Library History

The Liverpool Library
A brief history of the origins, growth, and maturity of a village library

Susan D. Gabbay
December 1965, Update, 10/72

It was with apprehension that I began this project, knowing how little source material there was; but with ever-deepening interest I proceeded through musty, yellowed clippings and the fragile pages of old record books, seeing reflected in them the whole history of a community.

I am deeply grateful to the Liverpool Library's Board of Trustees, whose president is Mr. J. Gordon Bentley, for encouraging me in this research, and to Miss Frances Carman, the library’s director, for her assistance and her patience with my endless queries.

To the Onondaga Historical Association, the Liverpool School District Office, the Syracuse Public Library, and the Brown Newspapers of Baldwinsville, my thanks too for their willingness to help as far as they were able.

With a sense of real accomplishment I now draw together the threads of which the story of the Liverpool Library is woven. 1965

Early Times in Liverpool

Nearly 400 years ago, in the forest fastnesses surrounding shining Lake Gannentaha, a council fire was lit. As it burned, representatives of five Indian nations assembled to hear the words of Hiawatha: “Be a united people and you will conquer your enemies." Thus was formed the Iroquois Confederacy, on the rise of ground which was to become Liverpool.

The first white man to follow the paths worn by many moccasined feet, was Pére Simon LeMoyne, who in 1654 came from French Canada as an ambassador of peace to the Onondagas. He paved the way for the establishment in 1656 of a mission house, fort, and chapel overlooking the lake, and to be called Sainte Marie de Gannentaha. The following year, however, relations between the French and the Onondagas had so deteriorated that the French had to make a stealthy departure from Sainte Marie. For many years, no white man endeavored to settle in this territory; though Count de Frontenac, Canada’s governor, built a fort in 1696, he and his men returned to Canada after skirmishes with the Indians. In 1751, to prevent the French from establishing another fort in the area, Sir William Johnson on behalf of the English, bought the lake and its surrounding land to a width of two miles, from the Onondagas. But after the Revolution, title to the land reverted to the Indians. New York State then bought the approximate area of the present Onondaga County as a military tract, from which land grants were made to soldiers.

The first settler on one of these land grants in Onondaga County was Asa Danforth; and some years later, in 1788, his brother John settled in what is now Liverpool. As more families came to the area, it was in John Danforth’s house that the first court was held, and the first meeting of the county supervisors.

Comfort Tyler who also settled near what was now called Onondaga Lake at this time, learned from the Indians,-who over a hundred years before had learned from Pére LeMoyne,- how to make salt from the springs surrounding the lake. From this time on, the settlement on the shores of the lake began to grow as the manufacture of salt increased, despite the hardships and illnesses which plagued the settlers.

As an offshoot of salt manufacture, coopering developed as an industry which was to last nearly a century.

In 1797, a village was laid out by the state’s surveyor general, at which time it was officially named Liverpool, though it had previously been known as Little Ireland— most of the inhabitants of the ten log cabins which constituted the village were Irish in origin.

During the first decade of the nineteenth century, many new settlers arrived; they devoted themselves to making Liverpool a better place to live. Streets were laid out and named, trading areas were established, and above all, swamps were cleared, freeing the residents at last of many of the fevers which yearly descended on them.

One of the settlers, Col. Abel Hawley, began at this time to conduct a school in his log house. He is said to have been a stern master, which indeed was the tradition in those times. He was among the Liverpool men to serve in the War of 1812, but returned in 1814 to teach again, this time in a “little red schoolhouse" that  had been erected in the center of the village. Some of the texts used were The Old English Reader, Daball's Arithmetic, and The Elementary Speller.

In 1820, Liverpool’s first church was organized. It was a Methodist Episcopal congregation with 11 members. As the thoughts of the settlers reach beyond the simple needs of food and shelter to the establishment of school and church, the first phase of Liverpool's history draws to an end.

A Subscription Library: 1822-1843

To the village, still unincorporated and with but one organized church, now came its first library. In December of 1822, a group of gentlemen came together to discuss the establishment of a subscription library. On January 14, 1823, a meeting was held at the home of Henry Stiles, to choose trustees for the new Liverpool Library. The nine men selected were Henry Case, Ebenezer Fowler, Jonathan P. Yicks, James Johnson, Mars Nearing, James Keith, Samuel Calley, John N. Smith, and Henry G. Stiles. By-laws and ordinances were adopted at this meeting also.

At another meeting on the 23rd, Henry Case was made chairman, Jonathan Hicks, librarian, and Samuel Calley, treasurer. Mr. Case, Mr. Hicks and Mr. Keith were chosen as a committee of selection. All these offices were for one year.

