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Ogdensburg library marks 120th anniversary

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OGDENSBURG — It was born, so to speak, with a state certificate of charter on Dec. 13, 1893.

The Ogdensburg Public Library, at 312 Washington St., was in business.

On Wednesday at the library from 3 to 5 p.m., there will be a party to celebrate the institution’s 120th birthday. The public is invited.

“The birthday party is really a celebration of the many volunteers and donors and supporters who created and continue to nurture our public library,” said Wayne L. Miller, the library’s director. “Birthday cupcakes are fitting on this occasion. Their candles will represent the many lighting one little candle who kept the library illuminating the entire community.”

As part of the celebration, a modern form of an elocution contest will be held April 23 at 6:30 p.m. when the library is hosting an open mic night for poetry and prose for writers and readers.

Details are being finalized for student prizes. The original 1891 contest winnings were two $10 gold pieces. There are also plans to offer scholarships.

According to Mr. Miller, the library’s history is a rich one.

In 1830, there was an Ogdensburgh Public Library. In 1839, the state Legislature designated school district libraries, and Ogdensburg had three, which then took the place of the public library. In 1857, the school districts were consolidated and the libraries were united.

In the 1870s, the library was founded in a room on the second floor of the Barr building on Ford Street, and later moved back to the school system in a room of the Ogdensburg Academy at Washington and Franklin streets.

When Fred Van Dusen came to Ogdensburg as principal of the school, Mr. Miller said, he began to build up library services.

On May 20, 1891, an elocutionary contest for students took place in the Opera House which stood on the site of City Hall.

In 1892, the Ogdensburg City Council established a public library “for the free use of the inhabitants of the city” and appointed Louis Hasbrouck, Barney Whitney, George F. Darrow, Margaretta A. Hoard and Mary Bean as the first trustees. Mrs. Bean had long been involved in local public library activities. The group applied to the state Board of Regents for a charter. In return for the city’s promise to adequately fund the library, the state incorporated Ogdensburg Public Library and granted it the first public library charter issued in the north country.

The library remained in the school for two more years. In 1895, George C. Clark, a New York businessman who had married a local woman, offered to sell his summer home on Washington street and the block in which it was located and to contribute a significant portion of the $35,000 cost. That house was an 1880 Victorian reconstructed on the foundation of an 1810 home built by David Parish for his agent, Joseph Rosseel.

The funds were raised through contributions, and the transaction was completed on May 1, 1895. The interior was converted from a home to a library, shelves were installed, and a vault was built in the basement. This fireproof room was created to protect the former Republican Journal newspaper files, which dated from 1833.

Following the death in 1909 of artist Frederic Remington, his widow, Eva, offered the library a collection of his work. These were displayed in the library until after 1918, when Mrs. Remington died and left the library the rest of her husband’s work.

The quantity was more than the library building could handle, so negotiations led to securing the Frederic Remington Art Museum at 303 Washington St. The Remington was owned by the Hall family, who helped fund renovations at the library, including changing the exterior to resemble the original 1810 Rosseel house including the iconic columns. To keep the library service operational during construction, the books were moved across the street into the new Remington facility.

On Thanksgiving 1921, just a few weeks before the renovated library was scheduled to reopen, a major fire caused serious damage. The basement vault created in the 1890s saved the Remington works being stored there. The only casualty was a formerly full length portrait of the artist that still hangs in the Remington in half-length form.

It took almost a year to repair the fire’s damage. The library reopened in October 1922.

The Isabella D. Dodge Children’s Room was added in 1979. Handicapped access was added in 1984 and air conditioning in the 1990s.

Approaching a century since major renovation, the library board as recently begun overseeing building improvements including roof, chimney, windows, elevator, exterior stucco, and the fire and security system renovations.

“The library is the youngest 120-year-old I know,” Mr. Miller said. “We are as timeless as yesterday and work every day to be as current as tomorrow.”

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