OGDENSBURG — Ogdensburg’s public library looks much different today than when it opened more than a century ago. It was reborn from ashes.
The Washington Street library’s first home was literally a home. It was the residence of George C. Clark, who offered to sell it to the city to house a public library. The property also included Library Park and the city docks, and was purchased by the city for $45,000 in 1895.
The building that originally stood on the property was built in 1810 by David Parish for his agent, Joseph Rosseel. It included a wharf along the St. Lawrence River, gardens and a windmill to supply the house with running water.
The property was sold to Mr. Clark in the 1880s. Mr. Clark, married to a daughter of James G. Averill, tore down the existing structure and built an elaborate Victorian home on the site that included gables, chimneys and multiple porches. A fence surrounded the entire block.
Before the city purchased the home for the public library, the library was housed at Ogdensburg Free Academy. It opened in 1892, and was governed by the city school board until 1893.
According to a history of the library published in The Journal in 1976, Mayor Edgar A. Newell established a separate library board of trustees in 1893. Its members were Louis Hasbrouck, Barney Whitney, George F. Darrow, Margaretta A. Hoard and Mary D. Bean. The state Board of Regents issued the library’s charter in December of that year.
After the city purchased the Clark property, the fence around the block was removed and public walks through the grounds were constructed.
According to the 1976 history, “Through gifts of $100,000 from George Hall and John C. Howard, fireproof wings were constructed, shelving of pressed steel installed and marble floors added. In January of 1921, a special election was held for the city to accept the new library.
“During the period of reconstruction, the book collection was transferred to the Hall home and the entire Remington art collection stored in the fireproof vault at the library. On Thanksgiving morning, 1921, fire broke out and destroyed the central part of the building and roof. Construction resumed, and on Oct. 21, 1922, the present library was opened, with some 16,000 books on its shelves.”
The library over the years has preserved many important artifacts from local notables, including manuscripts and materials from Civil War General Newton Martin Curtis, original paintings by Edmund J. Sawyer, who for many years was dean of the American Bird Artists and grew up in Ogdensburg, and artist Jack Beal, in addition to property deeds, letters, newspaper clippings and other historical data that have helped numerous families trace their roots in the north country.
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