On January 30, the incorporation of the subscription library was recorded in the clerk's office of Onondaga County.

The bylaws stated that the subscription share should be two dollars; that there should be an annual meeting for the election of trustees and officers; and that a quarterly meeting wou1d be held for the exchange of books and the examination of them, and determination of fines. It was set forth that for each share held by an individual, he was entitled to one book. Shares could be paid for in cash or in books.

Upon perusal of the list of the 138 books belonging to the Liverpool Library in 1831, we find that history and biography are most often represented, with travel and religion nearly as common; and fiction is represented primarily by well-known works of English literature. A random sample of the list yields such titles as: Franklin's Life, by Himself; Josephus' Works; Pilgrim's Progress; Tom Jones; Ancient History of Universalism; Memoirs of Simon Bolivar; and a Family Encyclopedia. There were multiple copies of some of the titles, making a total of 227 volumes.

In 1824 it was decided that five trustees, instead of nine, would be chosen yearly. This ruling was in effect until 1839, when the number was reduced to three.

Circulation and fines were recorded in a ledger, one page being devoted to each member of the library. Books were identified by accession number.

In 1843 it was decided to dissolve the library organization. A committee was appointed to see to the auction of its property and the notification of all shareholders; it is interesting to note that the members of the committee had been active members of the library from its beginnings 20 years before.

During the life of this library, many changes were taking place in the village of Liverpool. With the opening of the Oswego Canal in 1828, commerce came to this little community. It became a trading point, and many residents entered the boating and boat repair business. In 1830, though the village still consisted of only 50 houses and a great deal of mud, the state passed an act incorporating Liverpool. Ordinances were passed in the ensuing years which would improve roads, provide drains, forbid livestock to run at large, and restrict sale of alcoholic beverages.

By 1839, a school system had been established, with regular in meetings of the trustees. The number of children taught in 1841 was 30, though there were over 60 between the ages of 5 and 16 in the district. At this time the number of volumes in the school library was 36; it is not now known whether these were texts. A new building, of brick and cut stone, was erected for the school in 1848. It still stands, and with later additions, now houses the school district offices and the present public library.

There were at this time several private schools, one of which was conducted in the Lutheran Church. This church was established in 1839, in the wake of the first of several waves of German immigrants; during the latter part of the century, Liverpool was to all intents and purposes a bilingual community.

Many of the organizers of the subscription library were civic leaders. Henry Case, first chairman of the membership, had come to Liverpool in 1795 as a very young man, and had become the village's justice of the peace. James Johnson was a trustee of the Methodist Church, and with Mr. Case and Jonathan P. Hicks, organized some Fourth of July celebrations on the shores of Lake Onondaga. Mr. Hicks, a store owner, was a particularly active gentleman. He had been the organizer in 1829 of the First Presbyterian Church, and was a mainstay of that church throughout his lifetime; he was the first treasurer of the village after its incorporation; and when the first Board of Health was appointed in 1849, he was a member. On the Board also were Tennant Hinckley and Dr. C.S. Sterling, who were library members. Dr. Sterling is reported to have been the first physician to tie the radial artery. As has been said, these gentlemen had been library members, and often officers, throughout the 20 years of its operation. The reason they decided to dissolve the library is lost to posterity. One may dimly discern in the shadows the growth of a school library which may have taken over the function of the subscription library by serving the entire community. At all events, the decision to abolish the library was not an easy one to make. It is recorded that the membership met, adjourned, met, and adjourned once more, before they could record that the books the group had taken such pains to acquire, were indeed to be sold at public auction.


In the mid-nineteenth century, as has been said, there were several waves of German immigrants who came to settle in Liverpool. They brought with them a skill which was to become for a time a major industry~-that of willow weaving. From the time the first basket was made and sold in 1852, after which a great many more families came from Germany to become willow weavers, to the turn of the century, this industry grew by leaps and bounds. It was at all times a hand craft and was not subject to mechanical means. It is said that at the height of this era, in 1892, as many as 396,000 baskets were made. These were marketed all over the world, along with wi1low furniture.

By the 1870s, Liverpool was well enough established materially to look toward the "finer things of life." The churches had auxiliaries such as the Methodist and Presbyterian Societies, and the Lutheran Frauen Verein and Luther League were organized not long after. During this decade, three newspapers were started, all of which failed, however, very soon. A Liverpool Academy was founded in 1872, and during the 1870s also, there was a lecture series. As a part of this program, a Mr. Fitch spoke on "The Risks of Thinking," and a Prof. Roundy, on "Balance of Power in Europe." Glee clubs and a debating society were active during this period, and in 1874 a series of "Literary Entertainments," consisting of music, tableaux, and speeches, was held; proceeds were to be applied to a Sabbath school library. There was also a W.C.T.U. reading room, open every day, providing books, magazines and newspapers. Temperance was of prime importance during these years in Liverpool. A great many speeches were given and articles written on the subject, and revival meetings were frequent.

