History of Gloversville, NY (Part 4)
From: History of Fulton County
Revised and Edited by: Washington Frothingham
Published by: D. Mason & Co. Syracuse, NY 1892

By Rev. Isaac O. Rankin, of Peekskill, former pastor of the Kingsboro Presbyterian Church.

Libraries. - Gloversville Water Works. - Opera House.

Note: This is still being worked on and will be about 8-12 large pages when completed. The first two pages are mostely prior to the incorporation of villages in 1847. Part 3 and following pages will be for the most part after that date.

Libraries. - The history of the Gloversville library, including the details of united efforts to provide suitable reading matter for the public, is of more interest than many of our citizens really suppose, and hence it deserves a prominent place in our history. From books, time worn and antiquated, and also from old "regulations" now in possession of the Gloversville Free Library, it is evident that as early as 1803 and possibly even previously, one well organized library association was in existence. A bookplate pasted beneath another of later date shows that a small association named "Juvenilian Library" supported a circulating library which was afterwards united with a larger institution under the corporate name of the Farmers' Library." Both of these libraries seem to have been managed in a systematic and careful manner, for in the regulations printed on a bookplate (in Robertson's History of America) it is required that "This book must be returned on the Friday next succeeding the Second Tuesday in March, June, September and December, three hours before sunset, under penalty of twenty five cents." There are also fines fixed for various damages such as tearing of covers or defacing. The librarian (then no less personage than Pastor Yale himself) seems to have examined every book page by page, and he entered on the fly leaf every injury the volume had suffered. Few libraries of the present day indeed have such tender care. It is also known that in 1825 Philander Heacock, father of Willard J. Heacock, bought with the proceeds of a lottery ticket a small library which he gave to the Kingsboro Sunday school. Later on the Kingsboro Academy had at one time an excellent district library which was by far the best in this region.

In 1853 the Young Ladies' Library Association was established and though the names of the original members are not all known, it is certain that Misses S. M. Wells, Jennie Case, Electa Hildredth (Mrs. Geo. Fay), Abby Gillette (Mrs. Charles Fox), Helen Churchill (Mrs Root, of Hartford, Conn.), Mary E. Leonard (the late Mrs. Post, of Chicago), Elvira Champlin (Mrs. A. P. Smith, of Sterling, Ill.), Eliza Stevens (Mrs Geo. M. Thompson, of Albany), Hattie Judson (Mrs. Seth C. Burton), Lucy J. Judson (Mrs. Nahum Grimes, Canandaigua), Lizzie Windoes (Mrs. E. R. Bowen, Chicago), were the constituent members. Miss Wells held the office of president about four years, and Miss Stevens acted as secretary for ten years.

By-laws were adopted permitting gentlemen to become honorary members by the payment of twenty five cents annually, and then they were entitled to attend the fortnightly gatherings to assist the young ladies, and sometimes to escort them home.

The first books were purchased in 1855. As the records have been destroyed there is a little difference of opinion as to the amount of money invested, but we know that neatly one hundred volumes were purchased. Miss Case was the first librarian, and generously allowed the books to be kept at her home

In 1873 a new organization called "The Young Peoples' Library Association" sprang up and was in need of books Hence on April 9, 1874, at a meeting called by the president (Miss Lucy Judson), and composed of directors Deacon Henry Thomas, U. M. Place and John McLaren, Misses Case and Judson and Mrs. Lizzie Windoes Tyler, these questions were considered, "What shall we do with our books ?" "Where would they accomplish the most good?"

After deliberation it was decided to loan the books to the Young Peoples' Library. A memorandum shows that 667 volumes were thus transferred from the Young Ladies' Library Association to the new institution. The Gloversville Young Peoples' Association took a stronger hold and extended a greater influence upon the community. Our present librarian has been unable to find records of its origin, but it is certain that Drs. Purbeck and Beach, C. T. Brockway, now of Syracuse, D. F. Cowles and James W. Green were very efficient in organizing and sustaining it. Each of the two last named persons saved the institution from bankruptcy for a time, the one by a large subscription, the other by organizing a lecture course. Mainly through the enterprise of Mr. Cowles there was secured the best course of popular lectures which the place has ever enjoyed. But there was at that time no thoroughly trained librarian in Fulton county, the old books were not taken proper care of and few new ones were purchased. It is not surprising to find how soon a library that secures only a few new books and fails to keep up with the issues of the press, will fall behind the wants of the time. In spite of noble efforts to sustain it, this library died at last because it lacked the main elements of a library's life, viz.: money and a competent librarian. The two institutions above named shared the usual error of subscription libraries. they never reached the class of persons who needed the books most. A subscription library only encourages a class of persons who have been trained already to read. A free library at once makes a new class of readers from the previously non reading classes, and is the only real solution of the library problem. The two libraries did, however, a most useful work, being the origin of that public interest in libraries which has sustained the present institution.

