Utica Public Library
The first dealer in books in Utica was George Richards, Jr., who, in November 1803, opened the Oneida Book Store on Bagg's Square adjoining Post & Hamlin's store. In March 1825, a village library was incorporated and opened in July of that year. The books were kept in the office of Justus H. Rathbone, a lawyer, who acted as librarian. In 1834, the library was located in Knickerbocker Hall on Catharine street. The Mechanic's Association established a library in Mechanic's Hall. On December 7, 1852, the Young Men's Association was organized and a library and reading room opened. The city library was taken over by the School Board in 1842. It was located on Franklin Square over the Central New York Bank.
In 1856, the City Library was removed to the City Hall and remained there for more than twenty years. In July 1878, a new building was erected on the north side of Elizabeth street between Genesee and Charlotte streets for the combined use of the School Board and City Library. The library proper was an annex situated at the rear of the main building. It was 40 by 60 feet and 47 feet to the apex of the roof. It was lighted by side and clerestory windows. It contained a gallery supported by iron brackets and reached by an iron stairway. The windows were fitted with iron shutters, while double iron doors shut it off completely from the main building.
In 1893 Melvil Dewey (of the Dewey Decimal System fame) visited Utica and urged a group of citizens to charter the public library under the auspices of the University of New York Board of Regents. In his presentation he stated, “Of the functions of a library, there are three: to get, to keep and to use. The old type of librarian tried to keep everything he got. He was a jailer of books and hated to see any one use them. The modern librarian likes to see books used. The librarian is to be an aggressive force in the community and the more he finds the books used, the better he likes it.”
A charter was granted by the Board of Regents in 1893 to a Board of Trustees to administer the "city library" in the old location on Elizabeth street. By 1899 the old building was inadequate and the need for larger quarters became evident. William Pierrepont White donated $1,000 to a building fund. Mr. and Mrs. Thomas R. Proctor and Mr. and Mrs. Frederick T. Proctor purchased and donated the Hutchinson property on Genesee street. Arthur C. Jackson, a Utica native employed by a New York City architectural firm, was selected as the architect. The voters of Utica approved bonds for the construction of the building, which cost $220,000. The J. W. Bishop Company of Providence, Rhode Island was the main contractor for the work.
The Utica Public Library building opened to the public at 3 p.m. on Monday, December 12, 1904. This event celebrated a nearly 100-year journey to provide the people of Utica with an independent public library in its own building. Utica Mayor Charles Talcott addressed the assemblage on that December afternoon, concluding his remarks by saying, “Certain it is, such will be the growth and development in the people of Utica looking back upon this day will see that it was the commencement of a period of more extended usefulness and wider influence for this important, valuable and necessary institution.”
The general style of the building is Modified Federal Colonial with Palladian influences. The exterior is Indiana limestone and New Haven brick. The entrance features a massive pediment supported by two stone piers and framed by Corinthian columns. A stone cornice crowns the building.
The lower level has three arched windows on either side of the entrance with six square-headed windows on the second level. The dentils on the windows are replicated on the interior fireplaces. The corners of the building are faced with quoins. Entering through the front door, the visitor is met by a floor-to-ceiling glass and wrought-iron screen, which separates the vestibule from the lobby. The lobby boasts a barreled vault with a curved skylight. The vault is supported by Ionic columns that are hollow, faced with imitation Caen stone and topped with an ornamental entablature of the same material.
Patrons once accessed the library via the front circular driveway, which included parking spaces. While grounds around the building have undergone some changes over the years, the structure remains as stately and impressive as ever. The original landscaping included steps that have since been removed.
To serve the needs of a growing city, on November 10, 1910, the Potter branch was opened in the abandoned Whitesboro Street School. On November 11, 1913, the East Utica branch opened in a building donated by Frederick Towne Proctor. The site had been purchased by him and the building constructed at a cost of $6,000, from a design made by architect F. H. Gouge. Library service began in North Utica in 1924. A deposit station was opened in the back room of O'Connell's drug store on North Genesee street.