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Hilltown Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, January 19, 2012

From barroom to church,
Berne Public Library celebrates 50th anniversary

BERNE — As the Berne Public Library moves towards renovating its new home at the old St. Bernadette’s Church, it will celebrate its semicentennial this weekend with an open house at the now-vacant house of worship.

“We’re just honoring the fact that we’ve been in Berne for 50 years,” said Judy Petrosillo, manager at the library, who added that the staff wanted library patrons to see the new space before renovations begin.

“We thought, since our 50th anniversary is January 25, this would be a good time for people to come in and get excited about the library moving to a larger space — with a parking lot,” Petrosillo said. “We’re going to have a slideshow of pictures from different programs over the years, and we’ll have a historical display, comparing how it was in 1962, to how it’s going to be here at the church.”

In 1961, Arlene Lendrum and Irene Vincent approached the town board with the idea of converting the former town hall into the Berne Library. The board, favoring the idea, appointed Lendrum as chairwoman, giving her $700 to kick-start the process.

On Oct. 9, 1961, the town board appointed the library’s first board of trustees, composed of Lendrum; Vincent; Margaret O’Brien; Alberta Wright; and Reverend George Berens, though Berens left the area in 1962, and was replaced by Richard Fuss.

Edgar Tompkins, director of the Upper Hudson Library Federation and a former Berne resident, met with the trustees to guide them in opening the library.

Following a request for donations, the library collected 3,500 books. Volunteers built shelves and did electrical work, and the library held its grand opening on Feb. 24, 1962. The library, staffed by close to 20 volunteers, was under the direction of head librarian Bernice Wright, and it began issuing library cards.

In December 1968, a car crashed into the building, rendering it unsafe. All books and shelves were moved to the boardroom of the town garage.

In August 1969, the Berne Town Board purchased the Berne Hotel, now Town Hall. The right side of the first floor, originally the barroom, was designated as the new library, while the remainder of the first floor housed the town offices, as it does to this day.

In 2009, Bishop Howard Hubbard of the Albany Roman Catholic Diocese announced the closing of 33 churches in the 14-county diocese as the numbers of priests and nuns declined nationwide, along with the number of Catholics attending Mass. St. Bernadette’s was one of those churches.

After years of work to find a new home for the Berne Library, which has long been cramped for space at Town Hall, the town board voted this summer to purchase the recently closed St. Bernadette’s Church to house the library.

The town had been planning an extension onto the Senior Center on Helderberg Trail, which would have served double-duty as the library and a meeting hall for Hilltown elders. The Senior Center had originally been built as a Grange Hall.

Like the Senior Center, St. Bernadette’s is located on Helderberg Trail, right in the hamlet of Berne.

“We know that we’ll have to put some permanent walls up,” Petrosillo said this week, thinking about some of the necessary changes to convert the church into the new library. “We need to renovate the bathroom to make it more accessible, and we have to move a wall to do that. There’s some re-wiring, and probably painting; the heating system, we’re going to make that more energy efficient.”

The library took advantage of some recent store closures in the area, she went on.

“We got some used bookshelves from Borders when they closed on Wolf Road,” Petrosillo said. “We bought a used circulation desk Saratoga public library, and we’ve had those in storage. We’ve been pretty thrifty.”

By Zach Simeone

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