History of the Grinnell Library


Irving Grinnell was born in 1839 to a prosperous New York City family. He retired young to live on his estate, Netherwood, located in what is now Bowdoin Park. Grinnell took an interest in Wappingers Falls, and with his friend Henry Yates Satterlee, began giving back to the community and making village “improvements” projects, which included the need for a library.

In 1867, the two men established a Circulating Library and Reading Room on the corner of Market and East Main Streets. They charged a dollar a year for membership, and hired a local widow, Elizabeth Howarth, to take care of the books and clean the rooms. By 1880 the library was outgrowing its space and was in perpetual need of funds.

A building fund was started in 1880, but it didn’t take off until 1884 when Grinnell held a Lawn Party and a Union Fair at Zion Church, both in aid of the library. Having both been successes, a plot at the corner of East Main and Spring Streets was purchased in 1886. The construction began and was completed in 1887. Grinnell hired a New York City architect, Henry M. Congdon, and supplied him a list of architectural features he wanted to include. The tower is modeled after one he saw in St. Battenberg, Switzerland, and the way the second story overhangs the first pays homage to buildings he liked in Chester, England.  In 1888, Grinnell Library was chartered as an association library.

The library was in what is now the upstairs reading room, with an entrance by way of the winding staircase in the turret. The main room below it was rented, first to a jewelry store and later (after 1926) to a clothing store. At the western end of the building, a second entrance led to a rental apartment upstairs, and the offices of the local newspaper, the Wappingers Chronicle, downstairs. The Chronicle also rented the basement for their printing plant. The building was lit by gas until 1912, when it was electrified.

In 1921, Irving Grinnell passed away and his will created an endowment fund for the library.

In 1923, the Children’s Room was created and furnished by the Reese family.

In 1924, the library became a “Free Library” under state law.

In 1967, the library turned 100 years old and adopted the remainder of the building. At this point, the Clapp Paintings were collected, restored, and hung throughout the building. The upstairs non-fiction room was named in honor of Margaret Mesier Reese, and the storytime room was refurbished by the Kiwanis Club for use as a meeting room. What is now the director’s office was used as a “Music and Arts Room.”

In the 1980s, the library expanded again when the Aldrich addition was built. This comprised what are now the Children’s Room upstairs, the Reference Room downstairs, and the Community Meeting Room in the basement, more than doubling the previous floor space.

In 2009, the storytime room was renovated to provide a welcoming environment for the many children and their families that attend our weekly storytimes.  In 2011, the turret was transformed from the original spiral staircase, which was not safe for public usage, to a functional and user-friendly reading room.

On July 18, 2012, Governor Cuomo of New York State passed legislation allowing Grinnell Library Association to become Grinnell Public Library District.  A vote by the community, held in the library on April 3, 2013, allowed this piece of legislation to pass and elected a new Board of Trustees.  A new charter was formed creating the Grinnell Public Library District on November 19, 2013.