This original article about Ella Edsall, "mother" of the Middleville Free Library, was written by Jane Dieffenbacher, Fairfield Town Historian.


Ella Edsall was a leader in a time when a woman's place was in the home. Through her efforts, Middleville people read about, thought about, and discussed more subjects and issues of the day than probably any other community of its size from 1898 through World War I.

Mrs. Edsall was born in Prattsville, Greene County, in 1857, the daughter of Albert and Louisa McKean. Her parents died when she was ten years old and she was adopted by Harvey and Lila Sikes of Prattsville. Ella attended the Prattsville Academy and the Misses Green's Finishing School for Girls in New York City, as well as studying music at the New York College of Music.

In 1885, she married Dr. Irving S. Edsall and they moved to Middleville where the doctor began his practice and Ella continued to read. But Ella was a community minded person and decided that it would be more fun to share reading with others. Ella and the doctor organized the Middleville Literary Union in 1898. This club was one of the first study clubs of its kind and soon became very popular.

Members met every two weeks in local homes and presented papers to the group. Reading ranged from the classics and current events to history, Shakespeare, poetry, and travel. The membership lists show that most of the area clergy and their wives joined the M.L.U. as well as school principals, teachers, businessmen, housewives, and farmers. It is remarkable that so many residents of a small community would participate in a study group that involved so much preparation on the part of its members. The last recorded meeting was held in 1946.

Mrs. Edsall's next project was organizing a library. In 1914, she proposed the idea and set up a committee to create local support. A well attended meeting brought enough donations to start the library and by December 1914, officers were elected, with Ella serving as president. By 1915, the Middleville Free Library had a Provisional Charter and Mrs. Edsall was busy obtaining Polish books for the many immigrants arriving in Middleville to work in the industries. Always raising money and working for the benefit of the library, she was referred to as the "mother" of the library.

When Dr. Edsall passed away in 1924, Ella moved to Herkimer where she continued to participate in community and church activities. She was a frequent visitor to Middleville and always interested in the progress of the library. Mrs. Edsall died around 1940, but her legacy to the citizens of Middleville lives on.

The Middleville Free Library serves the residents of the area and participates in the Mid-York Library System. Computers have been added for the use of the patrons and Ella would be interested to know that her library is now on the Internet.

You can connect to the Mid-York Library System computers via the Web at or with Telnet to telnet:// or Telnet connection requires that NCSA Telnet be installed on your system.

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Last Updated: 6/4/97
Copyright ©1997 Jane Dieffenbacher/Martha S. Magill