The Levi Parsons Library, the third institution of the kind in Gloversville, was founded by Judge Levi Parsons, a native of Kingsboro, who had spent the greater part of his working years in successful business enterprises in California. He was one of the founders of the Whig party in that state in 1849, and was the first judge appointed in San Francisco. While on a visit to Kingsboro in October, 879, Judge Parsons remarked to Dr. Eugene Beach that he would give $5,000 for a public library in Gloversville, provided that the citizens would subscribe an equal amount. This remark lay like a seed unplanted for four months, until on February 27, 1880, Rev. William E. Park casually remarked at his breakfast table that he heard of such a proposal having been made. His mother in law, the venerable Mrs. J. W. Edwards, immediately remarked: "After breakfast, go right over and and see Dr. B.; find out whether Judge Parsons did make that proposal, if he did, write him at once asking if the offer remains good, and have your letter off in tonight's mail."

The wise suggestion was heeded and the letter to Judge Parsons was written the same day. In about a month a letter was received from Judge Parsons (then in London) in which he stated that we might depend upon receiving the $5,000. Rev. Mr. Park laid the offer before the ministers of the place, who were then accustomed to meet every week, thus forming an association which was a great moral force in the community. The ministers promptly published a card in the papers calling attention to Judge Parsons' proposal, and leading citizens from all our churches began to take an interest in the matter. On the 14th of April Rev. William E. Park visited Judge Parsons in New York and was very favorably received by him; arrangements were completed and the draft for the $5,000 reached Gloversville in a few days. There can be no doubt that the enthusiasm and zealous energy of Mr. Park, next to the generosity of Mr. Parsons, did much to found the library. Ever since Mr. Park has been an active member of the board of directors and chairman of the library committee.

On Saturday, April 17, the memorable meeting was held in the rooms of the Fulton County Bank. D. B. Judson was appointed chairman and Clayton M. Parke secretary. The report of the visit to Judge Parsons was presented, and the gentlemen present voted to raise the required $5,000. During the meeting great enthusiasm was aroused by a telegram that arrived from New York, stating that a much larger sum would be given. The sum of $3,810 was pledged in a few moments, and four energetic committees secured within a fortnight pledges from which the sum of $8,569, was eventually realized. The chairmen of these committees were H. C. Day, Aaron Simmons, Seymour Sexton, E. A. Spencer. and D. B. Judson.

This effort was soon afterwards incorporated under the "Act of May 15, 1875, of the State of New York for the Incorporation of Library Societies." A library association was organized in which each donor secured a year's membership for every $2 of his subscription, and there was formed at the same time the board of directors, which, remaining in principle unchanged to the present day, has always been the working force of the library. The official members of this body consisted of the president of the village and the principal of the public school, to whom were added the pastors of the six churches of Gloversville and Kingsboro. Later on twelve additional directors were elected. The late Manson Judson, who, next to Judge Parsons, had been the largest subscriber to the project, was made the first president and held the office during the remainder of his life. Daniel B. Judson was elected vice president, and Clayton M. Parke, secretary. A constitution and bylaws were framed and adopted. A very important step was taken in the selection of Prof. A. L. Peck, then a teacher in the Academic department of the public school, for the important position of librarian. On July 26 following, D. B. Judson, Rev. H. C. Farrar, Rev. H. A. Cordo, Rev. W. E. Park and the librarian went to New York and did a hard week's work in the book stores, selecting and purchasing 3,262 volumes with which the institution afterwards began its work. In addition to the above the library received 714 volumes from the defunct Gloversville Young People's Association.

The great task of preparing these books for distribution was performed by Professor Peck and his assistants, and occupied nearly all their time for four and a half months. Each book had to be collated, stamped, labeled, covered, and catalogued.

The work was begun on August 18, 880, and on January 3, 1881, the printed catalogue was issued and the library was opened to the public during the afternoon and evening of each day, in the room now occupied by the Intelliaencer office, over the Manufacturers' and Merchants' Bank. The reading room had been opened, however, during the previous November. To persons who had not secured memberships, $1 a year was charged for the use of the books, a measure which was unavoidable at the time, but which had the effect of closing the library to persons not accustomed to read, who did not appreciate books enough to pay for their use. A library fee always reserves the institution for the educated class, and fences off the non reading classes, for whom it should principally exist.

