The library began as the dream of a few concerned citizens who met in the Milton Road home of Reginald P. Sherman in 1884. They formed a constitution for a new library organization, primarily as a place for young men and boys to recreate and escape the undesirable effects of saloons. Lott S. Butterfield, church sexton was hired as custodian-librarian for $1900 a year. Mr. Butterfield is the namesake of the current library mascot.
The Purdy Cottage on Purchase Street was the library’s first building. In 1905, Sarah Parsons, widow of a prominent city father, bequeathed the present site with its picturesque view of the Village Green. In 1913, entirely funded by community donations, the beautiful Georgian brick building opened. The architects were New York based Upjohn & Constable, and construction was carried out by the D. H. Beary firm in Rye. By 1915 the library’s second floor was being used by the Red Cross as headquarters, and by 1918, Thursdays were completely devoted to the War Relief Program.
Without doubt one of the most influential people in the history on the library was Marcia Dalphin. She became the Head Librarian in 1920 and guided it as her personal realm for the next 33 years. Under her vision and energy the library became the focal point of the community that it remains today. A major contribution from the will of Charles G. Strater for the purchase of reference books created the need for space to house this impressive collection. The subsequent construction of a west wing addition was undertaken in 1951.
Another beloved figure from the past was children’s librarian Doris Bird, who in 1909 began her library service as a volunteer. Her devoted work to bring the love of literature to youngsters continued into the early 1970’s. Her legacy is the Doris Bird Collection of 1550 vintage children’s books, now housed in the newly remodeled children’s room.
Throughout the 40’s and 50’s, the library served as a community cultural center – home to art exhibits, concerts and lectures. Harry Carter, a local artist of great skill, both exhibited his work here and guided the hanging of many exhibits each year. Outstanding musicians such as the Tokyo String Quartet performed on Sunday afternoons. This tradition continues today, as the library calendar is filled with presentations each month in the new Program Room.
With the growth in library use, another expansion was deemed necessary in 1960. The project involved internal repairs and refurbishing, with expanded space for the Reference and Children’s Rooms. In February 1968 the project, built primarily with donations from the community, opened to 400 visitors who admired the new reference wing, the basement level children’s room with its beautifully landscaped separate entrance and, especially, the new quiet atmosphere created by wall-to-wall carpeting.
With the hiring of Mary A. Brown as Director in 1975, the library began its journey into the age of technology. She worked to realize her dream of a library with online access to enormous information resources and a catalog and record keeping system that used computers rather than cards and pencil daters. It would require an enormous investment of time and money, but the Board of Trustees, led by Thomas A. Williams, embraced the vision. Every item in the collection needed to have a bar code label affixed to it and the data linked to a massive electronic catalog maintained by the Westchester Library System. This work continued under the leadership of Director Jean Read (1991-1998) and Betty Teoman (1998-2007). The fruits of this vision and labor are being harvested daily, as reference librarians locate and obtain books from libraries near and far for patrons. Readers can now visit the library’s web site for 24-hour access to a vast array of information resources and can search the catalog, renew or reserve items from any online computer.
To grow again with the needs of the community, another construction project was again undertaken with a Capital Campaign Drive from 1997-2003. Opening in 2003, the gracious new program wing and the expanded children’s room were again largely funded by donations from a community committed to maintaining a library often called the Jewel of Rye.