Short History of the Fred & Harriett Taylor Memorial Library
Some Hammondsport Library History
The following library history is based largely on a pamphlet written by Lucille Robinson in 1976 to celebrate
the library’s first 100 years of serving the public. Lucille Robinson served the Hammondsport Public Library
beginning in 1942, for 46 years, first as trustee and later, as librarian. Much of the information used to
write the pamphlet came from the old library files and a wonderful library scrapbook compiled by Laura Ide
Bailey, librarian for 42 years, beginning in 1906.
The first printed accounts of the Hammondsport Public Library are to be found in brief items in the “Hammondsport Herald” from April 1875 to April 1876. The first of these, a Bully Hill item, reads “By the way, where is that public library? If I don‟t hear something from it pretty soon I shall be led to explain in the language of the poet “oh give me back my fifteen cents.” Undoubtedly this gentleman had donated to the library before this time! In later papers a line or two mentions the library without saying anything definite about an opening date.
In September 1875, a meeting of all those interested in opening a library was advertised to be held at the home of Edward Fairchilds. At this meeting officers were elected as follows: President : Allan Wood, Vice-President : Trevor Moore, Secretary : H.J. Moore, and Librarian : Fred Bennitt, and a committee was appointed to solicit and receive books. Several people are named as having donated books. One item states, “When books promised
by Clark Bell and money in the treasury are used, our list of books will swell to nearly 500 volumes.” Evidently they were disappointed for we found a list of only 388 books.
To really get the library going, seems to have been a struggle. In January 1876, a statement to the effect that those in charge of the library affairs hope to open soon appears and a week later a notice headed “Our Library Open” was printed. It read in part, “At last the town library will be opened at Mr. White‟s Cabinet Rooms next Saturday at 2:00 pm. All persons desirous of becoming members of the Association may do so by purchasing a ticket entitling her or him to the privilege of drawing one book weekly for one year. The tickets are put at
the low price of one dollar a year. Tickets may be purchased at H.J. Moore‟s drug store or of the librarian Saturday afternoon.” On February 9th a notice appears of the opening of the library at H. J. Moore‟s drug store on February 10th 1876.
Once the fledgling library was open for business, fundraising began in earnest. During the fall of the first year the papers announced several entertainments aimed at raising money for the library – a social at the Fairchilds‟ home with representatives of the famous evangelists Moody and Sanky present – a supper by the gentlemen of the town with entertainment of songs, opera recitations and a Chinese dwarf. The fall fundraising spree culminated in a Centennial Ball which was billed as, “An evening that will eclipse all others in brilliancy and
general satisfaction.” The ball was held in the academy building, and the paper gives a detailed description of costumes worn and list of those present. Several paragraphs are devoted to the irrepressible George Hastings, a local merchant.
In December 1876, the library fell heir to $500 from the estate of Eugene Decker. $75 was to be used to buy a new desk, the remainder to be used for books. As far as can be ascertained, this is the only time the library has been willed any money.
Notices appear in the local papers from time to time of meetings of the Library Association to transact important business. These meetings were usually held in the office of B. Frank Drew, one of the village‟s elected officers. Only those who had paid their dollar membership were members of the Association and could attend meetings.
The library remained at Moores‟ Store until 1883 when Mrs. Benjamin Bennitt and Mrs. Monroe Wheeler gathered all the books up and, with a book case donated by Clark Bell, who was responsible for many gifts to the library, moved to a small building facing Pulteney Park. The small house, then owned by Mrs. Bennitt, was where the Strawberry Patch clothing store was located before being torn down for post office parking in 1978. Letters in the old files suggest that Clark Bell had gone to New York to practice law and the book case was too
large to take along. Mrs. Bennitt had always thought it was the very thing for the library and did not hesitate to get in touch with him about donating it to the library.
Mrs. Monroe Wheeler was librarian at the new location, as well as Miss Jennie Hall and later a Mrs. M.C. Hinch. The well known artist, Clarence Rosenkrancz had his first painting studio upstairs and helped in the library. There were probably 1,000 to 1,200 books in the library collection at the time. It seemed to have been no trouble to move the collection for it was in front downstairs, then upstairs, then in the backroom downstairs.
