A Brief History of the Patchogue-Medford Library

  • 1883 - 1884 – Patchogue Library Association transferred its accumulated 475-book collection to a rented room in the John Roe Smith Block (the white building on the left).  Patchogue Library was housed in a room in Floyd Overton’s Shoe Store (which rented space in the Block), at today's 32 W. Main Street, Patchogue, NY. (south side of the street).  It opened to the public in August 1883.  Overton had taken on the job of "Librarian" at his wife's insistence.
    Patchogue Bank (shown on the right side of the photograph) succeeded the Patchogue and Suffolk County Bank, at the same location, after the latter failed in 1884.  Edward S. Peck, the latter bank's CEO, was nearly lynched, then was saved from a suicide attempt.  Peck had been a Library board member, rerscued both times, then grilled by fellow board members, before he and his wife left town penniless.  The Patchogue Bank's 1st CEO was none other than Floyd Overton, who had unceremoniously evicted the Library, after his young wife's untimely recent death.
    The John Roe Smith Block would be the 1st (1883-84), 3rd , and 6th home of the Association Library, and 1st home of the Public Library. The building still stands today, and is home to the Hofbrau Muchen Bierhaus Restaurant

  • On June 12, 1883, the organizational meeting creating the Patchogue Library Association, was held in this building, then the home of John Joseph Craven, who would become its President, and remain so until his death, 10 years later.   The house stood on a large property at Main Street and Medford Avenue (Route 112).  Dr. Craven was an inventor, had commanded several Federal medical departments during the Civil War, and been Jefferson Davis' prison doctor at Fort Monroe, and had written an international best seller about his experiences there.  The house pictured had earlier been the home of John S. Havens, Supervisor of Brookhaven Town during the Civil War, also owner of what would later become Shands (today's Brickhouse Brewery).  The pictured home would later be owned by the Canfield-Tuthill family (of newspaper fame), and serve as the local USO during WWI, then the home of the Elks (BPOE), before it was torn down in the 1990's. 

  • 1891 – November 1896 – The Library was removed to a side room in the new George M. Ackerly Block, a Music Store & Hall, on the West side of South Ocean Avenue, about where the Suffolk County Sports Hall of Fame Building is presently located.  

  • November 1896 – Mid-November 1899 – Jesse C. Mills, longtime Board Member and principal agent of the New Lyceum on Lake Street proposed the Library be moved here, covering its initial year’s rent, and gaining the library a reduced rental rate.  George M. Ackerly provided the free very part-time services of a clerk on Saturdays.  Today’s Lake Street Apartments, just West of Reese’s 1900, on the North side of Lake Street, was previously an asbestos factory, prior to that, the New Lyceum (village show place) and previous to that, the original location of Patchogue’s Congregational Church (which was sold in 1891, and moved it its present E. Main St. Location.).  The Library was in the Left Front room.

  • March 4, 1908 – 1981 – The Carnegie Library Building (dedicated on the former date), was the first building in which the collection was housed that was architecturally designed to be a library.  It became the 1st home spacious and stable enough to permit library collection and services to properly develop.  The land was donated to the Trustees outright, by Edwin Bailey, Sr., who died two months short of its completion.  His generosity, and Andrew Carnegie’s final yea, permitted the village one of the few such libraries in the Nassau-Suffolk region.   By the 1930’s the library, despite repeated partial renovations, space reconfigurations, and stopgap cost-saving maintenance measures, and continual weeding of the collection to make room for new materials, had run out of space.  It became more even cramped, as measures to either expand or move the library to a larger property or building were rejected.  Heating and lighting systems did not keep pace with the times, but improvements were made.  The post-WWII housing and population boom placed additional public pressure on the library to expand its collection and services preferably at no or little public expense.  When the service area population (and demand for the same materials) was effectively doubled by inclusion of Medford (in 1951), it soon became obvious that either a larger library or a library expansion was needed.  Moving to a new, modern facility was disapproved, and an on-site expansion was eventually approved.  However, it was scaled back to permit public passage, the result being that allowance was made for the existing collection to be housed, with no room for growth.   The Library having expanded inadequately only once, in 1957, soon completely outgrew its confines, as population growth and public demands for variety continued to expand.  In 1963, the Suffolk Cooperative Library System was spun off in its basement.  Having become (along with Huntington Public Library) a state-designated central library, in 1968, and later sole central library for Suffolk County in 1979, received state funds to expand its collections, and provide services to Suffolk County, of which Patchogue-Medford residents were the first and prime recipients.   During its final decades in the Carnegie building, the library saw introduction of the electric typewriter, photocopier, microfilm and microform publications, and the first rumblings of the microcomputer.  It went from a book-based to a multi-media collection.  Children’s and Young Adult Services were introduced, Adult services expanded.  One of the finest reference collections in Suffolk County was built and maintained (as it is today).  Generations of librarians across the county looked to Patchogue(-Medford) as a model and were trained by its staff, and this continues to this day.

