Preservation League lauds local library
— From PhotoBureau Inc.
With models of winning yacht hulls as a backdrop, Judith Wines, director of the Altamont Free Library, left, accepts the Excellence in Historic Preservation Award from the Preservation League of New York State at a May 14 event held at the New York Yacht Club. Behind her is Jay DiLorenzo, president of the league, and beaming at right is Sally Dague, president of the library’s board of trustees.
ALTAMONT — The Little Library That Could has chugged to the top of the mountain, winning the Excellence in Historic Preservation Award — one of seven given statewide.
“It was one of our favorite projects,” said Colleen M. Ryan, director of communications for the Preservation League of New York State, which made the awards. “It was really heart-warming,” she said of the Altamont Free Library’s restoration of the railroad station that centers the village.
“New York City Hall is a huge undertaking compared to the Altamont library,” said Ryan, citing another award winner. “But each is important.”
Altamont’s mayor and a contingent of library leaders accepted the award at the New York Yacht Club on May 14.
“It’s incredibly ornate,” said Judith Wines, the library’s director, of the 1901 clubhouse, a Beaux-Arts landmark designed by the same architects, Warren and Wetmore, who designed the Grand Central Station exterior. “It hearkens back to a time when people showed their opulence through their architecture,” said Wines.
In her remarks accepting the award, Wines stressed “the remarkable extent to which so many people contributed.” She said that library supporters, preservationists, and rail enthusiasts “converged,” with about a thousand people contributing.
Altogether, $1.2 million was raised for the project. Wines reported this week that roughly $220,000 came from donations, $180,000 from fund-raising, and $630,000 from grants.
“One thing I love about the history of the station,” said Wines, “is the full circle of its purpose — in 1897, the building connected people with the outside world by taking them places physically. Now the building serves the same purpose, but in a figurative sense — journeys of learning, flights of imagination, and connections within the community.”
“The rebirth of the once-neglected 1897 D&H Railroad Station illustrates the sustainability of the village of Altamont and the importance of history to its citizens,” said Jay DiLorenzo, president of the league, in making the award. “Too often, libraries struggle to keep their programs in historic buildings, while you sought one out and gave it new life. The project should serve as a model throughout the state and region, and shows what a small community can do when everyone is made to feel like a stakeholder.”
Wines enjoyed mingling with others in the clubhouse while eating hors d’oeuvres. She spoke of being charged with “positive energy” as honorees discussed re-imagined uses for old buildings that both preserve history and add value to a community. She cited the example of a former Catholic school campus, no longer in use, that was made into affordable housing.
Wines also believes that Altamont’s model may serve other projects as well, and mentioned the massive Hilton barn in New Scotland. Efforts are being made to move the 1898 barn built for Captain Joseph Hilton by Frank Osterhout; the barn stands on property bought by a developer who doesn’t want to save it.
“It’s great for Altamont to get this recognition,” Wines said, noting that 80 projects had been nominated for the awards.
On her train ride home, Wines struck up a conversation with an awards committee member to whom Wines confided, “We felt like the token small project.”
“She said, ‘No. Your project was one of our top choices...Your project was set apart by the depth of community involvement.’”
Wines commented, “The mayor was always tremendously supportive.”
While Wines lauds the full circle of the train station’s purpose for the public, the project also represents a personal full circle. When she started as an undergraduate at Williams College, Wines thought she’d be a history major. She ended up getting her bachelor’s degree in the classics and went on to get a master’s degree in library science.
But now, she has been a leader, not in researching history through old documents, but in bringing it to life by restoring a physical piece of Altamont’s past.
“Living in one of these old East Coast states,” said Wines, “it’s good to preserve the history that enriches us.”
The Preservation League of New York notes these as contributing to the success of the Altamont Free Library project: The staff and board of the Altamont Free Library; Architect: Janet Null, Argus Architecture of Troy; Technical Assistance: Upper Hudson Library System; Period Reproductions: Merli Manufacturing; Volunteer Clerk of the Works: Frank Corradi; Construction: T. Miller Construction, Albany. Funding support was provided by the New York State Council on the Arts – Architecture Planning & Design Program; New York State Education Department – Public Library Construction Grants; and the New York State Environmental Protection Fund – Historic Preservation Grant Program.