A History of the Patterson Library, Part I

By Robert Thomalen
(the Patterson Library Association)


Library: (n). A place in which literary, musical, artistic, or reference materials (such as books, manuscripts, recordings, or films) are kept for use, but not for sale.

The Patterson Library of today certainly lives up to that definition. But it is more than that. In the larger sense, it is a repository for the items necessary for intellectual growth, not just for individuals, but also for the community at large. The scope and the amount of information available to people today staggers the imagination. To say that the library can supply an unlimited amount of information is not an exaggeration. Between the works found here in the home library, those in the 65 sister libraries in the Mid-Hudson Library System, those in still other systems, and those in specialized libraries, there is available to the average patron a veritable sea of knowledge. And it doesn't end there. In today's world of computers, the data at our fingertips are boundless. Amazing! But it hasn't always been thus. Fortunate are we privileged to be living in the 21st century!

To trace the beginnings of the Patterson Library, we must reach back in time to the 18th century, to 1794 to be exact, for it was in that year that the seed for the institution that we know today was planted. America itself was still in its embryonic stages, and was experiencing the growing pains of a new nation. States rights versus a strong central government; who should govern, and for how long; establishment of its own currency, creation of a banking system that could serve both the country and the individual; land distribution; westward expansion; and international trade were just some of the weighty issues occupying the minds of our early inhabitants.

And then, Benjamin Franklin had an idea (among many from his fertile brain) - he created the first library in the colonies. He early on recognized the essential need for an educated populace. In the predominantly agrarian economy of the late 1700s, education was invariably limited to the scions of the wealthy; there was no discernible need for those in unskilled occupations to be able to read to any great extent. It would have been easy to allow such conditions and assumptions to continue to exist, but Franklin's idea had merit, and it wasn't long before similar institutions began to appear throughout those thirteen original colonies.

One place the idea took hold was in the little town of Fredericksburg, NY. The town later changed its name to Franklin, indubitably honoring that distinguished American patriot and statesman. Not too long after that it again changed its name, this time to Patterson. (Oddly enough, the person for whom the town was named spelled his name with only one T (Paterson). Nonetheless, Patterson it eventually became, and it remains that way to this day.)

A Town Library Is Formed

In 1794, before our second and final name change, The Franklin Union Library was formed. This initial coalition comprised 80 members. This was still two years before New York State passed a law which encouraged various communities to establish these marvelous institutions!

So reverential was the attitude of these founders, that they established strict guidelines for those wishing to become members. One had to be of lawful age (twenty-one), and to be of respectable moral character. "No 'ne'er-do-wells' need apply", saith they. And so was born the ancestor of the community icon that we have today.

Those eighty stalwarts convened every three months to discuss library topics, chief among which was what they could do to make it grow. Among that early group were men with names that are still familiar to us, even today. Do the names Akin, Benedict, Coe, Daggett, Haviland, Haight, Towner, Luddington, and Paterson ring a bell? Establishing a library was only one of their many marvelous, groundbreaking accomplishments.

At its inception, the Franklin Union Library had 148 books, all donated by its founders. Remember, the population wasn't that large, and its readers were but a small part of that number.

Little is known of the ensuing years. How long the members remained active is unclear. Nor do we have any information on how the number of volumes grew, or if they did at all. One thing we do know is that that the library held its last meeting, and then brought its operations to a close in the year 1837. Apparently, no one was willing (or able) to come forward to keep the library running, and so it ceased functioning. It is astonishing to note that an entire century passed before efforts got under way to revive this vital element in the community.

Manifest Destiny was driving the population westward, and the growing pains attendant to that concept all reared their ugly heads. But the event that dominated all others during the nineteenth century was most assuredly the Civil War, or The War Between The States, as Southerners insisted upon calling it. The country was torn apart by the humanitarian and philosophical differences between the North and the South. The demograph of young American men was decimated, and it took years before the country recovered. Nevertheless, the march westward never wavered. Many Native American tribes were greatly diminished by the expansionist march to the Pacific. In 1890, the Frontier finally closed, thus ending the strifetorn years which were spread over those last ten decades.

