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Merrick Library History

Page history last edited by Bill Keogan 7 years, 4 months ago


Merrick Library is in Merrick, New York, an area in Nassau County on Long Island.


Early Years

Edward C. Cammann and Richard P. Kent established the Merrick Library in 1891.  Cammann, born in 1874, and Kent, born in 1873 and a member of the Columbia class of 1895, were in their late teens at the time. The newspaper Merrick Life said that Cammann and Kent "also planted Dutch elm trees along Merrick Avenue to create a cathedral effect, sadly no more. Mr. Kent loved linden trees and planted many in Lindenmere,  helping give it that peaceful air."  Cammann's Pond in Merrick named for Edward's family.



First home of Merrick Library by AceLibrarian.

First home of Merrick Library-- a hay loft in a barn on the Cammann farm. 


According to volume 2 of A History of Long Island, from its Earliest Settlement to the Present Time

"The villagers [of Merrick] feel a just pride in the Merrick Free Circulating Library.  This had its beginnings through the instrumentality of the proprietors of "The Messenger," a parish [the Episcopal Church of the Redeemer] journal, and at first consisted of about fifty volumes kept in the hay loft of a vacant stable." 


Merrick Library's second home-- a shack on the William Hewlett farm


Another source says: "The Merrick Library began humbly enough, in 1891, in the hayloft of a stable on the Cammann family farm, where Edward C. Cammann and good friend Richard P. Kent had put together a collection of 50 books given to them by family and friends.  A few months later, the library was moved to a shack on the William Hewlett farm on Merrick Avenue, between Merrick Road and Kirkwood Avenue. A third move brought the Library to a 15-foot room on the ground floor of the newly-built tower of the Merrick Water Company on Kirkwood Avenue, behind the Church of the Redeemer."



Tower-- 3nd home of Merrick Library by AceLibrarian

Merrick Library's third home from 1895-1897-- a room in Merrick Water Company tower


It is interesting to speculate about what influenced two young men to start a library in Merrick in 1891.  There seems to have been some community building in Merrick at that time.   The Merrick depot for what was then called the South Side Railroad of Long Island was rebuilt in 1885, replacing the original 1867 station. The only church in Merrick at that time was incorporated in 1890, and new school building opened in 1892.  


There was also much library activity in America in the late 19thCentury.  The Astor Library in New York, established in 1849, underwent a major expansion in 1881.  The Astor would later combine with the Lennox Library in 1895 to form the New York Public Library.  Between 1883 and 1929 money donated by Andrew Carnegie helped build 1,689 libraries in the United States.  In Baltimore, the Enoch Pratt Free Library opened in 1886, stating that it "shall be for all, rich and poor without distinction of race or color, who, when properly accredited, can take out the books if they will handle them carefully and return them".  While Merrick Library was a much smaller operation, talk of libraries was in the air.  In Nassau and Suffolk counties the 1890s saw the beginnings of at least a dozen libraries.



Postcard showing an early picture of the Merrick Library.


The library's fourth home at 2369 Merrick Avenue, pictured above, was constructed in 1897 at a cost of $1,150 on land donated by Edward C Cammann's aunt, Katherine L. Cammann.  That same year, Miss Lina Miller became Merrick's librarian. 



old Merrick Library 

Historic site marker outside the Merrick Library Wing


Front cover of Merrick Library's First Annual Report, dated 1898.






In 1900, Merrick Library published An Historical Sketch of Merrick, Long Island, 1643-1900 : Written for the Merrick library by Charles N. Kent, father of Richard P. Kent.  The text of this book is available online.

A section of this book contains the following about what was called the Merrick Library Association.



Trustees. The payment of $25 at one time constitutes

life membership.

In connection with the Library is a museum of Long

Island relics and curiosities which promises to be of very

considerable interest and value.


The officers at present are: President, Edward C.

Cammann; Vice President and Treasurer, Richard P.

Kent; Secretary, E. B. Willetts, Jr. ; Librarian, Miss Lina

Miller; Trustees, H. H. Cammann, Chas. N. Kent, P. R.

Jennings, E. C. Cammann, Richard P. Kent, Wm. E.

Hewlett, J. W. Birch, E. B. Willetts, Jr., Charles N.

Kent, Jr.


The entry about “Libraries” in The Dictionary of American History asserts that “Even though it is popular

among library historians to refer to the 'public library movement,' states and communities were reluctant to tax themselves to provide free library services.”  The dictionary goes on to say that “By 1900 there were approximately two thousand public libraries in the United States. Most were either social libraries, supported by individual philanthropists with a special interest in the community, or subscription libraries, supported by fees paid by those patrons who wished to use the circulating collections.”


