The Belden H. Noble Memorial Library came into existence as the Essex Free Library in 1899 when it was granted a “provisional” charter by the University of the State of New York. It opened to the public December 1 of that year and received an “absolute” charter in 1906.
The library is located in an old stone structure built in 1801 to house the H. & B. Noble General Store. During the mid-1800s it included a corner set aside for books available to the public on loan. Later, the building was made available to the Essex Free Library Association by the Noble family, which retained ownership and reserved the right to select members of the library’s board of trustees. Figuring prominently in the library’s beginnings were Mrs. Adeline Noble, Mrs. Maude Noble Harlan, Mr. and Mrs. Samuel Keyser, Dr. and Mrs. D. Crawford Clark. They joined in the donation of some 400 books to get things started.
The first known “Catalogue of Authors” for the library was written anonymously in a fine Spencerian hand using both black and red inks. The catalogue lists 412 authors accounting for 1,054 volumes. The list covers a broad spectrum, ranging from William Shakespeare to George A. Henty, writer of boys’ adventure novels. Heavily represented are Charles Dickens, Arthur Conan Doyle, Alexander Dumas, Robert Louis Stevenson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Rudyard Kipling, Washington Irving, and George Eliot. A writer named Martha Henley, however, accounted for the most books under one name – Her young heroine, Elsie Dinsmore, was something of a household word at the time.
Encouraging Young Readers
From the beginning, major efforts were made to attract young readers. As early as 1908, children’s borrowings amounted to about half those of adults. By 1947, the ratio had increased significantly – children were borrowing almost as many books as the grownups. This may be due, at least in part, to a program initiated at the Essex School by English teacher Amy Mason. Librarian Tracy Scudder said in her annual report: “She (Mrs. Mason) advised what particular non-fiction books would be acceptable as outside reading for her classes. I displayed them on table and found them well used by the juvenile group.”
The following year, Librarian Scudder reported the library had become a popular meeting place for both older and adolescent groups. She added that “We also have tried buying picture books for the 4-6 year-olds so that their literary habits will be formed early.” By 1950 the importance attached to children reached the point where a rear section of the library was closed off with a glass partition and French doors to provide a separate room for them.
Library Uses: From War Work to Educational and Cultural Support
Early on the library served borrowers from such nearby communities as Willsboro, Reber and Whallonsburg. It also became a favor meeting place for various organizations and activities. In World War II it was used for Red Cross and other “war” work. It filled a similar role in World War II.
As part of the library’s on-going efforts, to provide educational and cultural support to the area, motion picture films of interest to persons of all ages were shown regularly on the premises and at gatherings elsewhere, often in cooperation with such organizations as the Masons, Kiwanis, Extension Service and volunteer fire companies. At one time it became involved with a program to loan copies of fine paintings to patrons so that such art work might be studied and admired in the comfort of their homes.
The library’s trustees long have been active in encouraging the preservation of the historic aspects of the Essex hamlet and surrounding areas. In 1969, members of the board of trustees compiled and published Essex: Lake Champlain’s Historic Harbor.
Patrick Boyle served as the first president and secretary-treasurer of the library association’s Board of Trustees. Other members included Alpheus Morse, John B. Burnham, James S. Harlan and Edward W. Haskins.
Trustees at first were appointed by Mrs. Adeline M. Noble and then by surviving family members until the early 1940’s, when the trustees became “self-perpetuating.”
When family member Mrs. Henry H. Baird died in 1954 her will stipulated that the building could continue to be used as a library by the association. She left money in trust for upkeep, with the proviso that in the case of the sale of Greystone, the family home, and related properties, the trust would be dissolved.
Mrs. Baird’s heirs offered the building to the library association in 1955. The trustees, however, felt that “due to finances” they could not accept under the terms given. In 1974 Fermine Baird Baker deeded the library building and the parcel of land on which it stands to the Town of Essex in consideration of one dollar, with the stipulation that the structure “shall forever be used as a library.” The deed further stipulated that in the event the building should cease to be used for that purpose it would revert to “Fermine Baird Baker or to her heirs or assigns.”
Support the Belden Noble Memorial Library
Financing has long been a major concern of the library’s trustees. Funding sources have included socials, food and used book sales, support from the town government and a share in the profits of The Hobby Horse, an Essex hamlet craft shop set up and managed by Charlotte Lowry Sherman, long a driving force in the library’s affairs. Other support has come in the form of donations by friends of the library and from “memorials.”
The Belden Noble Memorial Library is an unendowed public library and member of the Clinton-Essex-Franklin Library System.
Contact the library by mail at PO Box 339, Essex, NY 12936; by phone at (518)963-8079; by email at firstname.lastname@example.org; or visit the library at 2759 Essex Rd. in Essex, NY.[This information originally appeared in a pamphlet entitled “The Belden Noble Memorial Library” and is republished here with permission.]