McGraw has a long and rich history, but perhaps most outstanding was the establishment in 1849 of the trailblazing New York Central College. It was the first college in the country to enroll students regardless of gender, color, or religious belief as well as employ black professors. The supporters of the college included such famous abolitionists as Frederick Douglas, Gerritt Smith, and Horace Greely. Among the many students and professors who went on to distinguish themselves included Mary Edmonia Lewis, a famous sculptress, and Professor Asaph Hall discoverer of the moons of Mars. Three black female students were used as characters in Harriet Beecher Stowe’s book “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”. In addition to the outstanding and wide ranging educational opportunities the college offered to all, it also served as an important station along the “underground railroad” for those seeking freedom.
The Lamont Library
The Lamont Memorial Free Library was established at 5 Main Street, McGraw, New York in 1906. It has been located from its founding, in the boyhood home of Daniel S. Lamont, a local resident who became private secretary to Governor Grover Cleveland from 1885 to 1889 and then President Cleveland’s Secretary of War from 1893 to 1897.
The rear portion of the structure is believed to have been one of the first eleven residences in the Village of McGraw, being in place by 1813. At some time prior to 1851, the Greek Revival or “Greek Temple” portion, was added to the front of the building. These architectural design elements continue to be popular features in the village.
The Lamont family arrived in McGraw in 1851, the year Daniel S. Lamont was born. A New York State Historical Marker (1950), located in front of the Lamont Memorial Free Library property, notes Daniel Lamont’s political appointments.
It was Daniel Lamont’s wife Julia who, according to village history, made the first interior changes of the residence to transform it into a more practical, library like facility. Wall partitions were removed and a fireplace was closed. The two front rooms housed the library, with the rear of the building continuing as a residence until 1926. In that year a partition between the two living rooms was removed to create what is now the children’s room of the library.
Initially, Mrs. Lamont paid all the expenses of the Library, including the purchase of the first 1,000 books. After Mrs. Lamont’s death, her daughter, Elizabeth, continued to pay the library expenses, with the exception of book purchases. The local government and various civic organizations, as well as individual citizens, assumed that responsibility.
In 1945, Elizabeth Lament deeded the library property to the Village of McGraw, as a Free Public Library. She continued to make monetary contributions to the library until her death, and at that time left an endowment of about $50,000. Only subtle changes in the architecture have taken place over the past fifty three years. The most notable, was the addition of a porch, on the east side of the building and in 1990/91 the construction of an access ramp to the porch. This modification, of course, has provided access to the library for those unable to use stairs.
In 1946, the Lamont Memorial Free Library, and its grounds, were formally accepted by the residents of the Village of McGraw, when they voted to assume the additional costs of its operation. The expenses assumed by the Village became part of the Village budget.
Soon after this transfer of property to the Village of McGraw, the University of the State of New York Education Department granted an absolute Charter to the Lamont Memorial Free Library on December 17, 1948 and established that the library shall be administered by a Board of Trustees of five individuals, with staggering terms. The first Board consisted of Harry C. Chaffee, Claribel Warren, Mildred Tarbell, Frederick A. Purchas, and Carl D. Hammond. It was set up in such a way that as the above named individuals terms expired, their successors are to be selected by the Village Board of Trustees of the Village of McGraw. Also in 1946 the Lamont Memorial Free Library applied for and was granted membership in the Finger Lakes Library Association.
On September 7, 1954 the Village Board of Trustees of the Village of McGraw voted to transfer all assets, held for the benefit of a library, except real property, to the trustees of the Lamont Memorial Free Library. On January 27, 1956 the University of the State Of New York Education Department Board Of Regents recognized and approved this 1954 transfer, and a certificate to that effect hangs in the library today along with the original charter.
At that same time the Library Board became responsible for the fundraising and expenses of the library. Income from the Lamont endowment and a budgeted allotment from the Village budget was used to cover expenses. Since that time funding from the governments of the Town of Cortlandville, Solon, & Freetown, as well as private gifts and a grant from the Finger Lakes Library Association have added to the income. In 1998 the Library Board took advantage of State Education Law that allows them to seek financial support from the community through an appropriations proposition on the school district ballot authorizing the levy of taxes annually in the amount of $15,000 said amount to be paid over to the trustees of the Lamont Memorial Free Library for current and future expenses. This was approved in May of 1998.
