HISTORY OF THE QUOGUE LIBRARY
As compiled and told by resident, Meredith Murray, who availed herself of many resources from the Quogue Historical Society and the archives of the Southampton Press.
Quogue’s first public library building opened its doors on July 23, 1897, with a celebratory 5:00pm tea party attended by about 150 people. All the local residents had been invited, and the guests, welcomed at the doorway by the newly elected trustees Mr. Abram Post, Miss Sally H. Foster, Mrs. Josiah Post, Miss Mary Post, Mrs. George H. Jessup and Miss Mary Hubbard Howell, explored the one-room building with great excitement.
Built on a half-acre of land donated by Abram Post and designed with plans donated by the New York architect William E. Stone, the one-room library was a one-story wood-shingled building, very small but charming: 820 sq. ft. in all, uninsulated and heated only by one fireplace, without running water or electricity. The L-shaped room could be divided into two by means of an ingenious roll of tall wooden slats that could be pulled out from the wall to form a divider between the circulation area, where the volunteer librarian of the day sat at a desk in front of the fireplace, and the stacks, where the books were shelved.
On opening day the little library proudly boasted a display of some 500 volumes, which had been collected with the help of a $1,500 gift from the Post family – Abram, his two sisters Sarah Post Corwith and Louise Post McBee, and his younger brother William — in memory of their father William Post. As reported in the Sag Harbor Express of July 29, 1897, “The books thus far gathered are choice and readable, and every intelligent person looking over the collection will be likely to see more than one volume that he would be glad to borrow and read.” A sampling of the opening day collection included Rudyard Kipling’s Jungle Book, Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn, Jules Verne’s Tour of the World in 80 Days, Darwin’s Origin of Species, a history of Early Long Island, the Bible, and Funk’s Standard Dictionary.
The room, decorated with great masses of black-eyed susans that filled the fireplace, was made even more festive by tea tables laden with refreshments. By the end of the opening day 74 people had paid $1 for an annual membership, and one other, Abram Post, had paid $25 for a lifetime membership. The Express further reported that, “A goodly number of maids and matrons, with a fair sprinkling of the sterner sex…were present.”
By the late 1880s Quogue was no longer a sleepy village of fishermen, sheep herders, duck-hunters and wood-cutters. The Long Island Railroad had changed all that in 1844 with the arrival of the Sag Harbor line to Riverhead, which made Quogue readily accessible for vacationers, and by 1870, when the LIRR brought a train right through Quogue, the village’s main street already had a number of large boarding houses and hotels on both sides of the road — the Hallock House, Cooper House, and Howell House, to name a few — and the number would grow to thirteen. In 1886, when a number of ladies started to agitate for a library, the boarding houses and hotels could already accommodate 410-440 guests at a time.
While these lodging places had no electricity or indoor plumbing until the 1900s, the hospitality was almost luxurious by the day’s standards. Indeed, Henry Gardiner became the talk of the town when, as the owner of the Post House in the late 1880s, he added two unheard of extravagances to each bedroom: a clothes closet to replace the usual shelf with hooks underneath and a kerosene oil lamp instead of the usual candlestick. The vacationers were kept busy all summer long with beach picnics, moonlight sails, hayrides, bridge parties, golf, baseball games, canoe-jousting at Fairy Dell, and ocean swimming. Instead of BBQ cookouts there were lawn parties with lemonade, soda pop, ice cream and cake, and beach parties with cold jellied chicken, thin-sliced ham, potato salad, and baked beans. But for many of the boarders, there was still something missing….books!
The library was the realization of two years of dreams, plans and efforts by a number of ladies in the village who had the idea to encourage their friends and neighbors to donate books so that they all might have access to a lending library. In 1896 Mrs. Josiah Post, Miss Mary Howell, Mrs. George H. Jessup, Miss Grace Clarke, Miss Julia P. Foster, and fifteen or so other ladies got together and organized a Library Association, with each member contributing $1 and a book. Soon, with the help of the bridge parties and lectures organized by Miss Grace Clarke as fund raisers, they had collected more than 200 books and a $100 reserve with which to buy more. The reading material was organized on a shelf in Mrs. Jessup’s store (now Beth’s Café) so that members could sign out their chosen reading material.
When the book collection used up all the available shelf space in Jessup’s Store, the Post family came to the rescue by donating land for a building and money to fill out the collection. No history of the Library would be complete without acknowledging the debt owed to the Post family. Indeed, when Lucy M. Post (Mrs. Josiah Howell Post) passed away in 1911, the trustees of the library credited her with being its driving force: “To start the library without a building, without money, and without even a book, seemed a difficult task,” they noted. But while “others had wished for the Library. . . it was to her efficient help and encouragement that it owed its beginning.”
The Quogue Library received its charter from the State of New York on June 28, 1897. The one-room building remained virtually unchanged for the next 65 years, run mainly by a host of volunteers who also mowed the grass to keep the costs down, manned the circulation desk and organized the book collection. While the building might not have changed much physically during this time, the village was undergoing a dramatic transformation. Gas street lights replaced kerosene in 1907, side streets were built off the primary roads, and the sandy roads began to be tarred in 1911. Indoor plumbing became fashionable by 1915, telephones by 1923, and electricity was installed in the village and in the library in 1927. The following year the village officially became the Incorporated Village of Quogue.