By now the school had enlarged considerably; there were six teachers and well over 200 pupils. It too had its social events. Spelling bees were held periodically, with supper served afterward; the major part of the village population attended these.

Through the 1880s and 1890s, Liverpool's outlook continued to broaden. Travel to Oswego, Syracuse and more distant points became easier as roads and railroads grew. A great deal of building was under way; churches, shops and houses became much more numerous. By the turn of the century, however, the character of Liverpool was to change radically. Its industries began to fail: salt manufacture because of cheaper sources of supply elsewhere; coopering because of lack of demand for the product; and willow weaving because of imports from Belgium, Poland, and China, coming in with little or no tariff. At this time too, a trolley from Liverpool to Syracuse went into operation. Here ended Liverpool's second phase, as an independent little community. From this time on it was to become a residential town, a part of Greater Syracuse, and eventually a suburban location for major industry.

No statistics --indeed, no records at all--remain to indicate what library service may have been during this time. It seems safe to assume that a library existed. Brief and indirect references are made to it; to all appearances it was that of the school, perhaps open to the use of the community in general. A “Regents’ Society,” perhaps a free, cooperative library, is said to have donated its 916 books to the Liverpool Public Library upon its chartering.

In his annual report for the year 1892-93, the earliest one extant, Charles F. Lyon, librarian, stated that the year in which the library was founded was unknown. He reported that in that year 601 books were on the library shelves and that circulation was 540. The library as it was then is described by Mr. Lyon as a school district library, supported by taxes and state aid, which was free for reference and lending. The library was kept open four hours weekly, for which Mr. Lyon received $25 per annum.

It is quite clear, then, that this library had existed for some years, as it was firmly established by this time.

Liverpool Public Library 1893-l930

The transfer of the library property from the Board of Education to the Liverpool Public Library took place on February 10, 1893; it was signed by Anson J. Upson, then Chancellor of the University of the State of New York, and by Melvil Dewey, secretary. The library inspector, W.R. Eastman, found the transfer in accordance with law, and recommended the Regents' formal approval. On June 21 of the same year, provisional charter No. 739 was issued to the library board, which consisted of Jacob Smith, Edward P. Black, and Darwin F Gillis. Requirements for permanent charter were only partially fulfilled at this time because the library was not kept open a sufficient number of hours.

Some of the authors represented in the library in its first year as a public library were Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, Sir Walter Scott, and Alexandre Dumas. Children's books were to be found on the shelves as well: Louisa May Alcott’s books were there, and Horatio Alger's; Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, Swiss Family Robinson and the Arabian Nights were all there. On the children's shelves also appeared a great deal of non-fiction, such as Butterfly Hunters in the Caribbees, Boy Travellers in Japan and China, and by an anonymous author, What Darwin Saw. The youngsters evidently made good use of their library, as after nearly every juvenile title in the accession book appears a notation--"rebound," or "badly worn," or "worn out."

Between the provisional charter and the granting of a permanent charter in 1901, very little change took place. In 1898, Mr. Lyon reported having bought 130 volumes, bringing the total of library holdings to 849. One wonders what became of the 916 books the Regents' Society was said to have donated.

At the time of application for permanent charter in 1901, there were in the library 998 books in good condition and 50 needing repair, with a total estimated value of $1070. Seven pamphlets and two maps completed the list of holdings. Bookcases to the value of $250 made up the furnishings of the library, which was located in an upstairs room of the grammar school building.

No other libraries served the community, which was made up of 1500 inhabitants. Library trustees were elected, one each year to serve three years, by the voters of Liverpool Union Free School District No. 1, Town of Salina. Tax appropriation was $160 per annum, and there was $100 in state aid. Of this, $60 paid the librarian's salary, and the rest bought books.

Permanent charter No. 1451 was granted on July 1, 1901; the librarian was Mabel E. Graves, and the trustees were A. Willis Aiken, Isaac Jaqueth, M.D., and Willis Gleason. Dr. Jaqueth had been the librarian in 1899, and served on the board for some time thereafter. At this time the library was open 2 1/2 hours, two days a week.

In 1903, library holdings had reached 1359 volumes; of these 222 were purchased that year, and one was a gift. The librarian's salary was up to $75, and in the annual budget, cataloging appears for the first time, with $10 allotted to it.

