Our History

Library History

The following article was found in the Hornell Evening Tribune dated March 28, 1911.

The new Hornell Free Library, one of the most complete of its kind in Western New York was formally opened to the public last evening. The exercises incidental to the opening were held in the Assembly Hall in the basement and were attended by about 100 people, including members of the Hornell Library Association, the Common Council, faculties of the City Schools, and the clergy. George T. Rehn, chairman of the Board of Managers, presided and Mrs. B.R. Wakeman, vice-president of the Library Association formally presented the Library to the City. Mayor F.J. Nelson accepted the gift on behalf of the City.

The new library is located on Genesee Street and faces Hakes Avenue. The building is one and one-half stories in height with basement and is constructed of white pressed brick. There is an assembly room in the basement with a seating capacity of 150, rooms for committee meetings and general library purposes.

On the ground floor proper are located the stock room and the office and a room for the librarians. At the right of the entrance is the children’s library given by Mr. and Mrs. Etz in memory of their son, David Cadogan Etz. This part of the library is known as the David Cadogan Etz Children’s Library and is filled with hundreds of the volumes that will be greatly appreciated by the children of Hornell.

The reading and reference room is at the left of the entrance. Here will be found all of the current magazines and periodicals as well as the latest issues of representative newspapers. It is planned to place a tablet in this room soon, suitably inscribed, and similar to the one in the children’s library.

150th year celebration a huge success

Click the links below to read the Evening Tribune’s coverage of our 150th anniversary celebration:

Evening Tribune – A Monumental Occasion – Hornell Public Library Wraps Up Sesquicentennial Celebration

Evening Tribune — Hornell Library Stacks Up

Evening Tribune: Major Milestone for Hornell Public Library


Hornell Industries Favored

The building is furnished throughout in hardwood and is way above the average in quality and workmanship. The McConnell Manufacturing Co. had the contract for this work and the J.M. Deutsch Co., manufactured the shelves, tables, and desks. The floor coverings and other furnishings were also furnished by Hornell concerns. The Board of Managers gave Hornell concerns preference in every way, in the one thing that was bought upon the suggestion of the architect, as stated by Chairman Rehn last night, the cost was more than it would have been if it had been bought locally. Chairman Rehn’s timely advice was to buy at home and save money. To Mr. Rehn belongs the unstinted credit for the careful supervision he has given in the construction of the building. This also applies to the Board of Managers who have given their hearty co-operation in every way.

No admission can be charged for any entertainments held in the library this being one of the conditions of Mr. Carnegie’s gift of $25,000. The library and contents as now owned entirely by the city, represent an investment of $50,000. There are approximately 18,000 volumes of which nearly 15,000 are scientific and literary and the remainder public documents and manuscripts.

Chairman George T. Rehm happily introduced Mrs. B.R. Wakeman, vice-president of the Association, who made the presentation speech in the absence of President Charles Adsit, who is in the Bermuda. Mrs. Wakeman’s speech which was timely and comprehensive follows:

“This is an occasion of great personal pride and gratification to each individual member of the Board of Managers of the Hornell Library Association and we hope to every citizen of the city, When the valuable book s accumulated through years of care and solicitation have at last found a permanent home in this beautiful structure, the gift of Andrew Carnegie to the people of Hornell.

“It is a matter of regret that Mr. Adsit, President of the Association during the first few years of its existence, and President when the generous offer of Mr. Carnegie was received, should be absent on this occasion. As Treasurer also, and Member of the Board of Managers he has given almost continuous service since April 6th, 1868, when the Hornell Library Association was perfected. Certificates of membership were then sold for $5 each entitling the holder to life use of the Library and a vote at the annual meeting of officers and managers of the Association.

Annual tickets were issued at the price of $1. The proceeds of these annual and life subscriptions together with the net receipts of the feature courses constituted the total income of the first few years.

“The first gifts recorded are 16 volumes donated by Horace Bemis; 22 volumes by Martin Adset; 10 volumes by Andrew Charles, a bust of Henry Clay given by S.F. Gilbert, and one of Daniel Websters which was presented by W.W. Osgoodby. An order for 90 books was made June 4th 1868, and on June 17th of the same year the Library was opened in the office of Dr. E.J. Johnson, in the Adist Block. The original bookcase, was made by the McConnell’s and paid for by a certificate of membership, in which these books were contained is now installed in the corridor of this building.

The Library was opened between the hours of two and eight P.M. on Wednesday and Saturdays. Dr. Johnson served as Librarian and was presented with a certificate. By September 488 books had been accumulated and by March 1869 the library had grown to a size demanding its removal to an adjoining room. In August 1869 it was again removed to rooms on the north side of Main Street.