But the new century would bring its own horrors, as the global powers erupted into what would erroneously be called 'The War to end all Wars.' Fortunately, we emerged victorious in that clash, but disasters of a different sort were just around the corner.

The Roaring Twenties was the release of all of the anxiety brought on by the war. 'Let's Party' was the cry. Things were looking rosy again. But, alas, two more events occurred which were destined to bring everything to a screeching halt.

One was prohibition, the banning of the sale or consumption of alcoholic beverages. The second was the Stock Market crash of 1929. The former set off the wave of gangster related killings which accompanied the bootlegging trade. The latter precipitated the Great Depression.

After several years of almost universal American poverty, new president Franklin Delano Roosevelt's programs set the country on the road to recovery. 'Happy Days Are Here Again' was the popular song that helped restore our spirits as we spent several years returning to normalcy. You can imagine that the nation's nerves were indeed raw during these tumultuous times. Thoughts of a library were not on anyone's priority list, as people's very survival was at stake.

A Modern Library Is Established

And then, like a Phoenix, the library rose again in 1937 through the splendid efforts of the Reverend Horace E. Hillery, the pastor of the local Presbyterian Church, who single-handedly established a small library here in Patterson. Once again a town library had come into being. This time, the books' repository was the church's Parish House on Route 311, where they were administered by Rev. Hillery.

There were 1,850 books in this latest avatar, quite an extraordinary number considering the times. The largesse shown by this wonderful churchman was to be the catalyst necessary to restore a library to the Patterson community. Reverend Hillery ran the library for eight years by himself, and so it is that we owe much to this fine and generous man. It was indubitably a difficult and time-consuming task, but the idea of a community library was taking hold, and help was on the way.

Mercifully, World War II had ground to a close. The millions of young Americans who had been shipped all over the globe to fight the totalitarian aggressors were finally returned home to try to pick up the pieces of what they remembered to be normal lives. The country was sick of war and wanted nothing more to do with it. Attention was focused on family and community in a peaceful setting. It was in this frame of mind that thoughts again turned to establishing a strong community library.

In 1945, an article in the local newspaper announced that a community meeting would be held to start the project and organize plans to solicit the necessary funds for the establishment of the town's own library. The New York State Department of Education was cited in the following quotes as identifying some of the advantages of a public library:

"Human life is shaped and developed by nothing else more powerful than by ideas, images, and ideals, which are conveyed to the mind by books."

"It is the one human institution ranking as a charity, which, as Mr. Carnegie has so strongly emphasized, gives something for nothing."

"It is the one institution of a community which has something to offer all of the people."

"It is a powerful unifying factor in the life of a city or town."

Moreover, the writer also posited that a library is justified because it is cost effective.

Things came to fruition with the Patterson Library Committee, which was first convened in 1946. After several months of planning, an announcement was made in a local newspaper article that the committee had formed the Patterson Library Association, with the following members elected to serve as its officers:

PRESIDENT--------Dr. Harvey J. Swann
SECRETARY-------Bernard Watkins
TREASURER------Mrs. David Zurich
Dr. Swann, W.O. Taylor, Mrs. Frank Kelley, Lawrence Scaperotta, and Mrs. Harold Gloyd were named to a committee to draft a Constitution and By-laws.

Things were moving apace. Greater organization was coming into play and a stronger foundation was being laid for the running of this very important enterprise.

A monumental leap forward was taken when, in 1947, a temporary charter was granted to the library by the State of New York. With it came a greater sense of legitimacy and permanency, along with a rock hard determination to ensure that this time, the library would be a vital cog in the town, and would continue to grow and prosper.

But perhaps the greatest boon of all came in the early months of 1948, when Mr. And Mrs. Charles S. Irish, longtime Patterson residents, donated their ten room house to the town to be used as a library! No longer would the books have to be stored in the Parish House. They would now, for the first time in history, have a home they could call their own. On November 4-5 of that year, a rummage sale was held to dispose of the contents of the house, which cleared about $300.00.

On December 9, 1948, an article appeared in the Putnam County Courier which revealed that carpenters were then putting in the shelves which would accommodate the books (which now numbered several thousand) that were then housed in the Parish House. In addition to the money from the rummage sale, $4,000 was also added from individual contributions to pay for the renovations. Five rooms on the upper floor, and three rooms in the rear of the lower floor were converted into apartments to provide additional income.