Before the library was opened, however, a great accession to its influence was made. On December 21, 1880, an indenture was executed by Judge Levi Parsons, vesting in the trustees of Union College the sum of $30,000, the interest of which is to be mainly applied to the education of young men in Gloversville, Kingsboro, Johnstown and Fulton county. The right of nomination to the scholarship rests solely with the directors of the library. Thirteen scholarships are provided by means of which ninety seven of our young men have already received a liberal education, few of whom would have entertained such an expectation without this encouragement. The fund has done its first work, while yet its future benefits must be of untold value. The library not only furnishes the people with books but holds in its hands the key to collegiate education.

For two years the library progressed without a book being lost or unnecessarily damaged, and the institution grew in use and favor within a certain limited circle, but from his positions the librarian saw the necessity of pressing the circulation and reaching a new class. The free library which he advocated and which was really needed, could not then be thought of Hence as the best means of increasing the usefulness of the institution he recommended the reduction of subscription rates to library clubs and the formation of such clubs. On December 22, 1882, the board of directors authorized the clubs, giving a reduced rate to a certain number of subscribers. Mainly through the indefatigable efforts of the librarian, clubs were formed in all our churches and in the public schools, as well as in the largest of our shops. The rate was diminished until it rested at fifty cents a year, a price too low to bring the institution much income and yet still high enough to exclude those who most needed the books. The income from the latter soon increased from $187 to $388. This small encouragement, however, was the prelude to a series of financial disasters, occurring at intervals through the next three years. In the summer of 1885 the funds were utterly exhausted, and temporary relief was obtained by a subscription of $1,200, secured with considerable difficulty by the librarian. One sixth of this amount was contributed by Judge Parsons, who in November of the following year gave to the library his last donation of $600. In this time of distress and poverty, however, several great improvements were made. The old quarters were found to be more and more uncomfortable, and on February 11, 1885, the late Nathan Littauer offered to the library rooms in his new building, rent free for one year. The courteous proposal was accepted, and on March 13 following, the library was opened in the commodious apartments which have been used ever since. The friends of the library are grateful to Mr. Littauer for the year's rent given. In spite of the scanty means of the institution, a new and much needed reading room was secured in 1886. This was accomplished largely through the efforts of the librarian, by whose earnest solicitations the citizens subscribed nearly $300. An event now occurred which brought the library no immediate gain and yet led to the most important future results. Largely through the management of parties in this place, in May, 1887, a legislative bill was enacted whose main provision was, that any library in the state owning five thousand volumes, paying a rental of $300, or owning $4,000 worth of real estate, might apply to the trustees of its town for aid to the amount of $1,000, for every 15,000 volumes circulated. This bill was framed by the librarian after consultation with library officials in other places and with many prominent citizens of Gloversville.

On October 23, 1887, Judge Parsons suddenly died. He was the founder of the institution and gave to it in all the sum of $6,800, besides books and engravings to the value of $1,000 more. To him alone the library owes its share in the Union College scholarship fund and the entire right of nominating the beneficiaries The gift really is a wise, far sighted and permanent contribution for the education of young men in Fulton county. Judge Parson's early desire for a collegiate education inclined him to make this provision for the young men of his native district. He had planned at one time to do far more than this, but his services to the library, though falling far short of his original purpose, have been very great.

The year 1888, the brightest by far in the history of the institution, opened in gloom and darkness. Debt which had been accumulating for a long time, reached the sum of $1,800. All temporary expedients to obtain money seemed to be exhausted. An offer to purchase the books and furniture of the library was made and the plan of selling it out was seriously considered. The directors were not then aware of the interest felt by the outside public, and to many of them the sale of the property seemed to be a sad but unavoidable measure.

At this point the utter destitution of the library obliged its managers to do what they should have done long before, viz.: go to the public. An energetic soliciting committee was appointed and their prompt success astonished all parties. The seed of long continued good library management; the feeling that so much had been done for the people with such scanty means; the fact, rare in a library's history, that not a book from a large stock had been lost or unnecessarily injured for eight years; the ceaseless efforts of the librarian to extend the influence of the institution by the formation of reading clubs and study classes - all these things told in the trial hour. The plan of selling the property grew more and more objectionable, and to save the institution many contributed from the smallest incomes. It was found that the library had a root in every family, we might say a rootlet in the heart of every school child. After three weeks' hard work the committee reported contributions to the amount of nearly $4,000.

