Communal Generosity-12/8/11

Posted on 09 December 2011

John Jermain Memorial Library is getting underway with its much needed restoration and expansion project. In the midst of it all, we are reminded of the amazing history — not only of the beloved Main Street structure itself, but of the generosity of one woman who built the library a century ago, and the continued generosity of a community today that is ensuring its future.

In 1910, Sag Harbor’s great benefactress Margaret Olivia Slocum Sage (or Mrs. Russell Sage as she was more familiarly known) used $92,000 of her own money (a fortune back then) to build the library, which is named for her grandfather. In those days, it wasn’t assumed that municipalities would pay for the public institutions we all now take for granted and Mrs. Sage also single-handedly financed the building of Pierson High School (named for another ancestor).

So it’s easy to forget sometimes that public institutions still need financial help from the citizenry they serve. Yes, the taxpayers of Sag Harbor did their part by approving a $10 million public bond in 2009 to finance this current expansion and renovation, which will nearly double the size of the original building.

But that’s not the end of the story.

In fact, library director Catherine Creedon took on the mission of raising another $2 million toward the project after the referendum passed. But given the complications of various approvals and boards needed for the project, she’s now looking to bring in $2.5 to $3 million.

Those are big numbers, but already, many in Sag Harbor are stepping up to the plate. Creedon is an amazing champion for the library, and no doubt a large reason why several substantial donations have already come in. A nod must also go to the very committed donors who are taking pride of ownership in the new library by sponsoring various aspects of the work at the site.

But it’s not just those with deep pockets for whom this library was built. This is an institution that is the heart of the community, and though that can be easy to forget while the historic structure is sitting dark in the midst of construction, it’s important everyone does their part for a building that means so much to Sag Harbor. Yes, it’s great to have donors who can write the big checks, but even $5 offered toward the goal is money well spent and greatly appreciated.

So we urge the community to get involved and stay involved on all levels, but particularly as the library works toward its financial goals. This is a village that was built on generosity. As the library continues down the road to its next 100 years, let’s remember that it’s a tradition worth continuing.

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