Cazenovia’s first library opened in 1828, some 35 years after the town’s founding in a region that had once been Iroquois Indian territory. That year, merchant John Williams established a circulating library in his general store on the village’s main thoroughfare, Albany Street. Williams advertised his library in the Madison County Eagle in June, 1828: “The subscriber has established a circulating Library at his store, consisting of 200 vols. Miscellaneous works, embracing many of the standard English authors. New publications will be added to the library occasionally. Terms made known at the Library.” Such circulating libraries, which lent books on a fee basis, arose in England several centuries before and had spread across the American colonies by the beginning of the 18th century. Williams’ store/library is featured in a painting of Cazenovia’s village center (included in CPL’s collections).
In 1886, the Cazenovia Library Society was formed; the organization was similar in nature to the companies that established and maintained libraries through membership, lending fees, and gifts: “The aim is not to start off with a rush and allow the project to die in a short time, but to build slowly and surely, that in years to come we may have as fine a library as any town of this size in Central New York.” Society President William Burr donated rooms above his office on Albany Street for the project. The Library quickly outgrew this location.
John Williams’ 1830 Greek Revival house, located just down the street from his store, was purchased in 1890 by a well-known Cazenovia benefactor, Robert J. Hubbard. The beautiful building was donated to the Society. In November 1890, the Library was “thrown open to the public” and was fitted with “new bookcases, shelves and other conveniences of the most approved kind.” The circulation room, stacks and reading rooms were set up on the building’s ground floor, while an upstairs room was specifically reserved for natural history specimens, objects of local interest and a collection of Egyptian artifacts. Among these remarkable artifacts was a complete mummy and its case, purchased by Hubbard in Egypt on his 1894 Grand Tour. From its founding to the present day, the Library has served as Cazenovia’s historical society and “community attic.”
The Williams house comprised the community library’s complete collection until 1996, when a modern, two-story structure was attached to serve as the main working building. All circulation and book storage functions were relocated to the new addition, and a number of features were added for local cultural and historical purposes. An exhibition gallery for local art now connects the new building to the old house. On the original building’s ground floor, a local history room and three museum rooms contain items from the Library’s collection, including an assemblage of Egyptian artifacts (see the descriptions on this web site). Additionally, an archive room was added on the ground floor of the new structure to house the Library’s precious local documents. The ground floor also contains a community room, easily accessed from the building’s back parking lot, which is available, upon request, for meetings by local organizations. The Library offers computer services with Internet and Wi-Fi connections. Two quiet reading rooms in the original house retain their 19th century interiors. Educational programs, developed by the Library, are used by more than 1,000 school children each year (see additional information on this website). The Museum is also a destination for college students studying design and history.
The Cazenovia Public Library serves a population of approximately 6,500 people and is a member of the MidYork Library System, which serves Madison, Oneida and Herkimer counties. The MidYork system provides access not only to its own holdings, but also to books, CDs, DVDs, and resource materials in other library systems.
The John Williams House
The elegant Greek Revival house at 100 Albany Street has been home to the Cazenovia Public Library for 125 years. It was built in the mid 1830s for John Williams, a successful manufacturer and merchant, and the owner of several other local surviving structures, including the Lincklaen House Hotel and the mercantile buildings on either side of the Mill Street corner. The Williams house, with its elegant colonnade, originally sported a flat roof surrounded by a balustrade. This distinctive feature provides a clue as to the identity of the architect, as the building was one of only three flat-roofed, columned Greek Revival dwellings in Cazenovia.
The Century House, erected at Memorial Park in 1841, was designed by New York architect and New Woodstock native, Calvin Pollard. It is likely that the Williams House and Joy Hall, another formerly flat-roofed Greek Revival home on Sullivan Street, were also Pollard designs.
After Williams’ death in 1853, the house passed to Edward Mortimer Holmes, a merchant and connoisseur of fine horses. Holmes commenced to improve the property by adding a new pitched roof and remodeling the interior in the more florid Italianate style, popular in the years preceding the Civil War.
The exterior and interior details remained intact until 1996, when the rear wing of the house was razed to make way for the new Library building.
The house retains its original outbuildings, including an elegant horse barn and a handsome well house. While many village homes still preserve their own horse barns, an intact well house is a rarity. In the days before public water, every home had its own well and some sort of covering structure. Today, only one other architecturally significant example is known, a structure located on the post office lot, the former site of a village estate called the Homestead.
Thus, in addition to serving as an important community resource, the Cazenovia Public Library complex provides a window into the community’s architectural past.