In the second half of the 19th century, a movement for public libraries began in the U.S. There is some evidence that starting in the 1870’s there were groups interested in creating a library in Piermont. But it wasn’t until 1896 that today’s library became an official entity.
Library is officially registered in 1896
On September 23, 1896, The Free Library of the Piermont Improvement Association registered with the University of the State of New York. The certificate is signed by Melvil Dewey, then Secretary of the Public Library Department in Albany. Dewey is perhaps most well-known for inventing the Dewey Decimal Classification for libraries.
Library moves to Hudson Terrace building in 1909
The library had no permanent home for a few years, renting rooms over the ice cream parlor at Fort Comfort until one was found. In 1909 it opened in the Greek Revival home on Hudson Terrace which had been purchased from Charles Main for $3,000. A letter written in 1910 reports that the library “is now a permanent library having nearly 4,000 volumes with a circulation of 6,000 annually.” The money was raised by the Piermont Improvement Association, a group incorporated to start what was a “free association library” until the last moments of the twentieth century when Piermont voters authorized a change of charter. It is now legally chartered as the Piermont Library District, allowing the Library Board to go directly to the voters for budget approval.
Librarians and staff
For most of the 100 plus years since the library’s founding, there has been a librarian at the helm. Addie Haring held sway for 15 years. Then came Elizabeth Lane Brodhead, who is still remembered by many of those who grew up in Piermont. Mrs. Brodhead served for 25 years. She was followed by Mr. and Mrs. Hugh White, Patricia Ternes (4 years), and Suzann Weekly Chute (4 years). Grace Meyer, who began in 1969, set the record, retiring in 2004 after 35 years. A new director, Victoria Lees, was hired that year and managed the transition to the new library building. Jessica Bowen took over as Library Director in June 2008.
The directors have all had help from a variety of volunteers and salaried staff. Judy Miller, the first Children’s Librarian, started as a volunteer in the late 1960s and became an employee in 1968. Another volunteer, Paula Scholz, subsequently served as Children’s Librarian from 1972-79. Grace Mitchell became Assistant to the Director in 1979. In 1992 she was made Assistant Director and served in that capacity until her retirement in 2014.
The library’s current support staff includes Nancy Russell who became Children’s Librarian in 2011, and Denise Starr who has served as Library Assistant since 2009. Lara Jacobs, who began her library career as a Page during her teen years, was hired as a Library Clerk in 2012, subsequently promoted to Library Assistant in 2015, and took over management of the library’s Local History collection upon Grace Mitchell’s retirement.
Plans to move the library to a new building
In the 1980’s the Library Board made a decision about an issue that had been discussed for many years. We had to move. New quarters had to be found which would accommodate the needs of today’s patrons.
While the old building was historically important and wonderfully charming, it lacked parking, was relatively small and was not accessible to those who had difficulty climbing stairs. The advent of the Americans with Disabilities Act sometime later confirmed the appropriateness of the decision. However, no suitable building was available in the Village, and so it became necessary to build.
At the same time, Piermont Landing was developing, and an agreement was negotiated with the development group for the transfer of a parcel of land for the purpose of a new library building, as well as a monetary contribution to help in the cost of its construction. Then began an arduous process of planning the building.
The new Library building opened in March 2007
The Friends of the Piermont Library group was formed to help raise funds for the new building, and a Capital Campaign was begun several years later. The new building, opened in March of 2007, is named The Dennis P. McHugh Piermont Public Library, in honor of Dennis P. McHugh, a New York City firefighter who was killed in the events of September 11, 2001. His family foundation donated $500,000 to make this building possible and it will act as a lasting memorial to his life. The new building provides more space, wonderful views of the river, accessibility, designated parking, wireless internet access and much, much more. We trust it will build on more than a century’s tradition of community service and community participation, bringing a new era of library enjoyment to Piermont.
Much of this history is excerpted from : “Piermont: Three Centuries”, published by the Friends of the Piermont Library in 1996.