Although the floors are covered in tarps and dust, and wooden work tables occupy most of the rooms, the historic John Jermain Memorial Library on Main Street in Sag Harbor may be ready to reopen this winter after more than two years of renovation.
The 104-year-old library is currently undergoing a complete interior makeover, and a new glass-and-limestone wing, which will include an elevator, is being added at the rear of the building. The entire steel frame of the new addition has been put in place, and the interior restoration work of the original building is almost complete.
Until the $14 million worth of work is finished, the library has been relocated to 34 West Water Street in the village.
According to the library’s director, Catherine Creedon, the redesign of the building will bring back many of its historic features, including terrazzo flooring that had been covered by carpets in the lobby area, old-style pieces of furniture that have been refurbished, four of the original six gas chandeliers that once hung from the ceilings, and a fireplace and window seating in the upstairs rotunda.
“The building is a document in our collection. To erase it and make it all erratically new didn’t feel right,” Ms. Creedon said. “The old should be distinguishable and noticeable from the new.
“The building is absolutely gorgeous,” the director added, “but it was falling apart.”
The library was built in 1910, championed by Mrs. Russell Sage, who had the structure named in memory of her grandfather Major John Jermain, a member of the Westchester Militia during the American Revolution. The brick building has since become a historic landmark in Sag Harbor and is listed on the State and National Registers of Historic Places.
The library retained most of its historic characteristics up until the 1990s. After that, the fireplace was covered, as was the terrazzo flooring; the latter was not rediscovered until carpet was ripped up at the beginning of the current project, Ms. Creedon said. The classic lighting fixtures were removed, old furniture was replaced, and the tale of what the library once was began slowly fading away.
But the fact that the building is literally a century old—and was deteriorating in some aspects—is what really sparked the push for renovation. Exterior bricks easily fell out of the frame—some were pulled out by children. Fluted stone lintels became damaged by water leaking from an air conditioner. The historic nature of the library was being compromised, and Ms. Creedon and her board of trustees could not bear to see it begin to crumble.
Jean Held, a member of the Sag Harbor Historical Society, commended Ms. Creedon and her colleagues at the library for wanting to bring it back to its roots, as the building is an integral part of the village’s story.
“The thing that I like the best about the restoration of the building is that it makes a very clear distinction of the historical building as it was built and designed, and the new addition,” Ms. Held said. “Because Ms. Sage did so much for the Sag Harbor community, everything that she did, I think, should be kept in its original form. And in the future, you’ll be able to tell what happened in 1910 and the history that went on.”
But in order for the library to carry out such a big project, support from the community was, and still is, key. In 2009, Sag Harbor residents approved, via referendum, a $10 million bond to fund the construction, and the library raised the remaining funds on its own through private donations and grants, bringing the construction costs to about $14 million.
To display the library’s fundraising successes, a stack of three large faux books rest on the outside steps leading up to the building. Created by library patron Aidan Corish, the books have dollar amounts etched on their sides to represent the remaining million-plus dollars that the library had raised to complete the project.
“It’s really exciting. I’m really excited to be able to give back to the community after all they’ve done for us,” Ms. Creedon said. “It allows us to enhance services we have offered the community for over a hundred years.”
While the historical aspect of the library will be renewed with the restoration, new, more modern features also figure prominently. The glass wing, accessible from the back of the building, will provide meeting areas and space for more books, with bathrooms on each floor. Formerly, the bathrooms were on the ground floor on the left and right sides of the building, but those spots are set to become reading and media nooks. Ms. Creedon said she is especially happy that the whole library will now be handicapped-accessible with the installation of the new wing’s elevator.
Technology also will play a role, as there will be ample computer space on the ground floor in the older portion of the library. Even though the building will have an old-fashioned look to it with the restored furniture, Ms. Creedon said she plans to have plenty of advanced technology available for patrons to use.
If people want to escape from the world of electronics, they can find serenity on the upper floor in the rotunda area, complete with the original dome tiles installed by the Guastavino Fireproof Vault Company, a father-son duo that designed many iconic brick structures throughout Manhattan in the early 1900s—including the Oyster Bar on the lower level of Grand Central Terminal and the City Hall subway station.
“The ultimate vision, for me personally, is to be able to offer the community all the 21st century resources,” Ms. Creedon said. “That rotunda would be a … quiet area. I think there’s always a great need for a place to dream, write and learn.”
For Ms. Creedon, heading the restoration has become one of the best parts of her career with the library, as she only stepped into her position as director in 2007. She said she hopes that once the construction is completed, under her guidance, the John Jermain Memorial Library will continue to bring only the best service to the community.
“To have been part of its preservation is exciting,” she said.