Labeling something as a “first” is a tendency for any person, be he collector, writer, researcher. Louis Jones of Cooperstown Farmer’s Museum inveighed against this practice in historical accounts.
Church histories of Whitehall tell of libraries established in their rooms for Sunday school members, the library of the Episcopal in 1836 being an example. But when was the first village or school library set up in Whitehall? The Whitehall academy on Williams Street had a library that was transferred to the Union School when it was established in 1866, and doubtless the earlier academy on Academy (Division) Street set up in March, 1885, with the consent of both the village and the school.
Over the J. H. Sullivan and Co. store at Saunders and Canal streets, according to their advertisement, a room was designed as a village library. The Union School gave books, cases, a desk and chairs which were newly painted and grained by volunteers. One thousand books were transferred to the shelves and an appeal made to the public for contributions of volumes.
The library was a subscription one as consent was sought to receive the “Alvord
Library” of 100 volumes for the shelves. Publishing companies donated books, Ivison, Balkeman, Taylor and company sent 20 volumes, among them an atlas of the United States. A. S. Barnes and Company gave 15 volumes of miscellaneous works with a popular history of the United States, Carrington’s Battles of the American Revolution, and Memoirs of President Garfield. Sheldon and company sent 12 new volumes. Individuals saw that the library received some good reading. Professor Miller contributed 30 volumes of new books with 11 volumes of Washington Irving’s works, six volumes of Miss Yonge’s Histories in England, France and Rome, Macaulay’s five volume history of England and three volumes of Macaulay’s Essays.
This all seems serious reading but O. A. Manville supplied the lack of lightness by donating 50 volumes of new fiction. Other villagers contributed: Village President E. A. Martin, druggist J. R. Broughton, Baptist Rev. M. C. Lockwood and Jeremiah Adams. Placing books on the shelves is the smallest bit of library work. Six weeks later these 1200 books plus several hundred duplicates had been cataloged sufficiently to allow borrowing on a regular basis and the library was opened to the public on Thursdays 3- 4:30 p.m. -and Saturdays 11-12.
In the meantime early readers had borrowed some volumes and, as usual habit, had not returned them. Books, like umbrellas, seem expendable. The library guardians asked that people return their selections with the pointed plea “that others may also read” and with the emphasis that a set of books is valueless if some of its parts are missing.
It was noted “not a few valuable sets are broken and useless till the wandering parts can be found.” It was further noted that the board of education had these books in trust and it was their duty to insist on their return. The plea ended on the diplomatic note we “trust that all who have books will return them.”
How long did this library survive? Two years later the local Y.M.C.A. established as large a library in their rooms in the building on the site just north of the present Knights of Columbus building. Did this local library finally find its way to the old red building on Williams street?
Doris B. Morton, Town Historian – Whitehall Times – November 16, 1972