SOURCE: "LEGACY - Annals of Herkimer County" is published quarterly by the Herkimer County Historical Society, 400 North Main Street, Herkimer, N.Y. 13350.

Individual copies of LEGACY may be purchased by contacting the Society at the above address, or by visiting their website: On the site you can review a list of which copies of LEGACY are still available and their content under "gift shop" then "books".

We are grateful to the Herkimer County Historical Society, which holds the copyrights, for granting us permission to reproduce the following articles for our reader's enjoyment.


Ilion Free Public Library At 100 Years

By Jane Spellman

Part 1



Donated to the Village by
Clarence W. Seamans,
of Brooklyn.



The Public Invited to the New Library Plenty of Books for all - Pleasant Sitting Rooms Exceptionally Thorough - Appointments - Everything that the Reading Mind Could Wish May be Found on its Shelves, Including the Most Authentic Works of Reference, History, Etc. - Dedication Friday Afternoon and Speeches in the Evening


To be dedicated October 27, 1893

It’s hard to resist the temptation to reprint verbatim the articles in the two weekly newspapers, the Ilion News and the Ilion Citizen, about the opening of the Ilion Free Public Library on Friday, October 27, 1893.

The Ilion News' headline published Thursday afternoon, October 26, 1893, printed above gives the basic outline. There are 56 inches of detail which follow.

The Ilion Citizen of November 3 devoted 120 inches to describe the library, its history, construction, as well as the two ceremonies on Friday, October 27. This article begins with “Notwithstanding unfavorable weather and a light rain, a large number of Ilion's most intelligent people with many guests from Utica and our several nearby villages assembled at three o’clock at the library building to witness the interesting exercises of dedication and preservation.”

Seward Hakes, local florist, President of the Ilion Academy Alumni Association, began the ceremony by calling on the Rev. W.M. Cook of St. Augustine’s Episcopal Church, to open with a prayer. Then Clarence W. Seamans spoke for 20 minutes giving thanks to all who made the building and books possible. Seamans gave credit to his father, Abner Clark Seamans (a superintendent of Remington Armory), for presenting the idea of the Ilion Academy Alumni Association Library Committee for a village library to him. Clarence had challenged the Ilion community in a December 28, 1891 letter to raise $5,000 for books and obtain the village financial commitment to assure the library’s future. This challenge had been met in record time. Clarence Seamans ended his remarks by presenting the keys to Mr. Makes who accepted the building and gave a short speech before presenting the deed and keys to C. Smith Ingham, the Village President. Mr. Ingham, a local grocer, responded with a few remarks. The next and last person to speak was 8 year old Marion Hakes, daughter of Seward, who was chosen to thank Seamans’ wife Gertrude Watson Seamans for her gift of juvenile books, which were given in memory of their sons Ralph Walker and Harold Frances who had died in 1892 and 1891. The ceremony ended with a prayer by the Rev. B. Gibbs, of the Universalist Church, Herkimer.

That evening the Thomas Opera House was filled to capacity (1,000). Stubblebeins’ orchestra provided music and the Dudley Buck Quartet gave several selections.

Attorney Thomas Richardson presided at this gathering and repeated much of the information given at the afternoon session. He was followed by Amos P. Wilder of the New York Commercial Advertiser newspaper who spoke of libraries in general.

Jane Spellman came to Ilion in 1969 and made the Library an early stop. An avid Library supporter, she has been involved in the Historical Club of Ilion United Fund, Junior League of Greater Utica, and Smith College Alumnae Club. Jane is the director of HCHS.

The new library began when Clarence Seamans purchased property on the corner of Second and West Street from Michael Giblin in December of 1891. Seamans conveyed the property to Carrie L. Richardson, his sister, Comelia M. Seamans, and J. Holland Rudd, who were the Library Committee of the Ilion Academy Alumni Association. The property was put in trust for the Village of Ilion, whose citizens were to both raise $5,000 to purchase books and also to enact a legal provision for the perpetual care of the building. When this was done, Clarence Seamans promised to build an appropriate building.

The Alumni Association appointed a committee to raise the money: Arleigh D. Richardson, lawyer; J. Holland Rudd, young businessman; Seward Rakes, florist; assisted by John A. Giblin, coal dealer, and S.T. Russell of the A.N. Russell Lumber Co. A challenge to the community was printed in the newspapers in January 1892. The drive was oversubscribed by May. Over 325 names are listed in the newspaper. Meanwhile Attorney Thomas Richardson, drafted a law that the village appropriate a sum of money for the maintenance of the library. The proposed law went to the State first, leading to some controversy because some local citizens felt they didn’t get to vote on the project. The Village was to appoint a committee of five persons (women were made eligible) who would have charge of the building and management of the library.

