member was also welcomed: Rebecca Leung, whose professional background is in electronic broadcasting in New York City.

As part of her official sendoff, along with slices of home-baked cake and glasses of Cava, Welles was presented with a framed conceptual design sketch for the expansion that the library hopes to formalize this year. Board and staff have been meeting with an architect who specializes in libraries, Paul Mays, to flesh out possible ways of expanding the building to meet goals delineated in a recently completed three-year Master Plan. Among the priorities identified for building improvements are increased handicapped accessibility and environmental sustainability, expanded meeting space and study rooms, and a dedicated space for teenage library patrons.

The envisioned new design is very much in flux at this point; “We’re still assessing the feasibility,” cautions Welles. But a possible physical extension of the building in the direction of North Front Street is under discussion, and Giralico is dreaming of elevator access from the parking lot. If enough funding somehow becomes available, “We’re going to try for geothermal,” he says. “We want to make the library as green as possible.”

The first step toward achieving these goals came in the form of a half-million-dollar bequest from the late Susan Wisherd in 2018. With seed money in place, Board members have been meeting with other potential donors to get a preliminary sense of how much more funding might be raised and the level of community interest in joining a capital campaign committee. “I think we have a lot of goodwill out there, and we have people who know stuff,” says Welles. No actual construction is expected to begin this year, but a more crystallized renovation plan may be ready for perusal by the public before the Elting Memorial Library’s 100th anniversary year on this site is over.

There is one comment

  1. Judy Testa

    Why hasn’t this entities name changed? Erasure of all NP founders mark on buildings on SUNY NP Campus & this shouldn’t have been an exception. Geothermal? Stonehouses are geothermal.

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