When in 1909 Blanche Alvord became the librarian, she was able to have two assistants; circulation was by now over 6000, and 350 borrowers were registered. During these early years of the twentieth century, the library was open several hours a day for around 150 days a year. In 1911, allowance was made for binding expenses of $9.00, in a total budget of $451.00.

The library was supported in 1912 by $375 in tax, and no state aid was given in that year. Back in the schoolhouse in that year after several years in a nearby location, the library had a capacity of 3500 books; it owned about 2500. There was no classification system and consequently all books were arranged by author. No reading tables were available. The library had open shelves, with one book allowed at a time to each patron. Teachers, however, were allowed to take as many as they desired; they were asked to keep a circulation record which would be added to the library's records. Charging was being done by ledger entry.

The German-speaking population was still a factor to be considered at this time. The Lutheran Church was conducting services entirely in German, and would continue to do so for many years. The librarian seemed to feel that the book collection met the needs of this group, though the accession books show no German titles, as she declined the offer of a traveling library in German from the state. It is most probable that the German-speaking people did not request service from the library; it is to be hoped that the church provided a reading room for them. (The church had at least one book of which the congregation was justly proud. It was a silver-mounted and embossed pulpit Bible given by Emperor William II of Germany.) In succeeding years, children's books are reported separately; there were few when first reported, but by 1915, circulation of children’s books accounted for 1484 of a total of 5904. These years brought new borrowers to the library at a rate of around 50 a year. In 1919, a total of 653 borrowers was registered.

A sudden burst of growth and activity is shown by the library following 1918. It was in that year that Adasa P. Hopper, soon to become Mrs. Gray, was made librarian. The library had new quarters in the Civic Center; it had been reorganized under the direction of a State Library representative; and its budget was nearly double what it had been in the previous year. Circulation took a tremendous leap. In 1918 it was over 10,000, and by 1920 had doubled again.

At this time the president of the Board of Trustees was Kathryn P. Dunham, who was actively interested in the library and in its past. She wrote a history of the library which seems not to have survived; unfortunately a copy was not kept in the library records. Some of the additional circulation is accounted for by the increased number of hours the library was kept open. The schedule for 1921 shows that on three days of the week the library was open for two or more hours. Logically enough, salaries for the librarian and her assistant were higher--$170.00 and $63.00 respectively by 1924; the librarian's salary had by 1929 reached $450.00.

This growth of library service continued steadily throughout the forty years during which Adasa Hopper Gray was librarian. She became almost a legend in the community. She was not a trained librarian, having had no more than a high school education, but she was devoted to the interests of the library, and worked against the odds of inadequate financial support and lack of help and space to advance the Liverpool Library, until her death in 1963. She is seen through her annual reports to the state to have been a woman of strong character; she was outspoken and firm in her opinions, with, however, a sense of humor. These doubtless were the characteristics which enabled her to accomplish what many would have said was impossible.

Her service to the library was recognized in 1965 by a group of her friends, by the dedication of a plaque to be seen in the adult section of the library.

Liverpool Public Library 1930-1965

The years between 1930 and the present have brought nearly as many changes as the earlier years did, to the Liverpool Library. In 1930, the village population stood at 2242; by 1972 the population served by the library, now considered to be the Liverpool Central School District, numbered about 40,000. In accordance with recommendations by the state, the Liverpool Library kept to the pattern of increasing the book collection and the hours of service during the crisis of the depression. Circulation increased steadily, and showed no sign of faltering in its upward course until the pre-war period. From a circulation of 33, 392 in 1930, the library by the end of 1971 had attained a circulation of over 141,000.

The l940s opened a period of cooperation between the library and other community organizations. The Liverpool Historical Society, the American Legion, the Boy and Girl Scouts, and the Garden Club all made use of the library's services, as did the schools of the village. During this time, Mrs. Gray's objectives were to persuade the patrons to read better literature, and to circulate as many books as possible on current topics. She initiated a Book Club, whereby its members donated one or two books each per year to the library; the circulation of the books so given was limited for one year to club members. There were at one time as many as 100 members of this club.

Major problems developed during the 1950s for the Liverpool Library. For some years its location had been shifted and reshifted; it had been housed in five different locations. All were within one or two blocks of the center of the village, but it was not until 1958 that it was at last permanently established in the old grammar-school building. Three rooms and a small office on the main floor constituted its quarters. The partitions between rooms, and the age of the building, caused some inconvenience.