The names of these three men, immortal in the library's history, are Seymour Sexton, A. D. L. Baker and Frederick Steele. The direct consequence of their efforts was that the use of the library books was made free on February 4, r888. This was a result towards which events had been tending for several years; in fact the course had been advocated by the librarian for years, and again recommended by him in his annual report read on the previous July. The effect of this step was felt instantly. The circulation of the books at once doubled. The influence of the library immediately penetrated to quarters where it had never before been felt. An entirely new class of readers was formed.

Steps were taken immediately to change the name to that of Gloversville Free Library, but the legal forms were not completed until October 11, 1888. Another equally important step was taken at the annual meeting in July last, when the library committee recommended that the salary of the librarian be increased so as to secure his whole time for the institution, enabling him to keep the library open the whole day. The debate on the question was shortened by a keen remark from Rev. A. W. Bourne, who said: "Gentlemen, it is now to be decided whether we will maintain this as a library or run it like a peanut stand." The larger view prevailed and the "peanut" policy disappeared forever. On February 11, 1889, a long growing public sentiment came to the surface, and the trustees of the village generously voted to appropriate for the library in accordance with the provisions of the legislative act before mentioned the sum of $1,000 for every 15,000 volumes circulated.

At the present day the Gloversville Free Library contains more than 10,000 volumes with an annual circulation of over 45,000, and every book is of a pure and useful character.

The books of the library are classified and catalogued; every book returned is carefully examined before it is permitted to leave the library again; all minor repairs are made immediately and all willful mutilation is checked by the collection of fines. The result of this systematic and faithful management is that with an issue of 317,562 volumes, during the past twelve years not one has been lost.

The free reading room connected with the library enjoys a great patronage and contains the leading dailies and weeklies, as well as all prominent monthlies and quarterlies. During the past year it was utilized by nearly 20,000 readers. There is also a free reference library of several hundred volumes in constant use, and the institution is growing in appreciation and popularity.

Private generosity has done a great deal for this educational institution; during the past twelve years the citizens have contributed nearly $20,000; in addition to this the ladies of the city united their efforts and formed a Ladies' Auxiliary Association, whose efforts, increased by the proceeds of a very successful fair (held at the then new railroad depot) created a permanent fund for the purchase of books. A similar fund has been given by Mrs. Sarah B. Place in memory of her husband (the late Mr. U. M. Place) who was the main support of the Young Ladies' Library of 1853, and in this manner his beneficent plans have been carried into execution.

The library has also been remembered by substantial bequests in the wills of two public spirited citizens lately deceased, Mr. Isaac V. Place and Mr. Alexander J. Kasson.

The library management is vested in a board of directors numbering twenty four, twelve of which are elected by the association. An annual payment of $3 constitutes a membership in the association; the payment of $5o secures a life membership. While the use of the library is entirely free to all inhabitants of the city, only members of the association have the right to vote and are eligible to office. There are at present over one hundred life members.

The board of directors is constituted as follows: Directors for life, Talmage L. Parsons, Seymour Sexton, A. D. L. Baker; directors ex-officio, the mayor and superintendent of public instruction, the rector of the St. John's Church in Johnstown and the pastors of the six Protestant churches; directors by election, D. B. Judson, J. S. Burr, C. M. Parke, W. J. Heacock, Daniel Hayes, L. Caten, S. H. Shotwell, John McNab, W. F. Steele, George M. Place, John L. Getman, John C. Allen. The officers of the association now are: President, Dr. Eugene Beach, 1st vice president, R. B. Parsons; 2d vice president, C. W. Judson; secretary, F. A. Spencer. Officers of the library are: President, Daniel Hays; vice president, Seymour Sexton; secretary, C. M. Parke; treasurer, W. D. West; librarian, A. L. Peck; assistants, Miss Jennie A. Bailey and Miss Lizzie M. Fosmire.

The library maintains also successfully free evening classes, various reading circles and a centre for University extension. The latter contained last year 79 members.