The efforts of the Board of Managers during these early years were directed to raising funds by means of lecture courses. An immense amount of labor and time was devoted to the selection for talent and the sales of tickets to insure the financial success of these courses. Partial list of the famous lecturers brought here through the efforts of the Board includes: Josh Billings; James Murdock; Anna Dickinson; Wendell Phillips; John B. Gough; Theodore Tilton; Mark Twain; Bayard Taylor; Chase Summer; Henry Ward Beecher; Dr. J.G. Holland; Horace Greely; The Camilla Ursa Co: Mrs. Scott Siddoms; Bret Harte; Mendellsohn Quartet; Hellen Potter; P.T. Barnum; Mary A Livermore. The famous suffrage debate between Horace Bemis and Susan B. Anthony occurred during one of these two courses, which were maintained, with the exception of two years from 1868 to 1880.

It is interesting to note that Henry Ward Beecher drew the largest audience of more than 1,000. Anna Dickinson proved the most popular, appearing five successive years to audiences averaging over 700 while the only other attractions which exceeded 700 in attendance were the Mendellsohn Quartet and P.T. Barnum. Although only the first few years of these splendid courses proved the financial successes which the promoters desired and had reason to expect they were nevertheless, an educational opportunity of great benefit to the citizens. Quoting from the annual report of 1870, “while the annual lecture if of far less value as a means of popular education than the Library yet its influences not inconsiderable. Coming in the depth of our Arctic winters it rouses the mind with new ideas; furnishes many subjects for investigation around the fireside; brings before us the conspicuous men of the country; and drives away inferior ‘shows’ that would otherwise infest our town.”

After the Library was moved from the room adjoining Dr. Johnson’s office the officers and members of the Board of Managers served in rotation as librarians until Jan. 1873, subject to the fine of $1 for each failure to serve, and the Library was kept open from 6:30 to 8:30 every evening except Sunday and on Saturdays from 3 to 8. In 1973 Miss Carrie Ostrander was appointed librarian at a salary of $6 a month and served until July 1875 when Mrs. S.F. Gilbert was appointed for one year. Miss Florence Goodrich served as librarian from 1876 until 1886. Upon her resignation Mrs. L.T. Charles was elected and served for the next ten years. In 1887 Miss Mary Windsor was appointed assistant to the librarian and on the resignation of Miss Windsor was appointed librarian, in which capacity she has served up to the present times. Miss Mary Latham served as her assistant for one year and when she resigned Miss Margaret Charles became the assistant which position she filled until 1902 when Miss Helen Thacher was appointed assistant librarian and holds that position at the present time.

In 1870, excise funds amounting to $500 annually were made available for library use. In April of 1876 new rooms in the Opera House Block, purchased by the Association were taken possession of and the books were relabeled and catalogued showing a total of 5,535 books. The year 1888 was an important one in the history of the Association. The Jewett Club building on Canisteo Street was purchased for the library, the books were removed from the Opera House Block and the Library was made free to the public after the Common Council voted to assume the additional expense. In 1899 the Jewett Club Building on Canisteo Street was sold and the Church Street property purchased.

At a special meeting called Jan 26, 1903, the following resolution, offered by Mr. Hoffman, seconded by Mr. Etz was unanimously passed “I move that the Hornell Library Association deed the real property to and give all its books and personal property to the City of Hornellsville upon the completion of a Library Building according to the proposition of Mr. Andrew Carnegie, upon the condition that the management of such library be settled and agreed upon by a conference committee appointed by the Board of Alderman and the Hornell Library Association.” Then followed a period of weary waiting for those interested in a new Library Building.

Despite the earnest efforts of the Managers and the hearty cooperation of Mayor Nelson and the Common Council at that time, no site could be agreed upon and there seemed to be such an undercurrent of opposition developing that the Board of Managers felt that the people were not ready to accept Mr. Carnegie’s gift and the matter was dropped for the time being. There were a few optimistic members of the Board at this time and at each annual meeting is recorded an earnest appeal by Mil M. Acker to take up the matter and push it to a successful issue. This action was supported by Mr. Etz.

In 1909 the Carnegie was again taken up. It was ascertained that the $25,000 gift was still available; an amendment to the City Charter was secured to provide for the extra yearly maintenance, every possible assistance being given without undue delay by Mayor Prangen and the Alderman.

This site was purchased by the Hornell Library Association upon an agreement with city officials to purchase the Church Street property; a committee from the Common Council composed of Mayor Prangen; Alderman Green Dealy and Hood met with the Board of Managers and selected Mr. Tilton, of New York as Architect, he being one of two architects recommended by the Trustees of the Carnegie Fund. His (Tilton’s) plans were accepted and the contract awarded to Messieurs Fahey & Prentice of this city with the result that tonight you are invited to inspect this building with a library of 18,000 volumes on its shelves, the result of 43 years of accumulation and conservation by the Board of Managers of the Hornell Library Association, which with the site this building occupies they consider of equal value to the generous gift of $25,000 of Mr. Andrew Carnegie and which they are now present to the people of the City of Hornell. We think it must be a pleasure to Mayor Nelson to witness the successful completion of an enterprise he so earnestly assisted in promoting.

In 1908 the Hornell Library Association sustained a great loss in the death of Russell M. Tuttle, who became a member of the Association on June 3, 1868, was elected a member of the Board of Managers in 1869, and thereafter actively identified with the Library Managers until his death.

