Founded in 1897, the East Hampton Free Library was granted a charter by New York State and opened in one room of Clinton Hall on Main Street. It was financially supported by individual gifts and a small revenue from non-resident fees. It was staffed by volunteers and managed by a Board of Managers comprised of twelve women. Ettie Hedges was hired in 1898 as the librarian, and she continued in that position for 56 years, during which time she married Morton Pennypacker. Mr. Pennypacker gave to the Library his substantial collection of Long Island memorabilia, and it was that gift which formed the nucleus of the Long Island Collection.
The Library moved to its present location at the corner of Main Street and Buell Lane in 1912, on land donated by Mary Lorenzo Woodhouse. The architect Aymar Embury designed the building, which was also donated by the Woodhouses. The Library was designed in a neo-Elizabethan style since many residents of that time wanted East Hampton architecture to conform to that of a pre-seventeenth century Kentish village, similar in looks to the one the original settlers had left behind.
In 1915 the East Hampton School District appropriated $400 to augment the Library’s modest income. The Library, in this period before Guild Hall was founded, was the center of cultural life in the village. Lectures, concerts, club meetings, and book groups all took place at the Library. The old handwritten Minutes of monthly meetings of the Board of Managers of this period tell the story of trying to meet the needs for staff, equipment and new books on a very small income. A typewriter in 1919 and a telephone in 1926 were long studied acquisitions.
In 1930 Mary and Lorenzo Woodhouse added to their original gift by giving a new Board Room and connecting Cloister. That same year Mary Gardiner Thompson and Jonathan T. Gardiner built the Gardiner Memorial Room to house the recently donated Pennypacker Long Island Collection. It was an astounding collection of papers containing deeds, pamphlets, maps, letters, and diaries and became the crown jewel of the Library. Reflections of the community’s history are found in the Library Board’s Minutes: increased book checkouts during the Depression, a traveling library for servicemen created in 1943, and most recently the posting of a “restaurant-type sign” that entry without shoes is prohibited.
The nieces and nephew of Charles W. Osborne gave property on the corner of Buell Lane and Main Street. Their gift was intended to serve a triple purpose: to enhance the beauty of Main Street, to ensure room for expansion of the beautiful East Hampton Library, and to pay tribute to the memory of their uncle.
The Long Island Collection continued to grow. It had by now become a trove of remarkable artifacts and documents: The 1641 deed to Shelter Island, a sash from the Huron Tribe given to Rev. Samuel Buell, a fragment of the cloth woven with gold thread that Captain Kidd gave to Mrs. Gardiner during his famous visit to Gardiner’s Island in 1699, the East Hampton Book of Laws published in 1665, an Indian Bible of 1685, and first-hand reports of whaling voyages, witch trials, genealogical information, account books, diaries and deeds.
A great library collection needs focus to be brilliant and the Long Island Collection more than meets that prerequisite. No other small town in America has such a collection of rare materials tracing the region’s history back to its origins. To house it, the Gertrude Mumford Room, adjacent to the Gardiner Room, was built in 1946, with funds raised by subscription.
In 1948 the Thomas Moran Biographical Art Collection, which contained numerous drawings, etchings, personal memorabilia and biographical material, was donated to the library by the artist’s daughter, Ruth. Thomas Moran and his family took part in every facet of village life for over seventy years, from 1878 to Ruth’s death in 1948.
The year 1953 saw the addition of the Hedges room, named for Dayton Hedges who commissioned Jeannette Edwards Rattray to write “East Hampton History.” The income generated from its sale helped pay to build the room.
In 1963 the long desired Children’s Room was added in memory of Dorothy T. Quick. Story Hour and the popular summer reading programs were initiated.
In 1968 the Wallace Chaunceys renovated the attic to serve as a non-fiction stack. It has recently served as a staff work area. It was named the Aymar Embury Room in honor of the Library’s architect. Embury also designed Guild Hall Museum directly across the street. These handsome landmarks are cornerstones of the Village’s Historic District.
In 1976 the new Jeannette Edwards Rattray wing was dedicated. It honored a descendant of one of East Hampton’s founding families, who was a gifted chronicler of the town’s rich history. In that same year the Agnes Day Room was added.
In 1997, the Library’s Centennial Year, an expansion and renovation designed by the noted architect Robert A.M. Stern was completed. Mr. Stern’s plan not only restored the architectural integrity of the original design but also houses an extraordinary modern library and research facility. Computer-equipped study carrels, CD-ROM’s, on-line catalogs, instant Internet access with email facilities are available. The new addition named in honor of John M. Olin, a long-time summer resident, doubled the size of the Library.
June 21, 2014 the Library opened the Arthur and Janet C. Ross Children’s Addition with the construction Design by Robert A.M. Stern, the Interior Design by Lee H. Skolnick Architecture and Design Partnership and constructed by Ben Krupinski Builders. The addition includes a beautiful 4,000 sq. ft. Children’s Room serving ages birth through 8th grade which includes design elements tied to the history of East Hampton. Also of note is the Baldwin Family Lecture Room and the Tom Twomey Gallery, both utilized for a hosting educational and entertaining events and programs for all ages.
November 19, 2016 the Library opened the Teda and George Balasses Young Adult Room. This 800 sq. ft. room was designed by the Lee H. Skolnick Architecture and Design Partnership in collaboration with 20 local High School Students. The Young Adult Room and Department are dedicated to serving High School aged library users. The room includes a group study/conference area, home work tables, lounge area, large screen computers, laptops, an age appropriate book collection and much more. Two important features of the room are a wall of photos contributed by local High School students and a mural that was painted by local students. A new mural will be painted and installed each Fall.
East Hampton Library is a member of the Long Island Library Resources Council.