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A History of the Northport-East Northport Public Library

Beginnings, 1880-1888

The Library’s story began in 1880 with the founding of the Northport Literary and Social Union in the basement of the Presbyterian Church on Main Street. According to its constitution, the union aspired to “promote the literary culture of its members and to organize a library.” Although its main activity was to host lively, weekly debates on current issues, from the start the union moved toward establishing its library. A library committee was in place by 1883 and during this year, books were purchased, a librarian appointed, and a reading room opened in the Northport Journal building. In 1888 the union moved into a larger space in the Union Opera House on Union Place, incorporated, and renamed itself the Northport Literary and Library Union.

The Northport Literary and Library Union, 1888-1914

The Northport Literary and Library Union never lost sight of its goal of establishing a public library. But after 1888 it experienced sporadic financial and membership crises. It moved frequently in its search for suitable quarters for its library.

the Presbyterian Church of Northport

The Presbyterian Church in Northport, ca 1890, first meeting place of the Northport Literary and Social Union.

The union turned itself around at a 1907 membership meeting, when a proposal to dissolve the organization was met with resolve to reinvigorate it. A decision was made to move into the new Bonner Building, centrally located on Main Street just east of Union Place. The following week sixty-one new members joined the union and a woman’s auxiliary formed to raise funds to maintain the library. After eliminating the five-cents-a-book loan fee for nonmembers in 1911, the union was recognized by the state as a free public library.

Main Public Library 1950
The Northport Public Library on Main Street, ca 1950

At the same time, the union worked toward finding a permanent home. In 1914 it received a ten thousand dollar library-building grant after it had fulfilled the Carnegie Corporation’s building site and funding requirements: The union had purchased a lot on the corner of Main Street and Woodside Avenue with three thousand dollars raised through volunteer efforts in the community. It had guaranteed ongoing funding for the library through a resolution passed soundly at the annual school meeting. The resolution included provisions for acceptance of the grant, the transfer of the library to the school district, a one thousand dollar annual tax appropriation for library operations, and the election of a board of trustees.

The Carnegie Library, 1914-1915

With Carnegie Corporation and community funding in place and the transfer of assets from the Literary Union under way, the Northport Public Library received its charter from the state in June 1914. Construction started on the new library building the following October. Harry E. Donnell, a well-known New York City architect, designed the tapestry brick building. Mr. Donnell was a member of the Delamater family, whose estate covered most of Eaton’s Neck at that time. Vail and Call, a local firm, was the builder.

On December 13, 1915, the Library celebrated its formal opening with an evening of music and speeches. A Brooklyn Eagle article described the building’s compact interior: “The north end is arranged for a children’s room while the other end is for adults. At each end tables of proper size to meet the requirements have been placed, and an electric light plug has been arranged so that reading lamps can be utilized. At the rear of the librarian’s desk, about midway of the building, is the reference alcove…Passing down the stairway, the visitor enters a spacious lecture hall in the basement, with a raised platform at the north end.”

From World War I through the Depression, 1915-1940

The Northport Public Library shed its precarious, nomadic past in 1915 and settled into its new Carnegie building at 215 Main Street for a long period of stable service to the community. Throughout this period George Babcock, one of the library’s main supporters, provided continuity as president of the board of trustees.

The library aided the World War I effort through its participation in a program to send books to troops overseas. During the Depression, the library’s downstairs meeting room became a women’s workroom. Local women worked in shifts, earning $2.50 a day mending donated clothing that was then distributed to families in need.

The East Northport Public Library, 1940

In 1939 East Northport residents formed the Library Association of East Northport to establish a public library in the community. As a letter from this group to the state department of education explains, “East Northport … stretches far to house its 5,500 inhabitants. They are largely farmers, largely second generation Americans and of an extremely cosmopolitan aspect – Germans, Poles, Italians, Slavs … A number of houses are being continually built in East Northport ... The community is growing steadily … The problem of children and others traveling the three miles each way [to the Northport Public Library] is hard to surmount.”

East Northport School 1922

The East Northport School, ca 1922, first home of the East Northport Public Library

The school district offered six hundred dollars to help with initial costs and donated space in the old East Northport School, vacant since the year before when Larkfield School opened down the street. The East Northport Public Library opened as a branch of the Northport Public Library in June 1940 with 321 registered patrons and 1,200 books. During the first year both the book collection and the number of residents with library cards doubled.

