Friday, 04 February 2011 00:00
During May of this year, I wrote about the second library built in Massapequa, now the Central Avenue Library, thanks to Mrs. Katherine Smith. Now I will tell the story of Massapequa’s first library. In 1896, the Delancey Floyd-Jones Library, named after its founder, was built on the property owned by the Grace Church. During that time in our history, the population of Massapequa numbered only a few hundred, most of whom were members of the same family. The original library trustees were: Colonel Floyd-Jones, Josephine Katherine Floyd-Jones, (Mrs. John D. Jones), William Carpender, Edward H. Floyd-Jones, George Stanton Floyd-Jones, Mary Louisa Floyd-Jones, Coleman G. Williams, Jeannie Floyd-Jones Robison (Mrs. William Robison) and in the position as rector of Grace Church, the Reverend William Wiley.
Those of us that can remember the early days of the library recall when it was only open a few hours a week around the 1940s. Contrary to present custom, however, “going to the library” was almost a social event, for which one would dress up as if going out to pay a social call. An early way the library had of acquiring funds, above those coming from Colonel Floyd-Jones’s endowment, was a system of accepting “patrons.” In return for a yearly contribution of $10, these patrons would be given a key to the building, allowing them to enter and withdraw books at any time they wished, even if the librarian wasn’t on duty. This practice fell into disuse some time ago.
During the 1960s, the board of trustees discovered an old rule that is still on the books. The gist of which stated, that for a small donation, it entitled the contributor to attend the board of trustees’ meetings. It was felt that the population of the Massapequas had expanded to the point of rendering such a rule impracticable. By a unanimous vote, it was rescinded.
For 60 years, the little wood-shingled Delancey-Floyd Jones Library was the only public library in Massapequa. In the mid 1950s, Massapequa had expanded enormously during the post-World War II boom. Thanks to the generosity of Mrs. Katherine Smith, a large, modern library was built on Central Avenue. Rather to our surprise, the little wood-shingled one-room library with its crowded interior, ancient rocking chairs and open fire, continued to attract local residents and, despite competition from television, children from the nearby schools still visit. Members of the Massapequa Historical Society try to keep faith with its loyal users, as well as with its founder, all in the face of changing times. The society’s aim is to keep the building useable as long as the small amount of money it takes to operate it is there. Even more important is the task of finding a librarian.
A librarian, as in the beginning, has to serve the community inasmuch as the salary is still so small as to scarcely warrant the term of service. As a member of the society, I know how important it is to have the help of so many dedicated members and friends of the Massapequa Historical Society. Over the years, we have owed much to these public-spirited men and women including the Scout troops that help out during our festivals. I can recall two such dedicated individuals in particular. They were William R. Wiley, son of the rector who was one of the first trustees and who served for 20 years. Also, Mrs. Frederick C. Luhrs, who succeeded Mr. Wiley and served for 12 of our most difficult years. It was Mrs. Luhrs who found that the county prisoners would make extra booksshelves for the library without charge. She “requisitioned” firewood by tracking down a Long Island official who gave her permission to acquire discarded railroad ties and then found volunteers to cut them to useable size. It was still Mrs. Luhrs who organized a group of teenaged volunteers to help regularly in the library and who, by countless examples of inspired solicitations acquired other necessities and improvements beyond the budget. Again, it was Mrs. Luhrs who instituted the successful “cake-and-book” sales that attracted friends and neighbors from all parts of Long Island, successfully raising several hundred dollars.
Now in 2011, we are still helped by contributions from various civic groups, by private donations of money and books, by the local Garden Club, and by our benefactor, Friends of the Library, which was organized several years ago with help from Mrs. Luhrs. These augment the allowance from the state, ($100 in cash and $100 in books), and the income from the endowment that allows the library to continue to function.
The building has been updated with modern lighting and heat, although the fireplace still burns brightly on ceremonial occasions. A telephone, first proposed and voted down in 1916, was finally installed many years later for the safety of the librarian but with an unlisted number to discourage unnecessary incoming calls.
When the Massapequa Public Library on Central Avenue was considering building a branch nearby, we offered them the Delancey Floyd-Jones Free Library. It was the feeling of most of the trustees that we could thus be of greater service to the community. To that end, we were willing, in effect, to vote ourselves out of business and to turn over our library lock, stock and barrel to the larger group with their elected trustees (our board is self-perpetuating). For various reasons the proposed deal fell through. Another possibility was a suggestion by the late Reverend John Malcolm Haight, the former Rector of the Grace Church, that we consider asking the Grace Church School to take over the Delancey Floyd-Jones Library, and run it as its school library. The trustees discussed the matter at length but voted to turn down that plan at that time, and decided to continue under their own steam. The Massapequa Public Library finally built a second location called the Bar Harbor Library, just south of Merrick Road. We’ve been called a “one horse library,” or a “cracker-barrel library,” and we have been told we have a lot of antique charm, and we admit to that also!
We have had our share of publicity over the years, welcome and otherwise. The Delancey-Floyd Jones Library was vandalized, but to a lesser degree and before the vandalizing of the Grace Church. The parents of the guilty boys made restitution for the library’s losses. We have even been the subject of a thesis, prepared in 1969 by Miss Regina A. Scanlon, in her pursuit of the degree of Master of Science.
The library stands today, approaching its 114th anniversary, and remains one of the angles in the triangle, which contains almost all of the history of present-day Massapequa.