hill country observerThe independent newspaper of eastern New York, southwestern Vermont and the Berkshires


News September 2023


New library found a village of avid readers

Maury Thompson


The four most popular book titles in the first year of operation of Crandall Free Library can still be checked out at the Glens Falls library today, albeit in newer editions.

But these classic works of fiction have only a fraction of the circulation they had in 1892 and 1893.

“The demand for certain books has been very marked,” Sherman Williams, the library’s co-founder, wrote in the library’s first annual report, a segment of which was published in The Morning Star of Glens Falls on Nov. 23, 1893. “We have about 25 copies each of ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin,’ ‘Ben-Hur,’ ‘The Scarlet Letter,’ and ‘The Last of the Mohicans,’ and often not one of them is in.”

Crandall Public Library, as it is now known, currently has three copies of “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” which, combined, have been checked out 166 times since 1996, library Director Kathy Naftaly said.

The library has one copy of “Ben-Hur,” which has been checked out 10 times since 2015, three copies of “The Scarlet Letter,” which have been checked out a combined total of 57 times since 2011, and two copies of ‘The Last of the Mohicans,’ which combined have been checked out 45 times since 1999.

In its first fiscal year, the library had 4,540 cardholders who checked out 47,280 books.
“This is the equivalent of issuing each book in the library 10 times, something without precedent, so far as I know,” Williams wrote. “The Utica Free Library, with more than twice as many books in the library as we have, and several times as many people to use them, has issued only 8,872 books more than we.”

In 2022, the library had 31,868 cardholders who checked out 301,075 physical items and 136,451 digital items, Naftaly said.

When Williams was looking ahead to the library’s second year of operation, the major challenge was to establish more reading-room space.

“During the past winter, it was no unusual thing to find from 10 to 15 more persons in the reading room than there were seats,” wrote Williams, who also was the Glens Falls superintendent of schools.

“It seems that no other agency will so effectively prevent the bad use of idle hours,” he wrote. “It would be a good thing if there were two reading rooms, one for young people and one for adults.”
The library had recently raised $431.56 — the equivalent of $14,658 in today’s dollars — through the production of a kirmess, an elaborate weeklong series of performances of international folk music and dance at the Glens Falls Opera House, with about 300 local residents of all ages taking part. The money was to be used to buy new books and periodicals.

Williams touted the kirmess as an opportunity for the community to build upon the legacy Henry Crandall, the local businessman and philanthropist, had established by funding the library’s creation.

“Mr. Crandall has provided for what he set out to do,” Williams wrote. “Because one man has done well is no reason for others to do nothing, but rather a reason for greater effort on their part.”

Capt. Charles W. Eddy of Hoosick Falls, commander of the Thirty-Second Separate Company, was hired to direct the extravaganza.

“The gentleman who has the management of the affair has had a wide experience in similar exhibitions in other places, and the highest praise has always greeted his productions,” The Morning Star reported on Aug. 30. “It is no easy task to take 300 people entirely unfamiliar with such things and drill them to march, dance and perform intricate exhibitions.”
The event became the talk of the town.

“The kirmess is a prolific theme for discussion,” the Star reported on Sept. 27. “It is talked about in the home, in the office, in the store, and on the street.”
About 600 people attended the opening night.

“The initial presentation of the kirmess was an unqualified success,” the newspaper reported on Sept. 25. “The kirmess is a new experience for most of the performers, and the entire absence of stage fright and awkwardness speaks volumes for the methods of Capt. Eddy.”
Rave reviews continued with each performance.

“The Star has almost exhausted its stock of adjectives in its commendation of the kirmess,” The Morning Star reported on Sept. 28. “The entertainment was even better last night than on the previous nights.”

There seemed to be a letdown in emotion once the series was over.
“The kirmess is over,” The Morning Star reported on Oct. 2. “The entertainment that has marked an epoch on the social history of this village is now a thing of the past, with nothing remaining but pleasant memories of a week of rather hard work for the benefit of a worthy cause.”


Maury Thompson was a reporter for The Post-Star of Glens Falls for 21 years before retiring in 2017. He now is a freelance writer focusing on the history of politics, labor and media in the region.