A fire destroyed the library in 1945. With help from the community, most of the books were saved. Boy Scouts played an important role by forming a book brigade to carry the books to a nearby store. For the next four years the library was housed in temporary quarters in the Leighton building across the street.

Damaged beyond repair, the school building was demolished and a new library building erected on the site in 1949. This building, expanded by a shelving area in 1966, served the community until the mid-1990s. By then it was too small to accommodate the growth of the community and the expansion of library services. In 1997 it was replaced at the same location by the present East Northport Public Library.

Years of Change, 1940-1960

During World War II and in the years that followed, the Library took on new projects and strengthened its services. The Library did its part to support the war effort. It collected donations of books to send to the armed forces overseas. Red Cross volunteers used the Main Street library building meeting room to prepare surgical dressings. Wartime heating fuel shortages, however, resulted in reduced library hours.

After the war the Library added resources and services, in response to both a nationwide movement to improve libraries and the Northport-East Northport community’s population surge. The Library’s book collection grew from ten thousand volumes in 1945 to over forty thousand in 1960. During the same period borrowers increased from two thousand to almost twelve thousand. Book displays, art exhibits, and author talks became regular library activities. Both library buildings rearranged their limited space to accommodate separate children’s rooms and enhanced their services to children with story hours and library tours for school children.

Expansion, 1960-1966

Fifty years after construction of the library building on Main Street, the Library faced seriously crowded conditions. The population served by the library district had grown from nine thousand five hundred in 1950 to twenty-eight thousand in 1960. Assistant library director Miklos Zsedely described the Northport Library as follows: “The main floor of this building is literally covered with shelves, circulation desk, microfilm cabinets, newspaper rack, periodical rack, and vertical files, which leave space for only twenty-three to sit and for no one to walk … There should be about thirteen thousand books in a building of its size. It now holds some thirty thousand.”

Old Northport Library image

The Northport Public Library on Laurel Avenue, ca 1969

Members of the community voted in 1963 to purchase land for a new library at the corner of Laurel and Scudder Avenues. Soon after, they voted to build a twenty thousand square feet library on this site and expand the library in East Northport.

Construction was completed in 1966. The Northport building included space for a special art book collection and a meeting room with seating for one hundred. The extension to the East Northport building added book stack areas that freed space for a larger children’s room and for seating and reference resources in the adult area.

New Resources, New Services, 1966-1995
The spacious, new library facilities that opened in 1966 filled rapidly as the Library responded to the interests of the still-growing community and to a proliferation of media and information resources. The Library started to loan audiobooks in 1974 and videos in 1983. Audiocassette recordings joined long-playing records and both were replaced by compact discs in 1987. From the installation of a single computer on an experimental basis in 1982, computer access steadily expanded to include word processing and other software applications. In 1995 the Library offered Internet service in its buildings and at home.

East Northport Library 1970
The East Northport Public Library, ca 1970


The book collection grew as well. Special collections, such as large print, art, business, and Prime Time for seniors, were developed. Periodical and newspaper articles on microfilm, and electronic catalogs and databases increased access to information.  The Library’s membership in the Suffolk Cooperative Library System facilitated the loan of books and other materials from libraries throughout the county and indeed from all over the United States.

The Northport building’s large meeting room enhanced the programming capabilities of the Library. It was in regular use by the adult and children’s departments and also by community groups.

Construction, 1986-1998

By 1986 library users, the board of trustees, and staff had come to the same conclusion: the Library needed larger and improved facilities. After exploring a range of options, the library board proposed a plan in 1995 to renovate and expand the Northport Library from twenty thousand to thirty-six thousand square feet and to build an entirely new twenty thousand square feet library on the site of the East Northport building. The community overwhelmingly approved a $7.4 million bond issue to fund the project in September of that year.

East Northport Library 1998
The East Northport Library, ca 1998

The old East Northport building was removed in August 1996 to make way for the new library and a temporary library opened in a storefront up the street. In November 1996 ground was broken for the Northport building expansion. The building closed in October 1997 as construction proceeded. The same month the dramatic new library in East Northport opened. As in the old building, there was a cozy seating area centered around a fireplace. In August 1998 the expansion project concluded with the opening of the nautically themed Northport Library. Both buildings, designed by the architectural firm Beatty, Harvey, and Associates, featured spacious reading areas, ample room for computers and resources in a variety of formats, attractive meeting rooms, and trend-setting cafes. 