Many changes were then made to the building, among which were a new chimney, a new oil heating system, a complete replacement of the electrical wiring system, the addition of two new bathrooms and a new kitchen, new electric pumps, a new stairway, a new entrance, and a new driveway. The cost was over $8,000, half of which was mortgaged over ten years.

With these events as a foundation, new elements began to appear. With all of the volumes now housed in the converted Irish house, more and more changes began to take place.

In 1949, with Dr. Swann still at the helm, Mrs. Edward (Dorothy) Fitzpatrick was appointed Assistant Librarian to share the ever-burgeoning responsibilities of running and maintaining such an undertaking.

The first major program to be offered was a Story Hour for children. This enjoyed an immediate popularity. A beautiful sign for the library soon graced the front of the building, a gift generously created and donated by local craftsman Frank Woron. A plaque listing donors' names was donated by another resident, Charles W. Burton. And, as if the donation of a house wasn't enough, Charles W. Irish presented the library with a gift of shares of stock.

The excitement couldn't have been greater. This new, improved library was getting off on a sound footing. A new home, many books, a positive cash flow, and the dedication of those involved cast an optimistic glow on the whole adventure.

New purchases were being made. First, and foremost, was a Card Catalog, something without which no real library could operate. A Children's Corner was established, for which a table and chairs were purchased. We were growing. The post-war years drew to a close, and, for the town, the country, and the library, the future looked bright.

The ensuing decade would see continued growth, while its fortunes endured both highs and lows. The year 1950 saw two events of monumental importance take place, both of which had a profound impact upon the library. On the positive side, the library received a Permanent Charter from the State of New York-a joyous occasion, indeed. On the other hand, the year witnessed the passing of the venerable Dr. Harvey Julian Swann. This was a tremendous loss. It was Dr. Swann, who, when the library committee was formed, accepted the great responsibility of guiding and leading the institution as it took its early, formative steps. He was a force to be reckoned with and he served the library well. His loss was a great one and the community owed him a great deal.

With the death of Dr. Swann, the post of Librarian was open. For the sake of continuity, and because she was so familiar with her husband's work, Mrs. Mary Swann stepped into the breach. Mrs. Dorothy Fitzpatrick remained as Assistant Librarian.

On an historical note, North Korea invaded South Korea, but surely that didn't concern us. Or so we thought. Acting on a U.N. resolution, the United States shipped units of our military over there to act as part of a 'Peacekeeping Force.' It wasn't our fight, but here we were once again in the thick of things. Only it wasn't referred to as a war, rather a Police Action. Call it what you will, more American lives were lost. However, the public didn't want to hear about war anymore. World War II was enough. So the concentration remained on life in this country.

Also during that fateful year, the physical appearance of the building changed as the steps and the veranda were removed.

The response of children to what the library had to offer was phenomenal, and forced an expansion of the Children's Corner. Hence, a room was taken from the downstairs apartment, and thus was born the new Children's Room.

A pall was cast over the library the following year with the death of Charles S. Irish, our greatest benefactor. This was another severe loss, not just to the library, but to the community as well. Had it not been for his generosity, the volumes would still be located in the Parish House.

In a sense, his largesse carried beyond his life, for the next year, money from memorial gifts in his name were received and were used to refurnish the Children's Room.

In 1952, another milestone was reached when Robert Oram became the first elected President of the Patterson Library Trustees. During this year, circulation reached 4,300. Things were moving.

As the pages of the calendar turned, demand for library services increased. With 5,900 books on the shelves, the need for additional staff was clearly necessary. To help stem the deluge, Kent Towner joined Dorothy Fitzpatrick as Assistant Librarian.

1953 also saw a peace treaty negotiated at Panmunjong, thus bringing to an end the standoff between the two Koreas and the return of our troops.

That good news didn't last too long, however. The following year, in a far-off, little unknown town called Dien Bien Phu, a French Expeditionary Force, fighting what was to be their final victory over a small country named Vietnam, inexplicably were routed by the ragtag army of their opponents called the Vietcong. But, since that war didn't concern us, it didn't concern us. We were to find out how wrong we were a few short years later, as our involvement became more and more intense as our military became more and more involved.