I can give no better appreciation of his services than to quote from the resolution offered by Mr. Acker on that occasion: “for years with that rare excellence of judgment that was his alone, he selected the books that the Association should purchase and his sole aim was to build up a library worthy of this beautiful and prosperous city of homes, and to make it a library that would help cultivate good taste and fine character in our people. In his death the Board of Managers lost its most valuable member and the library’s truest friend and most faithful worker. We may elect his successor but we cannot fill his place.

One member of the present Board of Managers has been actively connected as an officer of the Association of a member of the Board since the second year of its existence. We wish to commend James W. Burnham for 42 consecutive years of faithful attendance. Of the present Board of Managers Mr. Etz has been a member since 1880, Mr. Robinson since 1881, Mr. Acker since 1898, Mrs. Koyle and Mrs. Wakeman since 1907, Mr. Rehn since 1908, Miss Riley since 1909, Mr. Bennett, who has served as Secretary of the Association since 1900, was elected a member of the Board in 1910. Former members of the Board of Managers living in the city are I.W. Near, first chairman: 1868 to 1870, J.E.B. Santee, 1875 to 1910, W.H. VanDusen, 1879 to 1909.

There have been many small donations to the Library in the course of its existence but the gift of $800 by Mr. and Mrs. C.W. Etz to found a Children’s Library as a memorial to their son, is the most generous in amount and in filling a long felt want in our Library equipment, meets with the deep appreciation of the board.

The remarkable fact that this beautiful building has been completed strictly according to specifications with the new furnishings in such complete harmony and with the amount appropriated by Mr. Carnegie is largely due to the faithful, daily supervision of the present Chairman of the Board, Mr. G.T. Rehn.

Over the mantel in the main reading room we intend to place a tablet commemorating the gift of Andrew Carnegie and of the Hornell Library Association to the City of Hornell; a tablet similar to the one placed by Mr. and Mrs. Etz in the Children’s room.

That this Library just installed in its beautiful and appropriate home may enter upon a period of extended usefulness and benefit this community and thus reward the consecrated labors of its founders, is the hope and wish of its founders, is the hope and wish of the Hornell Library Association as they convey to your care, Mr. Mayor, and Messieurs Aldermen, representatives of the people of Hornell, their interest in this Library and the future proper maintenance of this building and its contents.”

Mayor Nelson, who followed, accepted the gift on behalf of the people of Hornell. He said in part:

“I hardly know what to say for I never received so large a gift before from anyone, but I can do no less on behalf of a large population than to accept. I think this library represents most truly the intricacies of every great movement. Libraries like everything else have their enemies and their foes. There are many who have their own libraries at home and some do not wish to come. Then there are others who have not studied about it and do not care. But here in this library we all have free access and can find whatever references we seek.

“It is interesting to go back over a period of forty-two years and see the vast amount of labor and care that this library represents. These younger members have not gone through all the turmoil. Forty-two years have wrought a wonderful part in the cycle of time. Here are a handful of faithful and earnest workers who have accomplished these things that are perpetual. Here is a magnificent library given to the city in perpetuity, not given to us for forty-two years to come but for all time and for as long as there shall be a Hornell. Step by step this library has grown into large proportions.”

Mayor Nelson paid a glowing tribute to Henry Ward Beecher, Mary A. Livermore, and Susan B. Anthony who appeared here years ago for the benefit of the library, then drew a timely comparison showing how the present and future generations have access to their great teachings through the medium of books on the library shelves.

The Mayor then formally accepted the new library and its contents on behalf of the people of Hornell. Mayor Nelson throughout spoke in an appreciative vein, not only congratulating the members of the Library Board of Managers upon their careful stewardship, but also the city upon being the recipient of so fine a gift.

The exercises were completed in forty minutes. At nine o’clock the entire building was thrown open to the public.

About Edward Tilton

The architect was Edward Lippincott Tilton (1861-1933) of New York. Edward Lippincott Tilton studied architectural drawing from a private tutor. In 1880, he began his career as an architect with the firm of McKim, Mead & White. Tilton then studied at the Ecole des Beaux Arts for three years. He formed a partnership with William Borling. In 1895, he was appointed architect to the American School of Classical Studies in Athens.

Recognition for Edward Lippincott Tilton as an architect occurred when Borling and Tilton won the commission of the United State Immigration station on Ellis Island. Their firm was awarded a gold medal at the Paris Exposition of 1900. Tilton designed many libraries for the Andrew Carnegie Foundation. He was awarded the Gold Medal of the American Institute of Architects for his design of the Wilmington Delaware Library. Tilton designed the standard plan for an open interior that could be supervised by one person at the main desk. Tilton’s recommendations for libraries became a standard. Those recommendations were: ceilings of 15 to 20 ft., 30 sq. ft. of open space for each reading seat 2/3 of the collection should be in book stacks and 1/3 on open shelving in the reading rooms. He also recommended utilizing air conditioning especially in damp basement areas. Edward Lippincott Tilton set the standard for library design. Many of his designs still function well in today’s world with few modifications.

64 Genesee Street Hornell, NY 14843