Gloversville Water Works. - The introduction of a systematic and practicable supply of pure and wholesome water into a populous community is an important event. The first legal measures for such a purpose in Gloversville were taken in May, 1875. During the year 1871, a special act was passed by the legislature, forming a number of citizens into a corporation, with full power to introduce water, and a similar act was passed in 1873. Some preliminary examinations were made by the later organization, but no definite plans were adopted. The necessity of a supply of water for domestic use and also for extinguishing fires was acknowledged by the great majority of citizens, and on May 25, 1875, in pursuance of the provisions of the law, the board of trustees was duly organized as a board of water commissioners with the following officers: John Ferguson, president; Eliphalet Teeder, secretary; C. M. Ballentine, treasurer. A special election was held July 31, 1875, which resulted in 273 votes "for the water taxes," and 210 votes "against them." From the date of this election until May 7, 1877, the time was chiefly occupied in making surveys, examining various streams, conferring with persons of experience, and other necessary preliminary work. At a meeting of the board on the last mentioned date, it was unanimously voted to select the "Poor House stream" as a source for the supply. On May 18, 1877, the village board fully complied with the law and filed their bond as a board of water commissioners, and upon the next day organized with the following officers: President, Harvey Z. Kasson; secretary, A. D. Simmons; treasurer, John Sunderlin; commissioners, Levi T. Marshall, Purdy Van Wart, Daniel Lasher, James H. Johnson, Crosby McDougall, George W. Nickloy. During the midst of this commendable activity the village was visited by a disastrous conflagration. On May 21, 1877, between midnight and 5 A. M., a terrific fire raged through the very heart of the village, leaving desolation and destruction in its path. In the brief space of five hours, twenty two buildings were entirely destroyed. The fire originated, it is said, in No. 133 Main street and burned everything within reach, crossing Church street, consuming two large buildings, one of which (a wooden structure) had formerly been occupied as the First M. E. Church, and the other, which was of brick, had been used by the National Bank. This disaster illustrated more vividly than anything preceding it, the great necessity for a sufficient water supply. In June, 1877, the board advertised for proposals for constructing the works. The plans and estimates were made by Peter Hogan, civil engineer, of Albany, who continued in the employ of the water board until the work was finished. The contract was awarded to Sherman, Flagler & Babcock, June 26, at $50,243.63. July 3, one week later, work was commenced with C. W. Knight, of Rome, as assistant engineer.

The work was completed and the water turned on November 16, 1877, and a public trial and exhibition took place the following week. The first application for water was made by John Ferguson, who was the first president of the water board. The pipes were first tapped, however, for E. Veeder, to supply water for the Veeder block on Main street. During the progress of construction some changes were made in the plans, making the total cost of construction exceed the original estimate. The works as completed in 1887, consisted of three reservoirs and eight miles and 4,904 feet of piping, fifty two hydrants and fifty one gates. Extensions were made during 1878, at an expense of about S10,000, nearly half of which was expended in improving the reservoirs. In 1879 there were no extensions made, excepting a small pipe to afford temporary supply for domestic purposes. It was shown from the report of Dr. Eugene Beach, health officer for 1879, that the death rate for 1875 was 120, while in 1879 it was only fifty three. Undoubtedly much of this decrease in mortality may be attributed to other causes, but there can be no question that pure and wholesome water contributed to this beneficent result. There are at present five reservoirs, as follows: The Poor house, built in 1877, elevation 280 feet, capacity 3,000,000; Middle, built in 1877, elevation 281 feet, capacity 500,000 gallons; Bleecker, built in 1877, elevation 288 feet, capacity 1,500,000 gallons; the Potter, built in 1885, elevation 177 feet, capacity 10,000,000 gallons; Rice Creek, built in 1889, elevation 245 feet, capacity 3,000,000 gallons. The total cost of the water works, including land damages and construction, up to February 1, 1892, was $192,508.94. To meet this outlay there has been issued in bonds the sum of $155,000, as follows: In 1877, $80,000, bearing interest at the rate of six per cent.; in 1885, $20,000, bearing interest at the rate of five per cent.; in 1889, $55,000, bearing interest at the rate of three per cent. There have been paid of the second series in 1886 and 1888, $2,500, leaving unpaid $152,500. The present board of water commissioners is composed of J. H. Richardson, president; James W.T. Filmer, Charles E. Sweet, Zenas B. Whitney, Marcellus G. Burr. The superintendent and clerk is J. B. Tuckerman

Opera House. - Kasson's Opera House, or Memorial Hall, occupies a convenient site on Main street. This opera house was erected in 1885 by the late A. J. Kasson, at a cost of $70,000, and was opened to the public February 1, 1881. The theatre has a seating capacity of 1,200, and is fitted with modern conveniences. The stage is thirty three by forty five feet in dimensions, and has all the necessary appointments for the display of scenic productions.

Gloversville History

Part 1 - Early History.

Part 2 - Early Hisotry Continued.

Part 3 - Incorporation as a City - Schools.

Part 4 - Libraries. - Gloversville Water Works. - Opera House.

Part 5 - Fire Department- Board of Trade - Gas - Electric Lighting

Part 6 - Churches 1

Part 7 - Churches 2

Part 8 - YMCA, Secret Societies, Newspapers

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