Children and Teens, 1914-2005

Library facilities and services for children and teens have developed in ways probably not anticipated by the Library’s founders. When the library on Main Street opened in 1914, the children’s area was simply shelving and seating in one half of the small reading room. In 1940 the East Northport Library was established primarily to provide a nearby library for the rapidly growing school-age population in the community. Separate children’s rooms were created, first in the East Northport library building in 1956 and then in Northport in 1958.

Northport Libray 1998
The Northport Public Library, ca 1998

In the late 1990s inviting teen centers as well as expansive children’s rooms with their own program areas were constructed in the new library buildings. Recently, separate spaces have been set aside in the children’s rooms for special collections and activities. The Rosemary Wells Collection, a permanent collection of the works of the award-winning children’s book author and illustrator, was introduced in the East Northport building in 1997. The Museum Cove, an attractive display space in the Northport building, held its first exhibit in 1999. East Northport’s “Read to Your Bunny” Corner, decorated with Wells illustrations, was added in 2002.

Special programming for children got its start in 1949 when school classes were invited to visit the library. In 1950 children’s story hours began, followed by the annual summer reading club. Now there is a full calendar of activities for children and their parents at the Library. And today’s children’s resources include many different formats, from books and magazines to DVDs and educational software.

The Latest Chapter, 1997-2006

When the new East Northport Library building opened in 1997, a state-of-the-art automated catalog also made its debut. It continues to add useful features. For example, library patrons can check the catalog from computers at home to learn if the latest issue of their favorite magazine has arrived at the Library, renew checked-out materials, and place holds on books and other resources housed in public libraries all over the county.    

Internet services have also grown. There are now a total of fourteen Internet stations in the Northport and East Northport libraries. Since October 2004, wireless access has been available in both buildings for those who bring their computers to the Library. Live Librarian, launched in 2001, provides reference help online even after the library buildings have closed. Home access to the Virtual Reference Collection’s array of online research resources has become easier -- all that’s needed is a library card barcode number and a PIN.

Topical monthly displays, showcasing the wealth of materials on the Library’s shelves, were introduced in 2000. On permanent exhibit at the Northport Library is the Millennium Bookball sculpture, featuring the community’s favorite books. At the East Northport Library the Tile Mural illustrates the area’s history. Both works of art were installed in the late 1990s.

The Northport Public Library Courtyard, 2005

To celebrate its 90th anniversary in 2004, the Northport-East Northport Public Library embarked on an exciting project to expand its services by creating a welcoming outdoor terrace. With generous support from the community the Library Courtyard was completed in 2005 and will be dedicated in the spring of 2006.

As the Northport-East Northport Public Library moves toward its next milestone, its centennial in 2014, it looks back with appreciation to its beginnings with small groups of residents who were determined to bring libraries to Northport and East Northport. It looks forward to continuing its tradition of meeting the educational, informational, and cultural needs of the community by providing innovative, superior library service.

Selected Bibliography

Goldberg, Jeanne. “History of the Northport-East Northport Public
Libraries.” Master’s thesis, Graduate Library School of Long Island
University, 1965.

Johnson, Barbara and Cornelia Fortier, eds. Following the Harbor,
1894-1994: Northport Village’s First Hundred Years. Northport, N.Y.:
Incorporated Village of Northport, 1998.

Local newspapers: Long Islander, Northport Journal, Observer, Record, Times of Northport.
Northport-East Northport Public Library. Scrapbooks, newsletters, photographs. Local History Collection. Northport-East Northport Public Library, Northport, NY.

Northport Literary and Library Union. Records. Local History Collection. Northport-East Northport Public Library, Northport, NY.

Northport Literary and Social Union. Records. Local History Collection. Northport-East Northport Public Library, Northport, NY.

These resources are available at the Northport-East Northport Public Library.

Prepared by Barbara Johnson
Head of Local History/Client Services Departments
April 2006



151 Laurel Avenue, Northport, NY 11768 (631-261-6930) / 185 Larkfield Road, East Northport, NY 11731 (631-261-2313)
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