  • Architect's conception of the 1958 Carnegie Library Addition, then quite modern, featuring a lot of glass frntage, admitting much light during the day, in a split level arrangement.  This was in stark contrast to the more traditional architecture of the original section, to the right, which had undergone a series of patchwork repairs over the past half century.  By 1958, in the wake of the postwar baby boom and growth of suburbia, and demand from residents, expansion of the collection and services, and pressure from nearby Medford to extend services led to a contractual service arrangement, in 1950.  The size of the population served and space limits within the library, already tight before WWII, eventually led to this Addition.

  • February 22, 1981 – Present – The Library moved to East Main Street into a reconfigured former W.T. Grant Store & Warehouse, not originally designed to serve as a library.  Here (below) the Computer & Internet revolutions took place in earnest, and propelled a whole new line of electronic services, still being expanded and developed daily.  The tradition of county leadership has been maintained in the public library field.  Specialized services for patrons have steadily expanded, as has the collection (which is a rich, varied and well-selected one), to the point at which the space situation is similar to that experienced in the latter days of the Carnegie Library.  About half the collection must be kept in storage for lack of space in the public area, despite constant and careful weeding.  Storage space has run out, despite creative repeated quick fixes.  Population pressure and public demand for more materials in all available forms and formats continue to ensure rapid collection growth, beyond present means to house it.  Demand for new services in ever-greater variety stretches available staff time, productivity, and creativity, efficiency, while requiring space to house ever-newer equipment and computer-related services, while trying to conserve limited funds for all that is asked and required.  Who can say where the challenges of the future will lead, what new need will be felt by the public today, tomorrow, or down the line a few years, a decade or more?  But, the Patchogue Library, then the Patchogue-Medford Library have been here—wherever it moved—starting as an association library in 1883, then state chartered, as a public library, since 1900, serving its communities & then, also its county (since the 1920’s), from generation to generation, a commitment of time.

  • This restaurant placemat was designed for the Library Centennial in 2000, to show the movements of the Library around the village of Patchogue, most of which took place between 1883-1908, when the Carnegie building became the first permanent (non-rented) home of the Library.  Here are the locations: 1883-84 Floyd A. Overton's shoe store; 1884-85 George M. Ackerly's stationery store; 1885-91 J.L. Overton's shoe store (Floyd had become a local bank president); 1891-1896 George M. Ackerly's music store; 1896-1899  New Lyceum (also housed a 500-seat theater, fire department, gym, and NYS judge's quarters); 1899-1902  John Roe Smith Block (same building as the Overtons' shoe store) [1899-1900 Sorosis' demonstration public library; 1900 Patchogue Library chartered as a public library]; 1902-08 George M. Ackerly's music store; 1908-1981 Carnegie Library (built on land donated by Edwin Bailey I) [1930's Librarian Alma Custead is founder and 1st President of  Suffolk County Library Association; 1967 Suffolk Cooperative Library System commences operations in the Library's basement; 1951 Service is extended to Medford residents; 1973 Name is changed by charter amendment to Patchogue-Medford Library]  1981-Present Library moves into former W.T. Grant building, at its present location, 54-60 East Main Street [2000 Library celebrates its 100th year of service; 1993-2014 Neighborhood Center, Eagle Elementary School, Medford, NY;  2010  Library receives National Medal for Museum and Library Service].  One additional move took place, after this map was created, in 2013, when the Carnegie Library was moved to its present location on West Main St.   -- MHR 

     On June 12,1883Patchogue Library Association was formed.  Its President, John Joseph Craven, had been Jefferson Davis' prison doctor, and had written an international best seller on the subject. Fundraising to buy books and rent a library room would occupy most of the Association’s time, during its 17-year existence.  In August 1883, the library opened with 635 books in a side room of Floyd A. Overton’s shoe store (on West Main St.).  Mr. Overton became "librarian," by default.  Over its life, the fledgling Patchogue Library was moved from one storefront to another (from shoe store, to stationery store, back to the shoe store, to music store, to the New Lyceum Theater on the North side of Lake Street, back again to a room in its original building, with the designated librarian generally changing with the building.  None of these locations was a particularly quiet place.  As fundraising remained a chronic problem, the collection languished, its home remaining a very temporary arrangement.