The Village Board appointed the first Library committee: James M. Dygert, listed as maltster, John Giblin, J. Holland Rudd, Carrie L. Richardson and Harriet (Hattie) E. Russell. Hattie was named President.

Still another committee of the Alumni Association began selecting and purchasing books and “arranging for the conduct of the library.” They were Comelia (“Nellie”) Seamans, Ida Walker Heacock and Bella Redway Osgood. Anna H. Perkins was appointed librarian and May Leach, her assistant. Miss Perkins, a popular teacher in the Ilion schools, “qualified herself for the duties of the position by a term of study of the Dewey System at the State Library in the Capitol at Albany and she also spent several weeks in the City Library at Jackson, Mich.” Her salary, published in the first report was $500 a year and Miss Leach was paid $175.

Photo taken in early 1900, note unpaved streets

The first mention of a community library in Ilion was in the 1860’s when Ilion had about 800 residents. The Methodist Church established a public reading room but it wasn’t used a great deal. There wasn’t much leisure in the 1860’s as the village was dominated by the incredible growth of Remington Arms to meet the need for firearms during the Civil War. Although firearms production stopped the day the War ended, there were orders from European and South American countries that helped the industry survive. In the 1870’s business flourished with firearms orders as well as the typewriter (1873) manufacturing and the bicycle and those 134 different items made in the Remington Agricultural Works. There were many opportunities for work. As more high school graduates went on to college and returned to the village, the Ilion Academy Alumnae Association established a reading room in 1884. Administered by the Board of Education, this library burned in 1891.

Interior facing west. In the 1969-72 remodeling and addition, the foreground became the Remington Room used for meetings. The area with high window on right became the new children’s room - the balcony area on the left became Seamans’ Local History Room. The room seen on extreme left would become offices.

Children’s Room of the original library (note back of eagle upper right which is shown on the upper left in the picture above).

Taken May 6, 1935 with Librarian Luella Wenner on the right. The Giblin house behind Miss Wenner came down for the Knights of Columbus building of today. On the extreme left is part of the house taken down for new wing.

A.H. Kellogg of New York City, printed 1,200 copies of a hard cover book listing all the books in the collection. These were distributed free of charge. A special Juvenile Department with the 1,000 books given by Ida Gertrude Seamans, was a unique feature. When Mrs. Seamans died in 1937, she continued her legacy by a trust fund to buy children’s books.

Clarence Seamans took personal interest in the building construction, traveling throughout the northeast for ideas. His plans were executed by Architect George P. Chappell of New York City, although he entrusted the actual construction to Albert N. Russell, Ilion, Harriet’s father, who served as superintendent of the construction works.

According to the LIBRARY JOURNAL, Vol. 18, No. 11, November 1893: ““Ilion (N.Y.) P.L. The Ilion Public Library was formally opened on the afternoon of Oct. 28, with appropriate exercises. The building, which has cost about $30,000, is the gift of Clarence W. Seamans, of the firm of Wyckoff, Seamans & Benedict, New York, whose extensive factories are located at Ilion. The sum of $5000, to be devoted to the purchase of books, was raised by the citizens of the town. The building is about 60x75 feet, of the Romanesque type. It is built of gray, rock-faced pressed brick, with trimmings of red sandstone, handsomely carved. The roof is of purple Spanish tile. The front bears the carved inscription “Ilion Free Library.” The vestibule, 6x 10 feet, is wainscoted with Vienna marble and floored with mosaic tiles. The delivery-room is 26x70 feet; a railing of antique copper divides the room into two sections, the larger one being furnished with ample bookcases, desks and tables for the librarian’s use, and a handsome delivery counter. The front section, for the use of readers, is supplied with magazine cases, tables, chairs, etc. Here is a massive oak mantel with carved columns and facing of beautiful Numidian marble covering a wide fireplace. The building throughout is finished with selected quartered white oak and has a paneled wainscot eight feet high. The casings are fluted columns with finely carved capitals. The windows are of plate-glass, the transoms and windows above the bookcases being of stained glass. George P. Chappell, of New York, is the architect. In the south wing is the reference or reading room, which has a cozy akove at one end and a handsome colonial fireplace at the other. The mantel is faced with Verona marble. Between this room and the vestibule is a casement of bevelled plate-glass. In the rear is the librarian’s private room, furnished with desk, wardrobe, and lavatory. A staircase leads to the second floor, which is used as a museum. Here are cases containing collections of coins, botanical, geological, and ornithological specimens. Miss Carrie L. Richardson has been appointed curator of this department.

Continue on to Part 2

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