| 22 Feb 2012 | 01:26

    CONTINUED FROM PAGE Editor’s note: This is the first of a two-part series on the history of the Woodbury Public Library. The stories are based on information provided by the library. This week’s story focuses on Highland Mills. WOODBURY - The record heat wave of recent weeks has found many residents looking for cool environments to spend time at, and libraries like the Woodbury Public Library find themselves busier than ever. Library patrons may not be aware that the Woodbury Public Library was created as a result of the merging of the former Highland Mills and Central Valley libraries. Like many public institutions, its history offers library patrons an opportunity to understand the past as library operations, programs and services continue to grow and change. ‘A shelf with books’ at the drugstore Although the hamlets of Highland Mills and Central Valley were physically close to one another and within the Town of Woodbury, they were independent of one another. Each had its own post office, baseball team, band, fire department, drugstore, church, elementary school and library. There is no record of the date the first library was formed. Local historian Emma McWhorter described it as “a shelf with books behind the soda/ice cream counter in Fitch’s drugstore at the corner of Elm Street and Route 32.” It was not known how books were purchased or borrowed. However, what is known is that one famous family in Highland Mills was not pleased with this arrangement. The Charles E. Rushmore family (of Mt. Rushmore fame) had a daughter named Jean, who was active in local affairs. In 1923, through her urging, the family purchased the property on the corner of Weygant Hill Road and Route 32 and built the library using local puddin’ stone, Spanish tile roof and mullion windows in the style of the Rushmore mansion. Books of ‘questionable nature’ The interior featured a fieldstone fireplace and mahogany shelving and housed a large antique family heirloom desk. Volunteers and a “library committee” managed the library. Support came from fundraisers, donations and gifts of books and money. In 1924, records show that 12 chairs were purchased with funds raised by “moving picture entertainment” held in the “local hall” (the present town hall.) The library committee read all donated books of “questionable nature.” To be accepted the subject must not be “immorality made attractive.” In 1939, the library was formally named the Rushmore Memorial Library in memory of its true benefactor, Charles E. Rushmore. By 1940, a provisional charter was obtained and a board of trustees was elected. The library continued to provide reading material and developed a collection of children’s books. By 1941, the library had a circulation of over 6,000 books and was open seven days a week. Dorothy Morris, a student at the Highland Mills School during those World War II years, recalled taking a school “field trip” to the library for a tour. “It is remembered as a place of reverence and beauty and served as an additional reason to respect the power of the written word and the boundless amounts of information available within those stone walls,” she said. First paid librarian hired in 1966 The 1950s, 1960s and 1970s were years of rapid growth in Highland Mills. In 1951, the library was transferred to the newly formed and centralized Monroe-Woodbury School District. By 1953, the library was transferred to the Town of Woodbury and assumed the name “Rushmore Memorial Public Library” and was supported by public taxes. In 1959, the library joined the Ramapo Catskill Library System. But it wasn’t until 1966 that a paid librarian was hired. By 1973, the staff consisted of a librarian and an assistant librarian. The library was open seven days a week with a total of 22 hours. The little stone building was bursting at the seams with additional reading materials for the ever-increasing population. In order to have children’s story hour, all moveable furniture was removed to the front lawn so the children could be inside to hear a story. Racks of books were stored on the floor. By the early 1980s, several town board members were convinced the library had outlived its usefulness. There were code violations requiring building modifications as well as fire and safety hazards. A large diverse group of citizens voiced sufficient concern and exerted pressure on the town board to reconsider. A proposal was entertained to build a new facility in conjunction with a proposed senior center. In 1985, the library collection was moved to the new facility on Route 105. The little stone house became the “historic branch” of the Woodbury Public Library and is now the home of the Woodbury Historical Society, which houses archival documents and memorabilia of historic value to the community. Next week: How the Central Valley branch evolved.