Before the Bronxville Public Library was officially chartered in June 1906, Villagers had enjoyed the use of a lending library for thirty-one years. The embryonic library was housed in a small room that had been added in 1875 to the Bronxville Model School in the center of town. A group of residents petitioned the school board to open the reading room one or two nights a week and the men of the village volunteered their service once a month. A box was placed in the railroad station for book donations. Over the years about 2,500 volumes were collected.
In 1906 the contents of the old lending library were moved into two rooms in the newly erected Village Hall building at the corner of Pondfield Road and Kraft Avenue. The imposing classical structure, designed by William W. Bates and W. W. Kent, housed not only the Village offices and library, but also the police station, post office, firehouse, a large auditorium, gymnasium, a bowling alley, and swimming pool.
Support for the new Library grew rapidly. A Women’s Auxiliary (a precursor to today’s Library Friends) was formed for the purpose of awakening interest in the Library and to raise funds for purchasing books. As a result of these efforts, hundreds of books were added to the collection; circulation increased dramatically and, by 1913, Village Hall had to be renovated and the Library space greatly expanded. It was in the same year that local artist George Henry Smillie reflected: “I hope we shall see at no very distant day a beautiful combined library and art gallery located here” – a dream that would be realized some thirty years later.
As the Village grew, so did the needs of the Library and its patrons. A 1926 report indicated that the number of volumes counted 12,795 and annual circulation had risen to 35,572 (from 6,958 in 1906). At about the same time, Village officials and public-spirited residents began to think about a civic center for Bronxville that would eventually include Village Hall, the Reformed Church, The Bronxville School, and a separate Library building. Over the next dozen years land was acquired, building design debated, and financing sought – the Four Corners, as we know it today, just steps away from the business center, was about to be realized.
Architect Harry Leslie Walker designed a beautiful little building that was an adaptation of residential Georgian architecture with pine paneling, oriental rugs, comfortable chairs and attractive draperies that added to the home-like atmosphere. At the opening ceremonies on May 17, 1942, Library Board President Ernest Quantrell proclaimed: “Today is Thanksgiving Day for the Library Board. Since 1907 we have been working and hoping for a home of our own. Our dream has come true.”
He went on to define the mission of the new building: “A library should not only be a storehouse for books and a shelter for readers but also an influence on the community. We hope the library will stimulate an interest not only in books and architecture, but also in art and the other cultural fields.” Paintings that had been donated to the Library by residents were hung in various rooms. An art committee was formed to ensure the high standard of monthly exhibitions that were shown in a room dedicated to that purpose.
For the next fifty-six years, the Library was enjoyed by many patrons from near and far. The Bronxville Public Library has always proudly served not just the residents of Bronxville Village but also the larger community of southern Westchester County. The meeting room was the site of lectures, poetry readings, and chamber music concerts; a dedicated group of volunteers mounted exhibitions ranging from Japanese prints to American quilts to a history of the bicycle. And the book collection continued to grow until, at one point, it became necessary to discard a volume for every new one purchased – a policy no longer in place in the present day.
As the twentieth century was drawing to a close, it became clear that the Library no longer adequately met the needs of its patrons. The modest building that had become Bronxville’s de facto community center needed renovation and expansion. The Children’s Room was over-utilized and under-sized. The 1942 structure was not capable of handling the twenty-first-century needs of the community. Most significantly, the Library did not comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The Board set about identifying the needs of the Library for the coming years. With the cooperation of the Village Trustees and input from local organizations a plan was developed. Funding for the project came primarily from the December 1998 sale of Childe Hassam’s Central Park, a c.1892 painting bequeathed to the Library in 1947 by William F. Burt. Though reluctant to separate such a beautiful painting from the Library’s collection (a reproduction is displayed today above the staircase leading to the Library’s lower level), the Board deemed the work too valuable to properly maintain and display in the Library. The proceeds from the sale of the painting significantly funded the expansion and renovation. Villagers and others were also very generous when asked to contribute to the Furnishings Fund.
Westchester architect (and former Bronxville resident) Peter Gisolfi was hired to present a design scheme that was not only sensitive to Harry Leslie Walker’s original building but also ADA-compliant, technologically advanced, and innovative. Mr. Gisolfi added two brick-faced, slate-roofed wings, each with a light-filled porch or reading room at the ends. The Pondfield Road entrance no longer requires stairs for access to the building. The old basement meeting room was replaced by the Board Room, the Currier & Ives Gallery, and the 124-seat Yeager Community Room.
The second-floor gallery was enlarged to honor William F. Burt and to allow the display of works by Bronxville artists in the Library’s collection. The Children’s Library was doubled in size, and a separate space was designed with teens in mind. The enlarged staff spaces are significantly more functional and attractive than their earlier cramped counterparts. And throughout the building are well-lighted and attractive book stacks for patrons, comfortable chairs for in-house readers, data ports for internet users, paintings for art aficionados, and a wealth of ideas waiting to be tapped.
Bronxville Historical Conservancy
The Eastchester Historical Society
PO Box 37
Eastchester, NY 10709
The Westchester Historical Society
2199 Saw Mill River Road
Elmsford, NY 10523