May 16, 2004

Southworth Library

Unlike many of the buildings and businesses George Goodrich described in his 1897 Centennial History, Southworth Library still stands and is still a library serving the public.

The Southworth Library
Southworth Library, around 1897.

Chapter XXIX.

The Southworth Library.

If anyone could have claimed to unite in her veins the flow of the blue blood of the Dryden pioneer aristocracy, that person was Jennie McGraw-Fiske. Her great-grandfather was Judge Ellis, "King of Dryden" in its early years. Her grandfather was John Southworth, Dryden's millionaire farmer, while her father was John McGraw, Dryden's barefooted farmer boy in 1827, who soon commenced his business career as a clerk in a Dryden store at eight dollars per month, becoming later a Dryden merchant, and after a life of great business activity and success died possessed of an estate worth two millions.

Jennie McGraw-Fiske
Jennie McGraw-Fiske.

She was born in the house on North street in Dryden village now owned and occupied by Mrs. E. H. Lord, nearly opposite to the Southworth homestead, in September, 1840. Her mother died and her father moved from Dryden before she was ten years of age. She was educated at Canandaigua and at a school in Westchester county. Her health always delicate, she was encouraged to gratify her taste for foreign travel, which she did, first visiting Europe when about twenty years of age, and several times afterwards.

Of her marriage to Prof. Willard Fiske in 1880 and her death in the following year, which was subsequently followed by the celebrated litigation as the result of which the bequest of the bulk of her estate to Cornell University was defeated, we need not speak here at length.

In the distribution of the estate of her grandfather, John Southworth, she received a share as representing her deceased mother, and it seems to have been her desire to return to Dryden village a substantial memorial to her grandfather out of this portion of her estate, for in her will she makes the following provision:

"I give and bequeath unto Jeremiah W. Dwight, John E. McElheny and Dr. J. J. Montgomery, all of Dryden, N. Y., the sum of thirty thousand dollars, in trust, for the following uses and purposes, to wit: I desire that they, with such associates as they may select, shall procure, under the laws of the State of New York, a corporation or association to be organized at Dryden aforesaid under the name of The Southworth Library Association, the object and purpose whereof shall be the building, support, and maintenance of a public library in the said village of Drydenl that said trustees shall transfer said trust funds to said association upon the trust and condition that not more than fifteen thousand dollars of said sum shall be expended in real estate, buildings, and furniture, and that the remainder shall constitute a fund to be invested and the interest or income thereof to be applied to the purchase of books and other necessary expenses of said association, excluding, however, salaries of officers and pay of servants thereof.

"If this purpose be not accomplished within three years after my death the trust shall cease and the fund shall be paid to and distributed with my residuary estate."

In pursuance of this bequest the Southworth Library Association was incorporated April 22, 1883, with Jeremiah W. Dwight, John E. McElheny, John J. Montgomery, Henry B. Napier and Erastus S. Rockwell as incorporators. In the following year the Baucus property on the corner of South and Union streets was purchased and remodeled so as to provide temporary accomodations for the library, and here it was first opened to the public September 25, 1884.

For about ten years the Library was accomodated in a portion of this building, the rent of the remainder, which was leased for a dwelling, being used to pay the expense of employing a librarian.

In the meantime a permanent site was purchased on the new corner on Main street formed by opening Library street, and a fine, substantial building here erected of which we are able to give the accompanying pictorial illustration.

It is constructed of Ohio sandstone in a very thorough and substantial manner at an expense of about fifteen thousand dollars. The building is fire-proof and includes commodious and elegant reading rooms. Here the trustees intend, among other things, to provide for a collection of historical relics, which will be securely preserved for future generations. The structure was completed in the year 1894, since which time there has been presented to the association and placed in the tower of the building, a Seth Thomas clock, the gift of Mrs. D. F. Van Vleet, of Ithaca, as a memorial of her parents, Mr. and Mrs. John C. Lacy, who were for a long time residents of Dryden.

Some unhappy differences of opinion among the citizens of the village as to the intentions of Mrs. Fiske in excluding from the purposes for which the funds of her gift could be used "the salaries of officers and pay of servants thereof" has caused the building to be closed for some portion of the time, for the lack of a provision, as the trustees claim, for the employment and pay of a janitor and a librarian, and these questions are not yet settled to the satisfaction of all; but it is believed that these matters will soon be determined by the courts or otherwise.

According to the last report of the librarian, in the month of April, 1897, the number of volumes in the Library was 6994. These volumes comprise a careful selection of the best works in the whole field of literature, including the latest editions of all standard authorities. The invested interest-bearing funds of the associations now amount to about seventeen thousand dollars, the income from which is to be devoted principally to the purchase of books and will continue to supply the reader matter best adapted to the wants of the people in ever-increasing accumulations of the best works of the best authors. Prof. Willard Fiske, although sojourning in Italy for the past few years, has been made a trustee of the association and has shown his interest in the institution by presenting to the Library a valuable and unique set of the complete works of the bard, John Dryden. The following is a list of the present officers and trustees of the association:

John E. McElheny, President,D. R. Montgomery,
Dr. J. J. Montgomery, Vice-President,John W. Dwight,
Dr. F. S. Jennings, Secretary,D. E. Bower,
Willard Fiske,
Treasurer,H.B. Lord

Goodrich, George B. The Centennial History of the Town of Dryden, 1797-1897. Dryden: Dryden Herald Steam Printing House, 1898. Reprinted 1993 by the Dryden Historical Society. Pages 47-49.

(The Dryden Historical Society, which sells this book, may be reached at 607-844-9209.)

Posted by simon at May 16, 2004 10:14 AM in ,
Note on photos


Carolyn van Leer said:

Interesting info regarding the history of Southworth Library.
I live in Freeville and am descended from Edward Southworth (1590-1621) and Alice Carpenter. Their son Constant, his son William who married Rebecca Pabodie, then down to their son Joseph (1683-1739), to his daughter, Mary Southworth, who married Daniel Wilbor. Their son, Daniel Wilbur, married Deborah Taylor and one of their son's came to Connecticut Hill to claim a military land grant from the Rev. War. I've seen another branch that came to this area...that the library must be named after.

Carolyn van Leer