“The goal of preservation is to protect our historic built environment as a living, functional part of our lives; there is no better way to understand history than to be able to encounter it physically.”—Simeon Bankoff, Executive Director, Historic Districts Council, New York City
New Canaan Library has been the town’s intellectual center since 1877, when it began as an Elm Street storefront reading room founded by volunteers with donated books and the funds they raised.
In 1895 the library became a public-private partnership with the town, based on the first annual town grant of $100. Recognizing the benefits of an excellent library, residents Albert Comstock and Jesse St. John made estate gifts to the library. These legacy gifts allowed the library, in 1913, to build its present building on the corner of Cherry and Main. In the tradition of Comstock and St. John, New Canaan residents continued to generously support the library and its capital drives for expansions in 1937, 1952 and 1979.
The desire to support the library in broadening its offerings has inspired donors over the years to endow valuable programs such as the Salant and Stoddard Lecture series, and to underwrite the cost of programs, services, furniture and much more. (New Canaan Library website, 2020.)
So why would we not preserve the original 1913 library building?
Top 10 reasons to keep our 1913 New Canaan Library:
- It’s a landmark building: Click here for landmark report.
- The 1913 library is structurally sound and in very good condition as described in the Friends of Our 1913 Library building conditions report. Click here for building conditions report.
- It’s better for the environment. This groundbreaking study, “The Greenest Building: Quantifying the Environmental Value of Building Reuse,” concludes that, when comparing buildings of equivalent size and function, building reuse almost always offers environmental savings over demolition and new construction. Reuse matters. It can take 10 to 80 years for a new energy-efficient building to overcome, through efficient operations, the climate change impacts created by its construction. The study finds that the majority of building types in different climates will take 20 to 30 years to compensate for the initial carbon impacts from construction. (The Greenest Building: Quantifying the Environmental Value of Building Reuse, March 10, 2017, savingplaces.org.)
- Keeping the 1913 library would be more inclusive of our community. According to the National Trust for Historic Preservation best practices, “Today’s preservation movement recognizes the need for more complete, inclusive representation of communities across the nation, which are increasingly socio-economically, racially, ethnically, culturally, and generationally diverse. Preservation efforts must prioritize inclusion in order to tell an accurate and comprehensive story—and to remain relevant.”
- New Canaan can join other Connecticut towns in recognizing and honoring our built heritage. Ridgefield saved the old library and added on a beautiful new library. Wilton expanded their library in keeping with the original design. The Ferguson Library in downtown Stamford added a modern addition while keeping the original landmark building.
- It’s good for the economy. Fortunately, as Donovan Rypkema, real estate consultant and principal of PlaceEconomics puts it, “The good news is historic preservation is good for the economy. In the last 15 years dozens of studies have been conducted throughout the United States, by different analysts, using different methodologies. But the results of those studies are remarkably consistent—historic preservation is good for the local economy. From this large and growing body of research, the positive impact of historic preservation on the economy has been documented in six broad areas: 1) jobs, 2) property values, 3) heritage tourism, 4) environmental impact, 5) social impact, and 6) downtown revitalization.” Cheong, Caroline and Donovan Rypkema. “Measuring the Economics of Preservation: Recent Findings. (Advisory Council on Historic Preservation June, 2011).
- It is time to be fiscally prudent. Municipal spending is up for New Canaan. We have spent money renovating Waveny, Town Hall and Saxe Middle School.
- Issues with flooding will not be resolved with a new library building. The proposed underground parking will continue to flood unless the town resolves the storm drain issue on Main Street, an issue which must be addressed at a cost to taxpayers.
- Moving the 1913 library is not the answer. Landmark buildings belong in their original location. This is understood by the preservation community and is stated in a directive from the U.S. Department of the Interior concerning designation of and funding for historic buildings.
- 10.Saving our 1913 library can be done. Ridgefield, Stamford and Wilton preserved their libraries. Surely New Canaan can do this too.
The solution is a simple one: to talk about it and find a way to compromise on a solution that represents all members of our town community. We as a group are open and willing to work with anyone who supports keeping 1913 standing where it is.
Friends of Our 1913 Library
Simeon Bankoff, Executive Director, Historic Districts Council, New York City
Laura M. Chmielewski, Ph.D. Associate Professor and Chair, History Program, Purchase College, State University of New York
Rose Scott Long-Rothbart
Susan Leaming Pollish