An Eventful Century with the Elting Memorial Library

The New Paltz Elting Memorial Library has endured fire, flames and a series of venue changes before finding its home at 93 Main St.

It’s hard to imagine this community staple sitting anywhere else. Few who walk through its doors realize the time and effort local predecessors took to ensure this loved learning space. As the community celebrates the library’s 100th year living on Main Street, the library looks to the future with educational events on the horizon. 

Elting Library’s website includes a detailed history of its chaotic origins. In 1817, the first documented library in New Paltz resided at the Old Fort on Huguenot Street. At the time, there were 62 subscribers who paid $3.50 on top of 25 cents annually to access the books. 

The library then moved to Huguenot Street’s New Paltz Academy in 1834, where it burned down a year later. Despite the tragedy, residents sought to keep the reading spirit alive with women’s organizations establishing various reading rooms across the community for the next 25 years. 

The Normal School — now SUNY New Paltz — became the library’s next home until another fire thwarted the location in 1906. 

During this time, men were the only residents allowed time in private reading rooms, sparking the need for an inclusive space. 

When the school reopened in January of 1909, seven women from the New Paltz Study Club established a reading room in a recently vacated portion of the school at 60 to 62 Main St. Problems didn’t end there. In order to be properly vetted by the New York State Department of Education, the library needed more space and relocated to 68 Main St., the current home of Gourmet Pizza. 

By 1919, the library had gathered 3,000 books and circulated over 9,000. More space was of vital necessity. When Theora Hasbrouck died in 1919, the Village looked to purchase her home on 93 Main St. Soon after, Phillip Lefevre Elting donated $4,000 to buy the property under the condition that it was named the “Elting Memorial Library.”

To celebrate a milestone of this magnitude, the Elting staff has decided to celebrate its rich history all year long with a mix of educational events and other fun activities to engage with the community to enjoy.

One such event is the annual “Teen Photo Contest,” which has been tweaked to fit the occasion. This year’s theme is “100 Years Then and Now,” where students, between grade eight and 12, will compare an area in New Paltz from 100 years ago to its present state. Applicants are welcome to search through the library’s rich archive of the Haviland-Heidgerd Historical Collection (HHHC) to find inspiration for their work. The deadline for this event is March 25. 

To celebrate Black History Month, the library held the “Harlem and the Lindy Hop Dance Experience” the history of Harlem and birth of iconic 1920s dance styles like the Lindy Hop and Charleston. Esteemed swing-dancer and library board member Ron Fields offered demonstrations on top of the history lesson on Feb. 18. 

The celebration that Carole Johnson, a HHHC conservator, is most excited for will have to wait for March 23, when the actual age of the library is revealed. 

“I’ve worked here for 30 years and everything we’ve been told about the history of the building has been wrong because of unreliable historians,” Johnson said. 

Johnson explained that the library hired Paul Edland to test the age of the oldest beams holding Elting up. One beam, she affectionately calls the “mother beam” is the stump of an old tree which was part of the original structure. Although the few people who have seen it just try to avoid hitting their head on it, the beam serves as the key clue to the actual age of the building. 

In October, when the library officially opened so long ago, the true age will be revealed along with a fun ‘20s themed costume party. 

Max Freebern
About Max Freebern 91 Articles
Max Freebern is a fourth-year journalism major who’s going into his fifth semester working for Oracle. He worked his way from a contributor, to copy editor and has served as the News editor for the past few semester. While he normally focuses on local government his true passion is writing immersive work and human profiles.