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 needed to agree to allocate annually 10% of Carnegie’s donation to maintain the library he would build. If his terms were met, Carnegie would pledge $2 per resident. 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 or 10% of Carnegie’s eventual $15,000 gift.
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 facade 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 are increased public meeting spaces, areas that serve different age 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 at the time of the expansion described the new Nyack Library as a “dynamic center of information and culture.”
Interior library photo credit: John Putre
Bill Batson is an activist, artist and writer who lives and sketches in Nyack, NY. “Nyack Sketch Log: Nyack Library Part II” © 2017 Bill Batson.