The Cornwall Library Association had been organized in 1869 by a group of far-seeing citizens, one of whom was Erard A. Matthiessen, one of the town’s first benefactors. The library was not free. Residents could use the library by buying 5 shares of stock at $5 a share or pay an annual fee of $1; it was then raised to $2 annually.
1870: A three-story brick building was built at the corner of River Avenue and Idlewild Avenue in Cornwall-on-Hudson. The library was on the second floor along with offices and a billiard room. The first floor was rented out for stores, a bank and a post office. The entire third floor was an assembly hall for concerts, high school graduations and community dances.
1889: Facing financial trouble Matthiessen purchased the building, however, even with 100 subscribers at times, the library could not make ends meet and ceased operations. A small collection of books was kept at the high school.
1892: The library’s rebirth came in when New York State passed a law enabling the Board of Regents to charter free public libraries to be supported by a school or municipal tax base.
1900: The two school districts, Cornwall-on-Hudson and Canterbury, received their permanent charters and two libraries were opened and books could be borrowed for free. Canterbury’s was in an old school on Clinton Street with 350 books.
1901: Cornwall-on-Hudson library re-opened in Matthiessen Hall (once known as Library Hall) when the classroom it was in at the high school was needed.
1904: The public library in Canterbury was moved from the school on Clinton Street to the third floor of the new high school on Willow Avenue and was open to the public after school hours.
1921: A third library was opened in Mountainville by seven women. The library was in Orr’s store at first and later moved to Ketcham’s store. It was initially stocked by donations and cost $450 a year to run the library. They got $150 from the town and the rest of the money was raised by having cake sales and other events.
1934: One of Mr. Matthiessen’s sons offered to build a library for the village in return for the deed to Matthiessen Hall, which was in desperate need of repair. The new library was built on the corner of Idlewild and Prospect Streets. Matthiessen Hall was torn down and a movie theater was built.
1939: When the O & R railroad stopped coming through Mountainville, Mr. Juenger bought the railroad station and gave it to the Mountainville Library.
1952: Cornwall acquired the Stanton School on Main Street and the library from the Willow Avenue school was moved to the main floor of the Town Hall.
Mid 50s: Both libraries from the town and the village applied for a new charter under which they became a single entity with 2 branches operated by one board of trustees. Mountainville decided to remain independent initially, but joined the system in 1967 when it became apparent that it was no longer financially feasible to run.
To meet the growing needs of the community the concept of one centrally located facility was proposed and defeated by voters in 1973 and 1990. The first location proposed was a house on Main Street. The second was to buy a house on Quaker Avenue and a building at the town park. In 1999 the proposal to build the current building was approved and the building officially opened to the public on April 7, 2000. All three libraries moved into one.
Today, Cornwall Public Library houses a collection of close to 195,000 items that includes hardcover books, paperbacks, ebooks, audio books, DVDs, and music CDs. There are over 8,800 registered borrowers, it receives over 151,000 annual visits, and is open 7 days a week. The Library has 8 public computers, 2 children’s learning stations, a laptop/iPad lab for training and in-house borrowing, and a children’s early literacy mini iPad lab with 10 mini iPads for use by pre-schoolers through teens. There is a diverse offering of programs for people of all ages and interests that draw more than 8,300 attendees annually. The Library serves as a Community Center for residents of the Cornwall Central School District and beyond, and strives continually to meet the needs and requests of the Greater Cornwall Community.