Early funding for the Merrick Library seems to have combined individual philanthropy with the idea of subscriptions.  The Merrick Library Association, as noted above, had lifetime members, but also had annual members.  This group of Merrick ciitizens provided much of the library's funding.  It is unclear what priviledges being a member of this association included, but in the booklet Yesterday in the Merricks, the authors, writing about the Merrick Library, say "Books were loaned to any person applying for them, as long as the librarian knew him, or he was introduced by a member of the library association. "



New York State's Public Library Report of 1900 reported that "Merrick library has added shelves for 500 books."


An article called "What's Doing in Society" in the New York Times dated August 23, 1901 said:

At Merrick L.I. on Wednesday evening a dramatic entertainment was given for the benefit of the town's library, and Evert Janssen Wendell played in "A Game of Cards," assisted by Charles F. Kent, Jr., Henry S. Blake, and Miss Mary Kent.  This was followed by "A Pair of Lunatics," in which Mrs. Woodruff Leeming and Richard P. Kent acted.  "Who Is Who" closed the entertainment, and in this appeared among others Edward C. Cammann, Miss Ruth Kent, and Miss Celestine W. How.


An article in the Brooklyn Eagle about the event noted above reports on an early automobile excursion.  The large and jolly party started out in Freeport in a week old automobile.  They drove to the entertainment in Merrick, after which they rode out to the Massapequa Hotel for refreshments "in record time."  They then returned to Freeport at a more leisurely pace.


In January 1904 the library produced a Catalogue listing its holdings.  A photocopy of this list is available at the library's reference desk.  The library may have used this book list instead of having a card catalog  By 1905 the library's collection had grown to 1648 volumes. 


Edward C. Cammann was listed as President of the Merrick Library in a 1910 publication.




Miss Louise Christoffel took over as Merrick Librarian in 1921.


Merrick Library co-founder Richard P. Kent became president of the library's board in 1926.


membership list of the Merrick Library Association, dated October 1927 contains 39 names.


Edward C Cammann passed away in December 1936.


Evelyn MacFarland became the the Merrick librarian in 1938, and eventually was given the title of director.  She remained at the library for the next quarter of a century.


The first extentension was added to the library in 1938.


In 1939 the library received a certificate from New York State dated May 1 of that year that stated: 

“Merrick Library having been found on official inspection to be meeting the requirements of the Regents and of the Education Department is registered as maintaining a proper standard.”



1940s- 1950s


Merrick Library's Evelyn MacFarland had an article called "War Activities" in the November 1, 1942 issue of Library Journal.


In the early 1940s,Merrick library "created an inspirational and welcoming place in a tiny brown-shingled cottage and had the good sense to 'hire' a resident cat."  This was an orange cat named Ferdinand that Evelyn MacFarland trained to ring a bell when he wanted to come in. 


First meeting of the Merrick Library Forum in May 1944.



In 1944, the ALA Bulletin said "The Merrick library is a small library which serves a community of nearly six thousand people. The building is inadequate to give proper service; ..."



Louise Christoffel , Florence Astarita and Evelyn MacFarland in front of the library



An article in the May 1, 1947 issue of Library Journal reported on Merrick Library's 50 anniversary celebration.


Merrick librarians Evelyn MacFarland, Louise Christoffel, Lina Miller, and co-founder Richard P. Kent

at the celebration of the library's 50th annivarsary in 1947.



In 1949, the original Victorian cottage was doubled in size by the addition of a wing with a picture window. 


old Merrick Library

Merrick Library with extension at left added in 1949.



The August 1949 issue of Bookmark noted the passing of Richard P. Kent, an original founder of the Merrick library, and who had served as president of the library's board from 1926 to May 1949.  Kent's obituary in the Living Church noted that he was a graduate of Columbia University (class of 1895), had worked for a time in the advertising field, and been a parishioner at the Church of the Redeemer for 54 years, for which he had acted as a vestryman.




In 1949 James Mulcahy succeeded Richard P. Kent as president of the library board.


In 1950, Merrick Library had a collection of 11.700 volumes and a circulation of 37,337.  


Circa 1955 the library began publishing an anuual Directory of the Merricks.  The directory is kept up in an online version.


In 1956 a third extension was added to the rear of the library building.



