In 1881 a group of friends and neighbors formed the Literary Union of Carmel, the first organization in Putnam County to establish a public library. The Library’s books were stored in private residences and offices throughout the Hamlet and the Literary Union met regularly in members’ homes. Meetings centered on literary and cultural themes and almost always concluded with entertainment – singing, stories, skits, music and refreshments.
For thirty years Literary Union members met in various places throughout the Hamlet, packed up books and moved them from one available office space to the next, dreaming about the day the Library would have a permanent home.
In 1913 that dream was to become a reality. The Reed Memorial Library was built in memory of William Belden Reed by his wife, Arietta Crane Reed, on land donated by the Ryder family, all early Literary Union supporters.
The New York City architectural firm of Pryor and Gaylor designed the building. In planning the design it was emphasized that the structure had to house a library as well as provide a meeting place for the community. By creating an irregularly shaped structure with its center room being visible from the stacks and both reading rooms, the architects succeeded in providing the Hamlet not only with a striking although conservatively designed Tudor Revival building but also with an exceptionally functional library that maintains its functionality to the present day.
The Library was constructed by the Miller-Reed Construction Company of New York City. The masonry work was subcontracted to Genaro Ventresca of the neighboring town of Southeast; the stone itself came from the Lake Gilead area about three miles away. The interior has extensive wood paneling, a Gothic Revival fireplace in the children’s reading room and classical columns that separate the oval lobby from the main stacks. The building retains its original decorative features and all of the major interior spaces retain their original early twentieth century institutional furnishings which show the pronounced influence of the then popular Arts and Crafts Movement.
In May 1914 speeches were made expressing gratitude for Arietta Crane Reed’s generosity in making the Reed Memorial Library a reality. “We know that your gift is primarily a work of love in memory of your life companion who had the deep respect of this whole countryside…We deeply appreciate the personal interest which has been shown by your architects and your builders in their desire to design and construct a notable building…They have spared no pains to accomplished this…From the beginning the Literary Union has been making what effort it could to gain a permanent home for its library. It has often been encouraged and as often disappointed. In all our hopes and dreams we never dared contemplate so perfect a gem, and it is with great gratitude and still with surprise that we realize the actual fact of its existence.”
The Reed Memorial Library was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1980 for its architectural significance.
In 2013 voters approved the establishment of the Reed Memorial Library District. Reed’s commitment to providing ever-expanding services in an inviting, friendly community center will continue thanks to the support of its community.
Beautifully constructed and maintained, the Reed Memorial Library continues the work of the early Literary Union by bringing cultural, educational and recreational opportunities to the Carmel community