By Jean Webster
It’s been said that it takes a village to raise a child. In Grahamsville, it has taken a community of people to raise a new library, one that dwarfs the 1898 original, which still stands.
When my husband and I visited Grahamsville recently, we were amazed by the size and beauty of the new building. What an undertaking for this community, where we lived for 30 years. To think that a group of people in this hamlet of about 2,000 could raise enough money to build a new library boggles the mind.
The first Daniel Pierce Library was a cozy place, as old fashioned as the era in which it was built. It was always busy with people borrowing books, reading newspapers, or heading to meetings. The Boy Scouts met upstairs, and in the basement were groups like the Alchemy Club (poets who met monthly), the Monday Art Group, and others.
But the library board eventually recognized that the building was so crowded that they couldn’t order new books without disposing of old ones. A new building was needed, but how to afford it in a town and county far from prospering?
In 1898 there was a rich patron. Daniel Pierce, the founder, had grown up on nearby Thunder Hill, but he went west to make his fortune. Near the end of the 19th century, Pierce visited his hometown, and discovered that the only library was in a small storefront that also housed the funeral parlor. He donated seed money to build a public library with the condition that it be named for him. But Pierce never endowed the library, which had to be supported by the town after it was built.
The 21st century’s library construction became a community project, much like the building of a medieval cathedral in 12th century Europe. Joann Gallagher, the longtime librarian, says one person – Grahamsville resident Phil Coombe Jr. – spearheaded the plan to build the new library, to raise the needed funds, and to find workers.
Coombe, a former state corrections commissioner involved in the building of several prisons, said he wanted the town to have a library that would last 100 years.
A large portion of the money for the construction was gathered through community grants and construction grants from the New York Public Library System. Additional funds came from people in Grahamsville and the surrounding area. Smaller donors who gave more than once included Tri-Valley School children, who contributed their pennies, dimes and nickels. Ann Holt, a Grahamsville resident and retired Sullivan County Community College science professor, has donated over $300,000 and will have a room named for her in the new library.
I remember the Pumpkin Parties, which originated in the 1990s to generate money for the library. The parties still take place every October at the Fairgrounds, and are a great place for families to celebrate Halloween and the arrival of autumn. Though the proceeds aren’t huge, all go to the library.
But money wasn’t the only commodity local people gave. Just as in medieval times, Gallagher told me, local artisans, plumbers, architects, and woodworkers offered their time and expertise. In fact, anything the building needed doing was done by volunteers. Vendors even supplied materials at cost. Gallagher calls all these people “fabulously generous.”
It’s a beautiful building, constructed and furnished inside and out with style and thoughtfulness. It will be used for all those meetings and large events, maybe even weddings.
In addition, a museum dedicated to the towns of Mantela, Lackawack, Eureka, Old Neversink and Bittersweet – all flooded out during the constriction of the nearby Rondout and Neversink Reservoirs – has been added to the library building with funding from New York City. Fittingly, this Time and the Valley Museum joins the new Daniel Pierce Library at the center of town.