However, three years after the cessation of hostilities in Korea, in 1956, the total number of volumes continued to climb here at our home library. That the shelves groaned with 6,288, was recorded in the minutes of that year's meeting of the Trustees. But aside from the number of books that now graced its shelves, the library had reached an even greater milestone that year, for it was then that everyone celebrated as the mortgage, taken out in 1948 was PAID IN FULL! It was a joyous moment, indeed.

As the library entered the 1960s, America entered the Space Age, and another stride forward was taken when the library joined the Mid-Hudson Library System, thus becoming a fully participating member of that great network of libraries.

Today, that system encompasses 65 libraries located in five separate counties! This was a most important accomplishment, as it established itself as a viable asset to a whole network of communities. Now a Library Card issued by one library could be used to borrow books, etc. from any other library in the system.

Several gifts bequeathed to the library created the Miriam Lavielle Fund, and the Dora and Hiram Bloch Fund by Charles and Birdie Bloch Greenberg and Mr. and Mrs. Benjamin and Ida Bloch Heyman.

In 1961 the first telephone was installed and the following year a new desk and chair were purchased for the Librarian. These were small additions to us in today's populous, hi-tech world. But to the library of fifty years ago they were enormous assets.

The growth of the library was reflected in the 1963 establishment of a Branch Library located in Putnam Lake. Leonard Schultheiss was appointed its first Branch Librarian. 1964 saw the total number of volumes at this branch location reach 1,200.

In the middle year of the decade, the library was again the recipient of a bequest from a member of the Irish family, this time from the estate of Florence (Mrs. Frederick J.) Irish. Also donated were a Talking Globe for geographical studies, and a Hi-Fi record player. In a short period of time the downstairs apartment was taken over to be used as a Community Room, and was equipped by the purchase of new chairs. More remodeling was done as the garage was removed entirely and a new fence was built on the front of the property. A plaque was placed upon the building honoring the memory of Rev. Hillery and Dr. Swann. It was donated by Mrs. Horace E. Hillery.

A changing of the guard took place in 1968 when Dorothy Fitzpatrick retired and Mrs. Otto (Jane) Oehm took over as Head Librarian. It was also in 1968 that the war in Vietnam reached its zenith, starting with the Tet Offensive, which was the fulcrum upon which the war turned.

The title of Trustee Emeritus was bestowed on Rev. Hillery in 1969. That year also saw the purchase of an air conditioner and a stereo record player. We were becoming more and more modernized.

The Mid-Hudson Libraries completed a reorganization of the books and card catalog. That same year saw Jane Oehm step down, to be replaced as Head Librarian by Mrs. Ralph (Kathy Dwyer) Lembo, to be assisted by Mrs. Thomas (Claire) Burkhardt as Assistant Librarian. Changes were coming apace.

The 1970s opened with the purchase of a Bell & Howell movie projector and the following year saw the repainting and repapering of the entire interior of the building. Another innovation that year was the establishment of a six week Summer program for pre-school children.

As 1972 dawned, another change took place. Kathy Lembo resigned as Librarian and was quickly replaced by Mrs. Harry (Dolores) Bryant. Dr. and Mrs. Albert Towner gifted the library with a set of antiques to be placed in the new Heritage Room, formerly known as the Community Room, and on a related front, one of the rooms upstairs was leased to the Patterson Historical Society.

Subsequent years of the decade saw a raft of changes. More and more the library was meeting the challenges of a rapidly growing population in the incipient world of technology. It was in its infancy now, but in the decades ahead it would catapult forward at warp speed.

By today's standards, the changes would seem prosaic by comparison, but they were essential all the same. File cabinets were added, as was an outside book drop. A new roof and Aluminum Siding were added. A new furnace was installed, as was a mirror for the Heritage Room. A new street light was installed in front of the building.

The ensuing twenty-five years would see changes unimagined in 1979. A new age was dawning, faster than anyone could possibly realize, and the Patterson Library was poised to meet it.

(This marks the end of Part I of the Library History. Part II is under development.)