Schenectady Public Library

Schenectady Public LibraryStill in the Electric City, looking at lovely postcard views – here, the classic building that housed the Schenectady Public Library for nearly 66 years. Happily, legendary Schenectady Gazette reporter and chronicler of local history Larry Hart gave us the history of the Schenectady public library in commemorating the 75th anniversary of the system in 1969, which coincided with the opening of the new library that still stands at 99 Clinton Street. The lovely structure in this postcard, however, was the first permanent building housing a library, at Seward Place and Union Street.

Before that, there had been a free circulating library late in the 19th century operated by the YMCA in the old Van Horne Hall (part of the site of the Schenectady Savings and Loan Association Building on State Street just west of Erie Boulevard, which more recently held a First Niagara). There was also a subscription library operated for many years by George Clare in connection with his newsroom at 143 State Street, Hart reported. In 1894 a committee was formed, a public appeal for funds started, and a library association organized and chartered, which marked the start of the Schenectady library system. They leased rooms on the second floor of what was then the Fuller Building, later (and now) known as the Wedgeway Building, where there was a large reading room and closed stacks. The Lancaster School Library’s books were transferred to the new library and made up much of its collection of 2,468 volumes.

It wasn’t long before there was agitation for a more suitable library, with citizens pressing the City Council for a central library in 1900. The building you see above was completed in 1903 at a cost of $55,000, greatly aided, as so many city libraries were, by the Andrew Carnegie Foundation, which donated $50,000, and by Union College, which offered the land on the northeast corner of its pasture. General Electric donated $15,000, and the City Council appropriated $5,000 annually for light, heat and general maintenance. The grand opening and dedication was held the night of Oct. 6, 1903. It remained a city institution until 1948, when the county took over, establishing the Schenectady County Public Library System. Annual circulation grew from about 50,000 volumes in 1903 to 22 times that by 1955, Hart reported. At that point, the library was clearly overcrowded and obsolete, barely fitting 100,000 volumes, and study of a new library building began in 1960. The next library was sited on an urban renewal site near City Hall in 1967, with groundbreaking following and about two years of construction.

When Larry Hart was writing, there had only been four directors in the 75-year history of the library, and one of them only very briefly. Henry G. Glen served from 1903 until 1940, followed by Harold L. Hamill who served from July 1940 through December 1941. Then came Bernice Hodges, director from 1941 through 1953, and E. Leonore White, who served from 1953 on.

After the library vacated this building, it was returned to Union College, and it now serves as a student residence named Webster House.

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