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Black Watch Library, the beginnings

The beginnings – the story behind the birth of a community that built a public library.  Elizabeth S. Densmore, Secretary and Trustee of the Ticonderoga Historical Society wrote in the Society’s “Patches and Patterns Extended July, 1990, issue the “Saga of the Black Watch Memorial Library.” The following draws heavily from her article.

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It all began with the will of Rosemond Bradley, who died in 1899. She bequeath a substantial sum of money to “a corporation organized in the village of Ticonderoga for the purpose of purchasing, maintaining, and supporting a library” if it was organized during her lifetime or “one year from my decease.”   In the fall of 1899, a number of village ladies formed a circulating library association and then proceeded with raising funds and forming a community group  to plan for a library.  A rummage sale was held, local merchants contributed $145. and the Village Board appropriated $200.  Frank B. Wickes, a leading Ticonderoga attorney, accepted the committee leadership and the project oversight.

Mr. Wicks first, requested guidance from the University of New York State – the state’s library authority,  and  its Director of Division of Public Libraries, Melville Dewey.  In a February, 1900 letter Mr. Dewey wrote: “It is a danger of working injury to an enterprise by beginning on too small of scale.  A large undertaking commands the highest public respect.” By June, 1900 the Ticonderoga Sentinel proclaims the opening of a Public Library – no location was reported or identified – and it would be opened to all residents of the incorporated village and they would be entitled to the free use of the books.  At the same time the Library Trustees extended to town residents library usage  for the payment of $1. annually.  About 400 new books were purchased while noted town residents made generous donations of an additional 200 books.

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While all the planning was taking place and the growing need for a larger library space, the town leased on July 1, 1901 the entire first floor of the Buskirk Block for $275. per annum.  (Today the approximate location would be to the south end of Jay’s SUNOCO station lot – opposite of the Post Office.)  The first village librarian, Anna L. Wheeler, was appointed and she cataloged the libraries collection that consisted of both fiction and non-fiction books,  reference sources – such as a sixteen volume set of  the “American Cyclopedia” – Shakespeare’s plays, biographies, and writings of poets.  The library would be opened Saturday afternoon and evening – 2 to 6 and 7 to 8 o’clock.

The library was a great success and it was quickly recognized that a new public library would be of a greater value to the entire town and if so made available to all it would also extent and increase the financial resources needed to establish and maintain a public library.  A public referendum was held on March 5, 1901 with wide support and it became a “free Town Library.”   A new provisional charter was issued and the Town Board appointed the trustees.

When Rev. Joseph Cook gave his dedication address of the bolder he erected to the heroes of Ticonderoga at Academy Park on July 31, 1899 he remarked:  “There ought to be a memorial to the Black Watch, composed largely of Scotch Highlanders, who with the Colonials, charged Montcalm’s entrenchments for eight consecutive hours.”  From these few expressed thoughts, Frederick B. Richards, secretary of the Ticonderoga Historical Society, became a  leading force to make a brick and stone memorial to those Scotch Highlanders who fought, and suffered, so gravely at Fort Carillon in July, 1758.

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About 1903, with a devotion to making the Black Watch Memorial a reality, Mr. Richards wrote Andrew Carnegie – a very well-known and  wealthy American Industrialist with a Scottish heritage that had been funding public libraries through-out the land – if he would give a library building to Ticonderoga as a memorial to the famous Black Watch Regiment.   In March, 1904 a reply was forthcoming in a letter to Mr. Wickes, President of Public Library: Responding to your communications on behalf of Ticonderoga.  If the City agrees by Resolutions of Councils to maintain a Free Public Library at cost of not less than $500.00 a year and provide a suitable site for the building, Mr. Carnegie will be pleased to erect a Free Public Library Building for Ticonderoga.”  signed by Jas. Bertram, P. Secretary. At this time David Williams, a summer resident at Rogers Rock and publisher of “Iron Age” also came to Mr. Richards’ aid and help secure the Carnegie gift – in fact TWO gifts in the amount of  $5,000. *   The first was for the building and the second, with no restrictions, to add a historical addition to the library.  After many vocal concerns from residents of where to erect the library – the initial thought was to place it on “no-cost” land at Academy Park –  it was decided to purchase for $750. a lot on West Exchange Street – a “lot back of the billboards above Lamson & Son’s store.”    (* Later The Carnegie Foundation also gifted another $2,000 toward the purchase of books, documents, and other historical material for the historical room. Later this material was turned over to the Ticonderoga Historical Society, however this story will be told later.)

Mr. Richards’  pursuit of the Black Watch Memorial required the need to  communicate with the Black Watch Regiment itself.  In one of the enthusiastic letters to Mr. Richards, Major  Farquharson of the Regiment expressed a great delight in learning of the historical alcove and a  interest  to devoted a part as  “a memorial to the 42nd Regiment.” With great pleasure  the Major expressed the Regiment would be placing an order for a memorial wall dedication  Tablet for the library to be made in  London.  The grand unveiling of this tablet was held on July4th, 1906. Major Wilson Farquharson, came from Scotland and the  Royal Highlanders, and a company of 50 men, again traveled down from Montreal.

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The laying of the library cornerstone on October4th, 1905 was widely advertised and generated much interest.  The D& H Railroad reduced fares for those traveling.  The town filled with members from the Mt. Defiance Lodge F. & A.M., who were hosting a district convention of that organization,  and members attending the same day laying of the cornerstone at the Odd Fellows Temple across the street.  Mounted escorts, carriages with the Grand Marshal, Fireman’s Association and Exempt fireman, town officials and several  marching units from local organizations, including those from the Masons and Odd Fellows  help swell the numbers.  The largest units however, were two  military units:  the Regimental  Band from the 5th Infantry stationed at Plattsburgh  and the Pipe Band, 5th Royal Scotch Highlanders from Montreal with 245 men!

The original library was a single story cruciform plan brick structure with blue/green slate gable roofs.  Projecting rafter ends decorate the eaves of the roof.  Its foundation is of rock-faced sandstone.  A belt course of white-painted dressed sandstone blocks above the foundation and narrow string course of the same material and treatment appear on all sides of the structure except on the north façade.  The brick on the east, west and south  facades is of stretcher bond with a red mortar. The bricks on the corners have white mortar and simulate quoins.  The north façade brick is of American common bond. The library was dedicated in 1906.

2014 is Ticonderoga’s, First 250th Anniversary  Celebration Year – a great time to learn more about the community we live in.  This article is written to introduce those not so well versed in our local history; and, for those that have a broader knowledge a re-introduction with the hope it will spark a greater interest in Ticonderoga’s heritage.  (wgd)  

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