     In Fall 1899, Sorosis, a national women’s suffrage organization, formed a Patchogue Chapter, lead by Elizabeth Mott (Mrs. Wilmot) Smith, who asked the Library Board for, and received, control of the library collection, for 1 year, moved it into a room in their club building (on W. Main St.).  Under the care of the Patchogue Sorosis, a 1500-book demonstration public library was created, and opened for public use.  It proved popular.  Efforts were launched to make the library a regularly-funded local public institution.  In August 1900, at a school district board meeting, a public vote established a new Patchogue Library, and elected its first Board of Trustees.  The Board met the next day, elected officers, Elizabeth Mott Smith becoming its first President, and applied for a New York State Charter.  Following inspection and approval of the collection and its management arrangements by the State Library, then headed by Melvil Dewey, the New York State Board of Regents granted Patchogue Library a State Charter of incorporation, in December 1900.
      Support for and interest in the Library continued to grow, and correspondence began in 1902 with Andrew Carnegie, mainly through his private secretary, James Bertram, to secure a grant for a permanent home for a Carnegie Library (a rarity in the Nassau-Suffolk area) for Patchogue.  In 1904, when negotiations stalled over the library Board's lack of a property on which to situate a building, Edwin Bailey Sr. (owner of a major Patchogue-based South Shore lumber concern) stepped in, donating land at 10 Lake Street, where his original carpentry shop once stood.  An architect William Van Pelt, and local construction firm were secured.  Negotiations progressed. At length, Carnegie, requiring (as he normally did), and the village voting and approving permanent increase in annual support, the Library Board was awarded $10,000, and construction began in 1907.  Construction cost overages, drew stormy refusals from Bertram and Carnegie, for a supplemental grant request of $5,000, though it was eventually secured, with further assurances, after additional wrangling, and another local vote.  On March 4, 1908 Patchogue's Carnegie Library was dedicated with speeches and tours, it’s first permanent home, where it would remain for the next 73 years.  It was frequently featured on local postcards, and its use, collections, and range of services steadily climbed.  One of its greatest directors, Alma Custead, Librarian 1914-45, expanded its adult and children's collections and services, built a quality reference collection, wrote bibliographies for the local newspapers on timely topics of the day, began services to young adults when it was still natioanlly considered experimental, and brought together librarians from around the County, in the late 1920's and early 1930's to found Suffolk County Library Association.  She served as its first president, and launched state and countywide library conferences, held in Patchogue, which supported local businesses.  Mrs. Custead headed a local book drive to support American troops in WWI, and a County book drive in WWII.   In the Great Depression and road to WWII the library featured business, self help, job-related books and works on the growing crisis in international affairs. During WWII, she created the first countywide Union Catalog (multiple library holdings) in Suffolk, and saw to it that it was based it at Patchogue Library.  She established the library as a center of county library affairs, setting the stage for future developments.  She also supervised much needed repairs to the library.
      During the post-war building and baby boom, the community's population explosion meant that the requirements of its Library continued to grow.  In 1951 service was officially extended to Medford residents.  Later the building was expanded.  In 1961,Suffolk Cooperative Library System was created, commencing its services to County libraries, from the Patchogue Library basement, later moving to the Nabisco factory (on Main St.), then to its present location, in Bellport.  When the two local school districts were combined, changing their name, the Library, which served the same area, followed suit, officially becoming Patchogue-Medford Library, by state charter amendment, in1973.  In 1978, Patchogue-Medford Library became the sole New York State-designated Central Library for Suffolk County.  In 1981 the Library moved to its current location on East Main Street, Patchogue to better accommodate its growing collections and services. The nature and range of electronic resources and services have been steadily expanding and changing, ever since the computer revolution of the 1980's. By1993, the Neighborhood Center was opened at the Eagle Elementary School in order to offer local service to the residents of Medford.  In 2000, the Library celebrated its first 100 years under State Charter.  Since at least the 1920's, the Library has remained a recognized leader in library service in Suffolk County.  It has secured many benefits and innovative services to its community through a variety of grants, over many decades.  Its is known for the quality of its Reference collection, programs, and for its subject specialists, who represent a variety of fields, and serve the Patchogue-Medford community and County librarians. The range of PML's resources, programs, and services to various age groups, to the well-served and underserved alike, continues to expand.