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 in the Nathan Van Wagenen building 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 (3,000 books, circulation over 9,000) 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 had 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,” library director John Giralico told the New Paltz Times back in January. “So, we’ll be celebrating throughout the year.” Alas, not much of the festival, billed as “100 Years at 93 Main Street,” came to fruition before the pandemic made live gatherings a hazard to public health.
The Elting Library has continued offering whatever programming it can, on a virtual basis, throughout the subsequent months, and recently resumed a schedule of hours when it’s open to the public. Still, it couldn’t mount a proper celebration, and the death in August of longtime library booster Sally Rhoads would have cast a shadow over the urge to party in any case. But this month marks the actual centenary of 93 Main’s opening day, so it behooves us to recall the occasion.
The Elting Memorial Library was physically opened to the public on Saturday, October 9, 1920, and the formal dedication held one week later, on October 16. Library board president Carolyn Hillard welcomed the crowd; Ella Maclaury gave a history of the library; and, on behalf of Philip Elting, his brother Victor presented the building to the citizens of New Paltz, represented by Village mayor (then called “president”) Dr. Clarence Woolsey.
The keynote address was delivered by SUNY president Dr. John H. Finley. Dr. Finley presented the library with a copy of his book The French in the Heart of America, inscribed with a dedication to his friend Victor Elting, “companion of my voyage over Western waterways in the wake of French explorers, whom I knew as Tonty and without whom this book would probably never have been written.” The library still has this book in its local history collection.
Surprisingly, in its 100-year history, the Elting Memorial Library has only had seven librarians: Flora Schoonmaker (1909-1911), Catherine Deyo Schoonmaker (1911-1933), Carrie Vail (1933-1946), Marion Allen (1946-1948), Jennie Lee Dann (1948-1957), Janet Bracken (1957-1974) and John Giralico (1974-present). Then-board president Sally Rhoads was the prime mover and fundraiser for the $3.5 million expansion project that tripled the size of the library in 2006.
At the time that COVID-19 struck, the Elting Library was in the preliminary design phase for an additional expansion, in order 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. Elevator access from the North Front Street parking lot and possible geothermal heating and cooling are also on the wish list. The first step toward achieving these goals came in the form of a half-million-dollar bequest from the late Susan Wisherd in 2018. Presumably, plans to launch a capital campaign must remain on hold until whatever passes for “normality” in New Paltz is reestablished.