A need arose during these years for clear-cut policy in matters of hiring, book selection, sick leave, etc. The trustees therefore applied themselves to the clarification of existing policies and the formulation of new ones, for consistency in dealing with employees and the public.

Strange though it is to relate, despite the rapid increase in population through these years, interest in the library was declining. Schools were now centralized, and in 1952 the library was rechartered as a central school district library. Trustees then were Warren Blasland, Irving Orth, Edward Bryant, J. Gordon Rankin, and Gustave Eriksen: five in number according to the new charter. But in 1959 the voters of the district rejected the library's budget of $11,000 not once, but twice, and the library's doors were forced to close. After a great deal of publicity, interested citizens held an open meeting to ask for support for the library. This time they were successful, and in November of 1959 the library reopened.

School and church libraries were rapidly growing at this time. The school district was adding many new schools, each of which was equipped with an excellent book collection and a professional librarian.

Entering upon the 1960s, the Liverpool Library resumed its upward climb. A Great Books program was initiated, which, however, has not continued to the present time. In 1961, the trustees considered joining the Onondaga Library System; but though central acquisitions and processing had been a trend in the state since the 1940s and was recommended by the Board of Regents, the trustees did not at first feel that this was a good step for them to take on behalf of the Liverpool Library. In 1963, however, Liverpool did become a member of the county system. Gaylord manual charging came to Liverpool in 1962; the vastly increased circulation and population served made a mechanical charging system imperative.

Upon the death of Mrs. Gray in 1963, it was decided to locate a fully-trained, full-time library director for Liverpool. In the fall of 1964, this director was found, in the person of Miss Frances Carman.

One of Miss Carman’s first tasks was to continue the monumental weeding which had been begun before her arrival. Many thousands of outdated and outworn volumes were removed from the shelves, and many of the shelves themselves were removed, bringing a lighter, brighter atmosphere to the library. Miss Carman's major objectives were to build book and periodical collections up to par, to maintain a full schedule of opening hours, and to make the best possible use of the services provided by the Onondaga Library System. Under her auspices, two more professional librarians were hired, making possible a wider variety of services to the public.

In 1966, the library's quarters were remodelled, which while not providing very much more space, made better use of what was available, and gave the library a much more welcoming aspect.

Circulation increased year after year despite the still limited facilities. Since there was now a larger staff, programs such as story hour were instituted in these years, but it became more and more clear that a new building was needed. Miss Carman and the Board of Trustees began a study of the community, aided by a committee of interested citizens, with a view to learning what kind of library facility would best serve Liverpool.

Upon Miss Carman's retirement in 1970, (Mrs. Jacob) Susan D. Gabbay, formerly children's librarian, was appointed as library director. With a staff of five full time and eight part time employees, the library has been able in the last year or two to offer a wider variety than ever of programs and services. These include a continuing reference and interlibrary loan service in the charge of (Mrs. John) Barbara Vasquez, reference librarian; three story hour sessions under the direction of (Mrs. Joseph) Fay Golden, children's librarian; a program for mothers whose children attend story hours; film shows; craft and cooking demonstrations; and an outreach program for the elderly and handicapped. The library also sponsored “Art in the Park," an art exhibit and sale, in July 1972, and has launched an art guild for the Liverpool area.

The Liverpool Library has come a long way. Beginning as a library restricted to paying members, it became, we have reason to believe, a school library, and then a public library serving a tiny village. Again it widened its horizons and welcomed the school district, including many thousands more people than theretofore: at last it has become a part of the county library system, which in turn may call upon state and national resources.

The staff and trustees of the Liverpool Public Library are always looking for ways in which they can serve the public better. Hopes for a new building continue to set the main goal for all concerned about better library service. The trustees, who are Mrs. John Schreiner, president, Stuart Krupkin, vice-president, Bruce N. Johnson, secretary, Robert Audley, and Mrs. David Fulmer, along with Mrs. Gabbay, are currently working out plans for a new facility which can provide the programs, services, and book collection so badly needed by the community of Liverpool, ever-growing in size and awareness.


I. Ledger of Liverpool Library, 1831-1843.

II. Whitney, Ruth. Liverpool Centennial. 1930.

III. Group, Mrs. E. F. The Liverpool Legend. n.d.

IV. Onondaga Historical Association. Files 1850-1900.

V. Accession books, Liverpool Public Library 1892-1930

VI. Annual reports, Liverpool Public Library 1892-1964.

VII. Charters, Liverpool Public Library, 1893, 1901, 1952.

VIII. Minutes, Board of Trustees meetings, 1952-1963.

IX. “On the library map," New York Libraries, May 1918

X. Interview, Miss Frances Carman, director, Liverpool Public Library.