LAKE GEORGE, N.Y. (NEWS10) – In 1894, the residents of Dunham’s Bay – and little communities like it along Lake George – faced a problem. The winters were long, cold, and boring, especially in an age without as many commonplace modern conveniences.
The answer? A library, founded in a small, two-room house by the lakeside. Over a century later, it may have gotten easier to access information and entertainment, but the library still stands. This weekend, it’s being recognized for how many long winters it’s carried Lake George residents through.
On Saturday, the Mountainside Free Library is the subject of a ceremony celebrating its recent induction into the National Register of Historic Places. The library officially became part of the register last Fall – and the family that started it is still its steward.
“It’s a really great reward,” said Kit Seelye, current operator of the library, and great-great-granddaughter of founder Edward Eggleston. “It’s a sign of the legacy of the family that has been here for a couple of centuries. The family was really a centerpiece of the community back in the 1800s.”
Edward Eggleston founded the library at the end of the 1890s, only to pass away before construction on the plot of family-owned land could be completed. That work was inherited by his brother, George Cary Eggleston, and started operation shortly thereafter.
Since then, the library has thrived for its small but loyal community – some year-round residents, and a lot more with summer homes. It runs for them all, 365 days a year, and is always open. It does that without ever needing a librarian to sit at the desk, waiting to look at a visitor’s library card.
Instead, it operates autonomously. Patrons come in, choose a book, and write their name and info down on a card that they leave at the center desk. There’s no due date; readers bring books back when they can.
“It’s fine if you don’t bring a book back right away. We’ve had people take out a book one summer and return it the next,” Seelye said.
Submitting the library to the National Register was a decision that came with the COVID-19 pandemic. Seelye doesn’t live along the lake year-round, but the 2020 lockdown left her in Lake George much earlier in the year than usual, and staying there later into the year as well. Seelye spent plenty of time there along with library board President Linda Long, of Cleverdale.
Long’s job centers around keeping the over 8,000 books, DVDs and tapes at the library up to date. One might approach the small house and assume that, lying inside, they would find antique volumes, decades-old or more. In reality, whatever the oldest books at Mountainside may be, they’re joined by plenty of current bestsellers and contemporary authors.
“If you’re interested in a certain book, she’ll either find it or order it, and she’ll bring it to your home,” Seelye said. “She’s a year-round caretaker.”
With Long maintaining the library from a substance perspective, Seelye took the pandemic as the perfect time to approach it from the physical building. New shelves were added through both rooms, and the whole interior was given a fresh coat of paint. A local donor paid for the installation of new limestone steps leading up to the front porch – a touch much appreciated by the library’s older patrons.
Submitting the library to the register meant sorting out word-of-mouth from recorded history and fact. The officially-submitted application says simply that Eggleston wanted to share books with the community. While that’s true, the family lore goes further.
“We had always been told that Edward Eggleston started the library because people were so depressed during the winter,” Seelye recalled. “There were lots of suicides, particularly and especially among women. He wanted a library to help with that.”
This Saturday at 11:30 a.m., the Mountainside Free Library will unveil a new plaque commemorating the library as a piece of Lake George history. The event will be coupled by the annual “Book, Bake and Bauble” fundraiser sale, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at 3090 Route 9L in Lake George.
When she reflects on the tiny library’s huge life in Dunham’s Bay, Seelye comes back to one thing. Kate Hogan, former Warren County District Attorney and a former member of the library board, once called the library “a handshake with the community.”
“It really summed up how we viewed the library. We even put those works on a posterboard in the library now,” Seelye said.