History of the Hepburn Library of Edwards

(Highlights from Mildred L. Goodheart, a former librarian and published in Edwards on the Oswegatchie – 1812-1976. Additional information by Victoria L. Day, current library director.)

On December 24, 1918, the citizens of Edwards were called to a town meeting by the town clerk, Mott Meldrim to ballot on a very important proposition offered to the town by A. Barton Hepburn.

Mr. Hepburn, a native of Colton, New York, was at one time a superintendent of the Edwards school. Through wise investments, he had become very wealthy and wished to share his good fortune in his beloved North Country. His interest in education prompted him to make the following proposition to Edwards and six other towns in St. Lawrence County.

The new Hepburn Library of Edwards, photo circa 1919.

“Shall the town of Edwards accept the offer of A. Barton Hepburn to erect, equip and donate outright to the town a library building if the people at a regular or called meeting would vote by a 2/3 majority to accept the proposition and raise annually by taxation the amount equal to the interest return on the endowment of $20,000.00 or $1000.00.” Thus Mr. Hepburn assured himself of the desire and support of the town for the library. The vote was favorable and plans were underway for the construction of the building.

In the summer of 1921 the building semi-Grecian in design, constructed of red brick with tall white columns was completed. The interior was decorated with carved oak woodwork and a fireplace in each of the two reading rooms. The downstairs meeting room included a fully equipped kitchen.

On October 1, 1921, the Edwards Hepburn Library was dedicated. The town board appointed to the first board of trustees; Ira Miles, President,; Earl Bancroft, Secretary; D.M. Taylor, Treasurer; C.S. Goodnough; W.S. Woodcok; and James Goodbery. Mrs. Cora Hazelton was appointed librarian and the library opened to serve the public on November 19, 1921.

The interior of the library.

In 1922, Mrs. Hazelton resigned and Miss Zella Stevens became the librarian. She served efficiently until 1956. During the years the library gained in holdings and circulation. A central library system was initiated to serve the North Country and Edwards became a member. Books were loaned to the libraries who were members to augment their collections. Thus more reading materials became available to the library patrons.

A historian, Miss Leah Noble, was appointed by the town of Edwards and until a room was provided at the town hall, a collection of museum articles and records were kept at the library under her supervision.

Upon the resignation of Miss Stevens, Mrs. Inez (Kenneth) Gray became the librarian and carried a good library service. The bookmobile visits became weekly and the library system offered more free services to North Country libraries. Films were available for loans and Mrs. Gray held summer story hours for children. During this period, television became a strong competitor of the library.

On December 1, 1959, Mrs. Gray retired and Mrs. Mildred (Frederick) Goodheart became the librarian.

Mrs. Goodheart served as the librarian until 1992. During Mrs. Goodheart’s many years as serving as librarian, many changes occurred throughout the library. The expansion of the North Country Library System (NCLS) occurred, the continuation of story hour and creation of a nursery school on Tuesdays and Thursdays in the community room was provided for the families of the Edwards community.

Upon the retirement of Mrs. Goodheart, Mrs. Elaine Foster Archer assumed the position of librarian in 1992. Mrs. Archer served as librarian until 2019. Mrs. Archer maintained the tradition of the library to serve the Edwards community and continued to acquire many books for the library as well as continued to work with the North Country Library System to share resources throughout the North Country. With the advent of computers and the internet, a shift in libraries throughout the nation occurred and although libraries continued to house books, paper materials such as magazines and other source materials, the use of media searches, websites and the deletion of the old card catalog came to fruition in the late 20th century.

Mrs. Archer served the Hepburn Library of Edwards for 27 years and retired at the end of 2018. Upon her retirement, Miss Michelle Whitford assumed the position of director of the Hepburn Library of Edwards. With the passing of the vote to automate the library to the North Country Library System’s Joint Automation Board (JAB), the board of trustees made the unanimous decision to upgrade the library and join other libraries in the North Country in sharing books, services, and to have a central system for networking and management. Miss Whitford had the daunting task of automating the library, weeding materials, and barcoding all materials that could be lent out to patrons not only to the Edwards community but to other patrons throughout the NCLS system. and beyond if needed. Miss Whitford did a wonderful job in moving the library into the 21st century, establishing a sharing library for patrons, continuing the Wednesday morning Storytime hour, and maintaining, along with trustees, the maintenance of the building.

In 2020, Miss Whitford relocated and resigned from her position as director in March of 2020. As the Covid-19 pandemic just started, the trustees closed the library and started advertising for a new director.

On December 1, 2020, Mrs. Victoria L. Day assumed the position of director of the Hepburn Library of Edwards. Mrs. Day will continue to provide the vision set forth by A. Barton Hepburn – to give the town of Edwards and the other six community libraries the opportunity to have books and media, to further knowledge and curiosity in all.

A. Barton Hepburn

Below is an excerpt from the February 1922 “The Chase”, a monthly magazine published by The Chase Nation Bank of the City of New York, which Mr. Hepburn was president for several years. The entire volume was dedicated, In Memoriam, to A. Barton Hepburn who died in January, 1922 from being hit by a 5th Avenue bus on 23rd Street in Manhattan, NY. He was 75 years old. This excerpt was written by Richard E. Sykes, President of St. Lawrence University:

“About two months ago I spent an afternoon with Mr. Hepburn in his New York home. A few weeks previous I had given an address at the dedication of a beautiful library, his gift to the village of Edwards, St. Lawrence County. It was the seventh library which he had erected and endowed in the smaller villages of the county. On that occasion, I asked him to tell me the story of the building of the libraries. In substance, he replied that in his boyhood and subsequently when he taught and became school commissioner, few books were available even to those eagerly seeking them. He himself had been unable to get books of reference to aid him in his work. It was the knowledge of that need persisting in a lesser degree even to the present time which moved him to provide for the rising generation and their successors those educational privileges which formerly he craved in vain. Today, largely through Mr. Hepburn’s wise benefactions, the youth residing in the section in which he formerly served as school commissioner have available the best literature.” – Richard E. Sykes, February 1922 (link to “The Chase” is here. Further history of A. Barton Hepburn can be found here.)