John Jermain Library Finally Breaks Ground

Good news. The much-needed $10 million renovation of the John Jermain Library has started and the temporary library will reside at 34 West Water Street, Sag Harbor (across from the Post Office). The  “temp” library opens for the first time on Saturday, July 2 at 10 a.m. The main building renovation, scheduled to be completed by 2013, will increase the square footage of the library twofold to 15,000 square feet and will include a whole new wing.

This beautiful Sag Harbor library has a wonderful, distinguished history. It is named after Revolutionary War hero John Jermain, who moved from Westchester to Sag Harbor and married Margaret Pierson. Their daughter, Margaret Pierson Jermain, was the mother of Margaret Olivia Slocum who married Russell Sage, a financier whose money purchased the grounds the Library was built on. At the time, these ground were located across the street from the Slocum  “summer mansion.” The $10,000 Mrs. Slocum paid for the property in 1909-10 was the highest amount ever paid for Sag Harbor land at the time. [expand]

Augustus N. Allen designed the building in 1910 in the Classical Revival style. Thomas Jefferson himself was a student of this style, and his Monticello home greatly resembles the Jermain Library. Four stone Doric columns adorn the front of the 50-foot by 50-foot brick structure, with the stone lintels of the windows adorned with the Greek key pattern. The columns cost around $70,000, a huge amount at the time, and to this day they define the majesty of the building.

The dome, constructed by the R. Guastavino Company, is one of the more than 1,000 that they built, including those at the library of the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City, and the National Museum in Washington, DC.

The library will operate out of the temporary facility for between 18 and 24 months, during which the historic Jermain Library exterior will also be tuned up so that it can endure another 100 years of service to the Sag Harbor community. The new location will still have WiFi and places to sit comfortably with laptops, and the library staff has announced there will be “public computers, a small program room, and a cozy area for storytelling for the children.” It was impossible to bring the whole collection of books to the new smaller space, but through the shared book system in place throughout Suffolk County, everyone can get the books they desire.

The saga of the expansion plan—which had even at one time included a plan to build a second building at the edge of Mashashimuet Park—was finally approved by over 80% of the Sag Harbor citizens who voted for it. In recent years, the East End towns have struggled to compete with the Rogers Memorial Library of Southampton in terms of expansion and modernization. Instead, towns like Bridgehampton, Sag Harbor and East Hampton have chosen to use existing structures with architectural additions in order to keep the flavor of the past as the facilities move well into the 21st century.

But the new wing at Jermain will not be anything like the historic main building. Designed by Richard Monday, an architect with the Newman Group in New Haven, Connecticut, the new wing will include modern heating and air conditioning, including a strict climate-control section to preserve the library’s treasure of historic books, documents, and artifacts. With a bow to the past, the library’s oak chairs and tables will be restored, as will those majestic chandeliers, and for grandfather clock lovers, yes, the clocks will once again tick and tell accurate time.

A touch of the old with a touch of the new, the expanded library will be accessible to the wheelchair-bound and elderly and will also aim to bring in more natural light for the numerous young people doing research.

Ben Franklin and Thomas Jefferson believed in the power and sanctity of libraries.  Towns that understand the importance of having high-quality research and reading material for their citizenry raise the bar in their quest for the best quality of life. Sitting in front of fires while reading borrowed books is part of Sag Harbor’s storied past, while state-of-the-art reading rooms are now part of its future. When the John Jermain Library opened to much fanfare on Oct 10, 1910, it had 5,000 volumes. When it reopens in 2013, it will have over 40,000, plus a trove of research materials. Now that’s what progress is all about. [/expand]


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