April 11, 2009

Each its own story


Fifty men got together in 1811 to form the Crown Point Library Society, each agreeing to pay $2 to help fill the shelves.

That library started with 74 volumes and, for their protection, had in place several stringent regulations.

"No proprietor shall hold a book over two months from the time of drawing," was one with a penalty of two cents per day for those who broke the rule.

Other monetary penalties were levied for damage to the books.

"Each drop of tallow, eight cents; Every leaf turned down, three cents; Every rent in the binding, twelve and a half cents; Soiling a book in any manner, six cents."


Respect for books remains universal at libraries throughout the region; the history of each is a story in itself.

The oldest library in the North Country may be Chazy's, which was initiated in 1805 though not formally chartered until 1901.

Its current structure was once the law office of Julius Caesar Hubbell and was traded several times by American and British forces during the War of 1812.

In Peru, citizens gathered in 1915 — 104 of them joining the new library association at $1 each. This helped pay the $3-a-week salary of the librarian as well as rent in an office building. By 1928, $10,102 was allocated, mostly through the generosity of Mrs. Horatio Baker, for a new structure that was expanded and renovated in 1987 for $115,000. This year, a new roof, sidewalks and solar panels will be added to Peru Free Library.


One of the most elegant buildings in the North Country built specifically as a library is Willsboro's Paine Memorial Library.

The 1930 structure's ornamentation is of polished Vermont marble. Large gilded-frame oil paintings of its benefactors, Augustus G. and Charlotte Paine, accent the homey interior.

In direct contrast, Crown Point's Hammond Library, with its cinder-block façade, is housed in a former DeSoto car dealership's garage. While evidence of the large portal remains on the exterior, the interior features a woodlands mural, potted plants and other modifications to provide for a hospitable environment.

At first glance, Port Henry's Sherman Free Library looks like it may have been a church. A patron entering from the red brick exterior is greeted by walls, ceiling and furniture crafted of white oak. Brass railings accent as well as protect bibliophiles who stroll along the open balcony.

A few libraries, such as Schroon Lake's, are located in the town hall of their community.

Belden-Noble Memorial Library in Essex was initially a general store constructed with blue limestone in 1818.

"It's built like Fort Knox. It's a beautiful old building that has an unparalleled view," Director Karen East said with pride.

Until 1995, it had no telephone, central heating or bathroom. Recently, the Victorian height of the shelves was altered to accommodate today's taller volumes.


Budget dictates library hours; Peru is open 38 per week not counting special events, while Essex is listed at 15 hours. Most have a paid director and one or more volunteers.

Although some libraries were initiated with endowments, a variety of approaches help keep them running.

Some funding comes from tax levies. When the Northeastern Clinton Central School budget goes up for vote each May, for example, voters also choose whether to OK funds for the libraries in Mooers, Champlain and Rouses Point.

Most have annual appeals as well as funding from their towns. A major source for Willsboro's Paine Library is the annual Folk and Craft show.

Director Cheryl Blanchard said she feels "very fortunate that our annual appeal helps out. With the state funding continually cut, we have to be more independent."