The 1960s -the 1970s


As Merick Library had outgrown its earlier home, in 1960 the community voted for a bond for the construction of a new building.   The New York Times reported the dedication of the new library at 2279 Merrick Avenue on November 25, 1962, saying the building was 14,000 square feet and could hold 75,000 books. 


Artist's conception of the Merrick Library building opened in 1962




Photo of the building that opened in 1962.



Interior view of the library building that opened in 1962 


In 1963, long-time director Evelyn MacFarland retired, and Andrew Ippolito was named to the position. 


 Andrew Ippolito and Richard Kent, Jr


Samuel L Simon became director of the Merrick Library in 1965.  Simon reviewed books for Library Journal and had at least four reviews in the 1968-1969 period.


1966 was a busy year at the Merrick LIbrary.  The library installed an electric typewriter patrons could use for 25 cents per half hour.  The same year the Merrick Optimist Club donated shelves for paperback books to the library.  In 1966, a meeting of a library discussion group for young adults talked about the question, "Is War Necessary?" while discussing a section of the classic Roman epic poem The Aeneid.  That year the library added a set of McKinney's Consolidated Laws of New York.  The library also acquired more than a hundred spoken word LPs and publicized its fast growing collection of large-type books.

In 1966, three years before he wrote The Godfather, Mario Puzo, then a Merrick resident, donated to the library a children's book--The Runaway Summer of Davie Shaw-- he had just published.  In June, the library had a amnesty week for overdue books in preparation for the first complete inventory of the library's collection.  In November the library ran an impressive exhibit of more than fifty pieces of pre-Columbian works of art.


In 1968 David Weill became director.


'Merrick Library had an experimental Sunday opening season of nine Sundays from

February 24 to May 5, 1973 . All services were made available, ..."


In the mid 1970s Soma Finnel became the library director.  In the late 1970s,  the library began to take a special interest in the issue of intellectual freedom.  Responding to a case of censorship in the Island Trees school district,  Soma Finnel felt someone had to speak out.  So, Merrick staffers displayed the titles banned from Island Trees.


Three Merrick Libray Directors-- David Weill, Soma Finnel, and Samuel Simon 


The 1980s


The 1980s saw a number of changes at Merrick Library in its administration, services, collections and new technology.


Susan Alessi was the director at the beginning of the decade.


In the early 1980s Betty Klein took over as acting director.


Circa 1983 Merrick Library trustee Leon Summit delivered an address called "Counting the Invisible" at the dedication of facilities at

Merrick Library designed to improve access for the physically disabled.


In 1984, the library began adding videotapes to its collection and by the next year they were circulating some 200 videos.


In the 1980s Merrick Library continued its special interest in intellectual freedom.  A Library Journal article dated November 15,1984 noted that Merrick Library's activities during Banned Book Week that September had included a speech by TV critic Marvin Kitman, a showing of the film Fahrenheit 451, and a free bus trip to visit an exhibit on censorship at New York Public LibraryIn 1986 Newsday reported that Merrick Library "is usually ingenious in calling attention to censorship. This year it gave patrons who borrowed banned books a calendar that featured quotations condemning censorship."  In the fall of 1987 Merrick Library won the New York Library Association/SIRS Intellectual Freedom Award for its innovative programming during Banned Books Week.


"In an effort to increase voter participation in elections, the Merrick Library became a permanent voter registration center" in 1985.


In 1985, Helen Lust became acting director until Michael Hodgson was named director later in the year. 



Michael Hodgson



In 1986, the library's garden was named the Astarita Garden in recogntion of the decades of service by

Florence Astarita and her sister Julia.   Florence Astarita, who worked at the Merrick Library for 60 years

passed away in December 2010 at age 93.



Dedication sign in the Astarita Garden 



Today, the Astarita Garden serves as a quiet retreat for the library's patrons.



The 1990s

On October 6, 1991 Merrick Library celebrated its 100th anniversary.


This quilt hangs in the library's adult fiction area next to the short stories.

It was presented  to the library on its Centennial Anniversary on October 6, 1991.



Merrick Library Director Michael Hodgson sent librarians for training in doing online searches for patrons.  Soon after new online databases such as Proquest and EbscoHost became available, which allowed people to do their own searches, the director added them to the library's resources.  Later, Hodgson also was responsible for creating an area where patrons could make use of ten public computers to do word processing and access the Internet.


In 1999, Michael Hodgson was named Merrick Professional of the Year by the Merrick Chamber of Commerce and Merrick Life



Continued at Merrick Library History 2




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