An Evaluation of Library Operations and Services, for the library was created by staff of the FLLS in 1998. One of the major needs this report pointed out was the need for total renovation, remodeling, and some expansion of the Library. In 1999 a Historical Preservation Grant in the amount of $5,000.00 was obtained and Crawford and Stearns, architects and preservation planners were contracted with to prepare a planning and assessment report. This report was presented to the Library Board in December 2000. The report described existing conditions of the library, and listed future needs to better serve the library patrons, to meet the handicap accessible requirements, and to better configure the library for today’s and tomorrows library operations. The report also suggested that if financially prudent, a local history room could be added to the rear of the library to hold the Local Historical Societies collection of Village memorabilia and artifacts, currently housed in the attic of the library. During 2001 and early 2002 the Library Board worked with Ron Barrows, “the Barrows Group” to study and review a feasibility study for a Capital Campaign, and the process for carrying on a Capital Fundraising Campaign. In Feb. 2002 a steering committee was established to help with the fundraising. In the fall of 2002 wallpapering and papering of the front portion of the library commenced, and work was ongoing from that time till May of 2005 when the Local History Room was completed. This work included, foundation repair, side porch rebuilding, interior gutting and renovation, rebuilding of the old garage including a new addition for an enlarged children’s area, a new enclosed handicap ramp and a new room for local history display. The total cost of this 4 year project exceeded $340,000 and was paid for in full with grants, gifts and pledges from over 220 individuals and sources.
Early librarians included Mrs. Fancher, Miss Helen Saltsman, Mrs. Catherine Coon, Mrs.Marian Van Arnam. Not much information is known about these individuals.
Mrs. Florence Walter 1920 to 1963
Mrs. Walter developed outreach of the library into the community. She increased the collection of books from 1,200 to 12,000 with circulation figures increasing from 4,000 to 14,000 per year. She was extremely active working with the children and made everyone feel welcomed in the library.
Mrs. Helen Cain 1963-1983
Mrs. Cain realized the importance of the library being a member of the Finger Lakes Library System which enabled users to obtain books and audio visual items not available at Lamont. The Children’s Room on the first floor was enlarged. A second floor room was developed into a conference and reading room and was dedicated to Mrs. Walter. Two other rooms were made into storage rooms for magazines and periodicals. Mrs. Cain enjoyed assisting people as they came in for books and made them feel this was their library.
Miss Deborah Barth 1983-1993
Miss Barth started computerizing the library inventory of books in cooperation with the Finger Lakes Library System. The children’s programs and the children’s book collection increased. The children’s reading room was repainted with new drapes and new bookshelves. A small back room was turned into an office/storage room. Debby always had an intuitive way of knowing just what book each patron would be waiting to read and often had the book out waiting for you. She developed a strong and trusting rapport with the Jr. High and Sr. High youth of the community. She enjoyed each child who came in the library and made them feel that they were an important part of the library.
Mr. Gary Loudan 1993-1997
Mr. Loudan realized the importance of the technical world and how it was going to affect a library. He was personally interested in computers; new computers were purchased during his tenure and the library went on the Internet. This allowed the patrons to search the Internet, and McGraw found itself on the cutting edge, being way ahead of many other libraries in offering this service. Gary was instrumental in training library users in this new technology. High school students and adults became frequent users. Mr. Loudan also greatly increased the variety of magazines available for circulation, realizing the wide interests of our patrons.
Mrs. Julie Widger July 15, 1997—present
Mrs. Widger has been very busy as Executive Director of the library. Julie implemented many special programs for children, young adults, and adults, including a very successful Friday morning preschool story and craft time. She has encouraged children to read through the summer with the Summer Reading Program which include special programs, prizes for participants, and fun activities for all. She has worked closely with the Recreation Department, and has continued to improve the working relationship with the elementary, and high school children, staff, and faculty. Julie has taken advantage of many grants available to small libraries for programs, equipment, and a feasibility study relative to renovating the interior of the building. During this time period Julie has supervised the weeding and bar coding of the library holdings, and advocated for and participated in the automation of the library. She has worked closely with the Finger Lakes Library System, taking advantage of its resources for her patrons. Julie feels that building positive relationships with the Library Board, volunteers, business and school leaders, and library patrons, will keep the Library a positive asset to the entire community.
In looking forward to the future of the Lamont Memorial Free Library the Library Board and Julie, our Executive Director, remain open to new ideas and opportunities that will increase the library’s service to patrons and community.