In 1891, the school board became responsible for the library. No one knows exactly why this was done but perhaps the subscriptions were not enough to finance all expenses. The school board at this time consisted of Monroe Wheeler, James Thorp, Robert Beck, Hobart Moore and J.W. Keeler.
In 1896, the school board agreed to furnish the library a room with lights, heat and janitor services, so the library was moved to the school building on Lake Street. The room was in the basement, reached by a dark hall and lighted by oil lamps and basement windows. Within a year, a state charter was applied for and granted, so a library board was appointed by the school board. This board consisted of Wm. Wood, Melinda Bennitt, Fred Faucett, Myra Y. Rose and T.H. Piper. They hired a new librarian, Miss Delia Fairchilds.
In the files, a letter was found from an Edna Feagles who worked in the library for Mrs. Fairchilds from 4:00 – 5:00pm twice a week and 2:00 – 9:00pm on Saturday putting books back, mending, etc. For this work she received fifty cents a month! Mrs. A. Rockwell, Mrs. Will Hastings and Laura Bailey also assisted in the library. In 1906, Laura Bailey became librarian. Shortly after this a Miss Brown from the State Education Department came to catalogue the books and organized them using the Dewey Decimal System which is the method still in use today.
For 17 years the library continued in the school basement room. In May 1913, an addition was begun on the school so the books were stored and the library temporarily closed.
In January 1914, the library re-opened in a new part of the same school building with an outside entrance on Lake Street. It was not a very large room. The library remained under the jurisdiction of the school board and at the same location until the Curtiss Memorial School was finished and the old building was closed in 1935. New quarters were found in the Opera House building on Shethar St. (in the storefront to the left of the stairs) and the
library was moved again.
In 1938 the people of Urbana voted, three to one, to support the library. It became necessary to apply for a new charter because the library was now under the jurisdiction of the Town Board (instead of the school board) and a new Library Board was appointed by the town. This board consisted of Dr. P.D. Greene, Lila Masson, Robert Howell, Paul Freidell and Horace Sirrine.
A catalogue of the library when it opened in 1876 lists 388 volumes. By 1896, 1,400 volumes were in the collection and in 1903 there were 1,600 volumes. The first book on the original list was Nathaniel Hawthorne‟s The Scarlet Letter. The book is still owned by the library. At the present time the library owns 28,000 items.
The library seems to have kept no financial records until 20 years after opening. The first item in an early bank book is $2300, evidently contributed by the school board to help with moving expenses. Each November, when the school taxes were paid, $75 was paid to the library by the school board. In 1906, the board paid $200 and the State paid $100 to finance the year‟s work. Over the years the budget has increased to meet expanding needs. Since the library came under the jurisdiction of the Town of Urbana, funding increases have been made by a direct vote of the people.
In 1962, the Town of Urbana acquired the old school building on Lake Street to use as the Town Building. The library was given two large rooms and a hall with its own entrance. Mrs. Clarence Taylor was President of the Library Board at this time. The Library Board, with the help of its librarian, Mrs. Lawrence Drew, packed the books in preparation for the move. Taylor Wine Company sent trucks and men to move the boxes of books and, once again, the library was back at the old school house.
In 1959, while Mrs. Taylor was president, the library became a member of the Southern Tier Library System. This step greatly expanded services to patrons as they could access books and other items from all the libraries in the system.
After Mrs. Taylor‟s death, Mr. Taylor gave, in her memory, a beautiful desk and furniture for a reading corner in the library.
The library remained in the Urbana Town Building for 45 years. Many changes occurred during these years including replacing the old card catalog with the new electronic version and providing computer stations with internet access for public use.
In 2007 the library moved to a brand new building at 21 William Street and was renamed the Fred & Harriett Taylor Memorial Library in honor of the foundation that donated a very large portion of the funds needed to build the new library. Donations from the community made up much of the rest of the funding which shows that the library is still very much a community project!