by Bill Batson
The Nyack Library is an example of one of the most epic philanthropic gestures of the early 20th Century. Andrew Carnegie supported the construction of 1,689 public libraries in 1,419 communities across America. The Steel Magnate, who was at the time the richest man in the world, would be proud to know that in the 21st century, the construction of a modern wing doubled the space that his original building provided.
Communities across the country competed for a contribution from Carnegie and his funding did not come without strings. Local governments had to accept a matching formula to receive a contribution. Prospective communities needed to allocate $2 per resident per year to support a library. The population of the three river villages, Nyack, Upper Nyack and South Nyack was 7,500 at the end of the 19th century. The three village boards voted to increase library funding from $1,200 per year to $1,500 to meet Carnegie’s challenge.
The cornerstone was laid on May 21, 1903 for a building that was designed by acclaimed local architects the Emery Brothers and Mr. J. B. Simonson. As iconic as the rocky stone façade of the original library building has become, another object made of stone that stands vigil near the entrance merits honorable mention.
The 10-ton rock dedicated to Abraham Lincoln and the Union Army was dragged from the banks of the Hudson River by a team of 18 horses and 100 men with ropes. Local school children raised the funds to cover the expense of excavating and depositing the immovable monument and Civil War veterans attended its dedication on June 13, 1908.
On May 7th 2011, hundreds attended the grand opening of a spacious annex of metal and glass that is barely visible from the Lincoln boulder. Carnegie would still recognize the building he funded because architect Michael Esmay has executed an expansion that neither competes nor clashes with the original structure. (My sketch is drawn from the rear of the new complex.)
The new Nyack library building is designed to meet the needs of the information age: the number of computers with Internet access has tripled, there is increased public meeting spaces, areas that serve different ages groups have been enhanced, and display and media elements that make it easier to browse the collection have been installed.
The interior of the new wing, designed by Barbara Corwin is bright and inviting, like a reading room in a solarium. The experience of sitting with a book at a wooden table, looking at a panoramic view of the Hudson through a floor to ceiling window is elevating.
Roger Seiler, President of the Board of Trustees describes the new Nyack library as a “dynamic center of information and culture.” Here are a few examples of current programs that honor that commitment.
The Carnegie Concert Series Is the Talk of the Town
This weekend concert series is the continuation of the St. Paul’s Festival of the Arts that began in 1982 under the direction of its founder, William Hargrove. Initially a forum for classical music, the introduction of jazz and other contemporary performers has made the weekly concerts the talk of the town.
General admission and reserved seating tickets may be purchased by calling (845) 608-3593 or by visiting: www.carnegieroom.org. The Carnegie Concert Series is made possible in part by sponsorship of the Soiree Society of the Arts, Yamaha Artist Series, and the Rockland County Jazz and Blues Society.
Local History Goes Digital
The Nyack Library has a collection of master negative microfilm of the Rockland County Journal that encompasses the years from 1850-1915. The laborious process of digitizing the collection began in June 2010 and the portion of the archive that is been converted is available at Hudson River Valley Heritage. In 2011, there were over 33,000 visitors who viewed over one million articles.
The library is currently focusing on digitizing the newspapers for the years that the artist Edward Hopper lived in Nyack. Edward Hopper, the prominent realist painter, was born in Nyack in 1882 and spent his early life through his high school years in our village. The digital archive of this period will be a tremendous resource for art history scholars, local historians, genealogists, and interested citizens. You can support this important project to save and share our history for online access through the library’s Kickstarter fundraising effort.
Nyack Sketch Log Teams Up with the Nyack Library Teen Room
During the Spring School Break, I will be joining multimedia artist Kristina Burns to present “Nyack Through the Eyes of Edward Hopper”, an arts program for Middle and High School. Through a three-day workshop in the community room of the library and on the streets of Nyack, students will learn about the life of Edward Hopper and explore his approach to making art.
The workshop will be held on three consecutive days, on April 11, 12 and 13 from 1:00pm to 3:00pm each day. Contact Elizabeth Hobson, Teen Librarian at 358-3370 ext. 236 for more information.
See also: The Nyack Library Part I
Special thanks to Brian Jennings, the Librarian Supervisor at the Nyack Library.
Interior library photo credit: John Putre
Bill Batson, an artist, writer and activist draws sketches and writes essays curbside in Nyack, NY.