The library acquired an historically significant addition in 1948 when the Post family relocated the Quogue Village’s very first schoolhouse onto the backside of the library property. Said to be the oldest surviving schoolhouse in Suffolk County, the one-room building had been erected in 1822 on the edge of Quogue Street, at the foot of what was then called Post’s Road (now Old Depot Road), only a few years after New York State first formed public school districts. The structure was the village’s only schoolhouse for over 70 years, until a larger two-room school was built on Jessup’s Avenue, where the firehouse is now. Mr. Post rescued the abandoned schoolhouse in the early 1900s and moved it onto his estate next door to the library where he used it as a workshop. The schoolhouse remains on the library property today, operated as a museum by the Quogue Historical Society, which offers special exhibits and tours to showcase what student life was like in the village 200 years ago.
In 1964 a children’s wing was added to the rear of the library. In 1969 the library also joined the Suffolk County Library System, gaining partial tax support as well as access to the lending resources of a far greater system than its own.
By the mid 1900s the Boarding House Era had come to an end, as the majority of the old wooden boarding houses—those that had avoided the perennial danger of destruction by fire—closed their doors. Many of the former hotel guests now built their own homes in the village or rented seasonal housing, and as a result Quogue’s year-round population increased, and the village’s needs kept growing.
Esther Baird donated an acre of her neighboring estate (formerly owned by the Posts) to the library property in 1978, allowing for the construction of the Mary Sage Williams Memorial Wing, dedicated to the woman who had been the library president for 11 years. The new space included a reading room in the front of the building, an office for the Quogue Historical Society, and shelving for many more books. The largest expansion to date followed in 2001 with a major renovation to the library using architect Jay Sears’s design. Now brightly lit with electric lights and heated by an efficient oil furnace, the original 1897 library became an adjunct to a much larger year-round facility that catered to an entire community for six to eight hours a day, six days a week, 12 months a year. As a result of the expansion, the library was transformed from just a book hub lending library into a community center that offered many diverse services and programs for both children and adults.
Another decade passed before trustees and patrons realized the library could not keep up with the technological explosion that was changing both the information and academic worlds. Circulation of materials had increased 321% and program attendance 400% since the 2001 renovation. The library’s physical plant now lacked the square footage to accommodate the increased program attendance, as well as the technology and equipment necessary to participate in the Information Age.
In 2020, after years of planning, a new 9,199 sq. ft. library opened. Completely rebuilt, the new library offers space and equipment for technology that hasn’t even been invented yet. But it retains the charm and atmosphere of the original 1897 library – in fact, it retains the original library itself! Snuggled into an entry corner of the new building is the old building, in its entirety, serving as a bridge across the 130+ years between the first shelf of donated books in the Jessups’ store and the 21st-century Innovation Lab, designed and built with the latest technological expertise.
More than 8,300 sq. ft. larger than the 1897 original, the new library is a two-story, 17-room building on 1.5 acres created with environmental protection in mind. Designed by APD Architects, led by partner Stuart Disston, and built by Sea Level Construction, it includes hi-efficiency heat and air conditioning units utilizing natural gas, insulation with both closed cell and open cell foam, LED lights, an anti-pollution aerobic mound septic system, windows and infiltration tubings that maximize the use of natural light, a three-level basement-to-2nd-floor elevator, as well as acoustically-sealed rooms to allow for quiet spaces through-out the multi-use building.
Serving more than 2,700 cardholders today, the new library features dedicated library staff offices on the upper level and security cameras that monitor both the interior and the exterior property. The entire building is equipped with ADA-compliant features—including ramps, desk heights, and flooring transitions—for patrons with special needs. Quiet reading spaces and small conference rooms are interspersed among the stacks of books, while separate age-appropriate rooms have been devised for children’s activity, for young adults, for private tutoring, and for large lecture groups of up to 75 people. Outdoor space, too, has been made to include a children’s garden (think organic vegetables) and a blue-stone terrace that can be covered with a screened tent for outdoor summer lectures.
Perhaps the showpiece of the new building is the Innovation Lab, with technological features to challenge, inspire and educate all age levels. Designed as a collaborative STEM/STEAM Space, the Lab has white boards and a promethean screen, with both group and individual work benches, computer stations, and a full array of equipment and materials to experiment and learn from, including a 3-D printer with which patrons can learn to code and then “print” their objects.
Incorporated into all the latest technology, though, are basic niceties: water fountains, a coffee bar, a copy machine, and, in the original 1897 section near the fireplace, a wide assortment of newspapers and magazines situated next to the comfortable old leather chairs from the 2001 expansion, which the Old Guard card-holders who tend to gather there for their daily reading requested be saved.
The Quogue Library still looks like a place that the boarding house guests would want to visit to borrow a book to read after dinner in their hotels. The entrance is familiar. The anchor from the wreck of the 3-masted schooner Nahum Chapin that went down with all hands in a January storm still sits on the front lawn, where it was placed after washing ashore in 1897. And the grinding stone from a long-ago local grain mill still serves as a stepping-stone into the library itself. Like the village, the library has changed over the past centuries, but we trust it will continue to carry its visitors on to new and exciting worlds.