History and Development of the Waterville Public Library

   The first known interest in a public library for Waterville emerged in 1874 when the Board of Education spent $150 for books to be kept in the Union School Building and made accessible to all.  The library opened on May 1 with 155 volumes.  There were more applicants for privileges than books!

   On incorporation of the Union School as an academy, the State Board of Regents offered to appropriate up to $250 for a library, to be matched dollar for dollar locally.  The money was raised by a benefit program held at Putnam Hall.

The Board of Education granted use of a room on the third floor of the Union Free School building for use of the library and transferred about 500 books from the school’s library to the custody of the Library Trustees as a nucleus for the new public library collection.

The earliest surviving minutes of a meeting  of the Library Trustees are dated February 19, 1895.  At that meeting W.G. Mayer was elected president and W. P. Bigelow secretary-treasurer.  Waterville Public Library was incorporated by the Board of Regents of the State University on February 28, 1895, with the charter issued to W. G. Mayer, H. J. Coggeshall and H. P. Bigelow, as trustees.

The earliest surviving ledger entries, made in April 1895, show monies received from the Board of Education, state aid, and interest from the Palmer Memorial Fund which had been set up by Col. W. Palmer as a memorial for his deceased daughter.  The Palmer Fund is the first recorded endowment and there have been subsequent generous endowments which helped support the library for many years.

In June 1895 Mrs. Stetson was appointed librarian for the summer at 50 cents for each Friday.  The first permanent librarian was Miss Mary Smith who received $30 a year. Librarians from 1897 were: Miss Maud Young, Miss Mary E. Squier, Miss Louise Brown, Miss Mary Hamlin, Miss Cornelia Gorton, Miss Lillie J. West, Mrs. Walter Lally, Mrs. Stewart Martin, and Mrs. Lee Williams.

On July 5, 1899 the board of education purchased the Nolan House on White Street which adjoined the school buildings.  The first floor of this dwelling was remodeled for use as a library. It contained 1,200 volumes and was opened November 13, 1899.

Books were added from time to time and as the number of patrons increased so did the need for additional room.  By 1908 the need for larger quarters became a grave concern to the Trustees. About that time the Young Men’s Christian Association building was unused.

The YMCA building at 220 Main Street was once known as the Winchell property and had been used a women’s seminary, connected by a bridgewalk to the Squier’s House, until 1895 when it was purchased by Mrs. M. Genevie Brainard.

220 Main Street was given by Mrs. Brainard to the YMCA in February 1896 and reverted back to her in 1907.  In 1908 Mrs. Brainard donated the building to the Library Trustees as a memorial to her two deceased sons with the stipulation that it revert back to her if no longer used as a library.  The YMCA had a basketball court that was converted to stacks.  Bowling alleys were in the basement. When the YMCA owned the building, it was used by the Boy Scouts who, along with the Girl Scouts, continued to use the building after it was taken over by the Library Trustees.

For many years, the Waterville Historical Society records, including original paper copies of the Waterville Times dating from 1855, were stored in an upstairs room of the library.

In July 1939 the Board of Regents granted Katherine H. Simmons, Charles G. Brainard, Jr., Frances B. H. Battles, Ethel V. Smith and Rosalie O. Mayer, Trustees, an absolute charter as an autonomous so-called “school district public library,” to serve the area of Central School District No. 1 of the Towns of Sangerfield, Marshall in Oneida County and the Town of Madison in Madison County.  In November 1991 the charter was amended to provide that the Board of Trustees consist of not less than five, nor more than eleven members.  In 2010, the Regents amended the charter to clarify that the Library’s service area is coterminous with that of Waterville Central School District and that the Trustees are to be elected by the qualified voters of the school district.

In 1965 the library became a member of the Mid-York Library System.

A Friends of the Library group was established in 1994.

March 1995 saw the library recognized as an Electronic Doorway Library by the New York State Education Department.  An electronic doorway library provides a 2-way flow of requests and information into and out of a library by electronic means.

In 1997, the library made CD-ROM reference resources available to its patrons, and 1998 brought full Internet access and a World Wide Web presence for the Library.

In 2006 after it became clear that better access for disabled persons, off street parking and more space for collection and programs were needed, the Library moved from 220 East Main Street into a new, 8,000 square foot facility on 3.5 acres of land only one block away on 206 White Street.  The new building was made possible by a $1.56 million general obligation bond issue approved by the voters plus several New York State and private grants and gifts, altogether totaling $1.9 million.  The new library site was donated in two pieces by Kathleen Humphreys and Gary Allen, respectively.  Gardens at the new library, including provision for their maintenance were donated in memory of her husband, Howard, by Elizabeth Keller Lally.  Later, Mrs. Lally left a substantial bequest for the purpose of enhancing the gardens and making improvements to the grounds.  Funded by matching grants from the New York State Public Library Construction Fund and the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority,  the Library added a 96-panel, 19 kW solar electric generating array on its grounds.  In 2012, the Barton-Brown Observatory, a joint venture of the Library and the Mohawk Valley Astronomical Society, opened on a site adjacent to the main Library building.  The Observatory houses two large, research grade telescopes and hosts monthly public stargazing events in addition to other programs presented by the Society.  In 2018, funded by a grant from the Edward Barton Trust, a regulation, full-size croquet court and event space was completed on the Library’s east lawn.

The foregoing article was written by Library Director Wendy Sexton in conjunction with the Town of Sangerfield bicentennial in 1995,  and updated by WPL Executive Director Jeffrey M. Reynolds in 2019.

Scroll to Top
Skip to content