The former Babylon library, a haven for generations of Babylon Village readers that is now home to the village's Historical and Preservation Society Museum, has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Currently, the low-slung building, built in 1911 in Classical Revival style near the corner of Main Street and Carll Avenue, is open to the public only four hours a week. Most of the nearby foot traffic is bound for the village's restaurants and shops, not the small, quiet rooms inside that once hosted programs like the Starfish Reading Club, which introduced hundreds of children to books in the early 1960s.
The building has a proud past. Wayne Horsley, Long Island's regional director for New York State Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, and a Historical Society trustee, called the building of the library a sign of a community coming into itself in the early 20th century: "This was a community that was stable and had a long future in front of it."
Before the library was built, Babylon's origins were "a touristy spot on the south end of Huntington where you had bars and things like that," he said. The library, one of the few on the South Shore when it was built, was a sign that those days were over. "We had grown in maturity," Horsley said. "This was a community that was interested in intellectual growth."
As hundreds of new library buildings were built across the country, sparked by Andrew Carnegie's $50 million in donations toward library construction starting in the late 19th century, villagers scrounged to raise money to meet the $6,395 price bid by a local firm, E.W. Howell. They did not have the benefit of the Carnegie millions.
A local newspaper, The South Side Signal, encouraged "Every loyal Babylonian and others within traveling distance of this place" to attend a fundraising carnival for the library in 1911, reminding citizens that they would get "a fine structure that will always be a monument to its progress."
The library's supporters included many women of prominent local families who had shared books through a private library association for years. Many of their surnames -- Livingston and Sammis, among them -- adorn streets across the village and town.
Their pre-construction research was extensive, according to Karen A. Kennedy, an architectural historian with the Babylon Village firm, TKS Historic Resources, and part time curator for the museum, who wrote the report that led to the national listing. "They visited every library on Long Island and many in New York State and southern New England," traveling in the village's only car, she wrote.
After a new, larger library opened in 1968 on South Carll Avenue, the village used the building for a time as office space. Drop ceilings, mustard carpeting and fluorescent lighting were installed.
The historical society took over in 1974 and has restored much of the building's looks, said Judy Skillen, the society's vice president. The listing will make it eligible for grant money to continue that work; it may also help make the building busy again, she said.
Trustees envision exhibits that change every quarter, better display cases, climate control for hundreds of aging artifacts, and new programs like walking tours and family histories to engage village residents.
"We want to bring this museum up to a higher standard than what it is now," Skillen said. "We are building this back to what it was 100 years ago."
Babylon's other historic places
Here are other National Register of Historic Places Listings in Babylon Town:
Village of Babylon Historical and Preservation Society Museum, Babylon Village,1911, former library
Old Town Hall, Babylon Village, 1918, seat of town government for 40 years
Nathaniel Conklin House, Babylon Village, 1803, home of an early leading citizen
Sisters of St. Dominic Motherhouse, North Amityville, 1876-1878, early home for Missionary Sisters
Frank W. Smith House, Amityville, 1899, home of an original village incorporator