100 Years of Library Services in Van Etten

2023 is a big year for the Van Etten Library. Since 1923, Van Etten residents have been receiving library services, starting with a simple book station in a neighboring town, to the current location on Gee Street.

The library services provided here have gone through many different phases. But residents of Van Etten have always had access to books to check out through one way or another for 100 years.

We have to start back on June 21st, 1923. On this day, a law is lifted. This law forbade residents who lived outside of the City of Elmira to have access to privileges at the Steele Memorial Library. For almost a year prior- the Board of Trustees of the Steele Memorial Library, along with Miss Mary Stark; assistant librarian- had tried to establish a County Library which would allow the circulation of Steele’s items for residents outside of Elmira and throughout Chemung County. They were denied 2 times by the Board of Supervisors until the law was lifted.

The lifting of this law not only allowed all residents of Chemung County to have access to the Steele Memorial Library’s collection- but it also allowed the Chemung County Library to be put into motion.

The new Chemung County Library would work with the Steele Memorial Library as its “nucleus”. They planned to establish 10 “receiving stations”-each equipped with at least 50 books. Either the whole or part of those collections would be rotated every 3 months. By September 11th, 1923, 12 stations had been set up throughout Chemung County to distribute books for loan from the Steele Memorial Library. Mary Stark was made the Chemung County Librarian- working with the Steele Memorial Librarian, Kate Dean Andrew- niece of Steele’s founder- Esther Steele. These “sub-libraries” were the first in the state.

For the remainder of 1923 and late into 1924, residents of Van Etten could find one these stations as close as Erin- and were able to check out and enjoy books without having to travel so far. As the need for library loans increased- more stations were added throughout the county.

Children receiving books at one of the stations in Erin, NY 1924
(Children receiving books at one of the stations in Erin, NY 1924)

By August of 1924, Van Etten finally got their first station at Rural School No. Nine.

The rotation of these collections kept going in Chemung County for the next 27 years- with more and more stations opening up. One of the stations later opened, was in Van Etten in a little store next to Edna Ford’s grocery store which Esther Stavrowsby took care of on certain days. In 1950, the Steele Memorial Library added a big addition to its library services- that still helps Chemung County residents to this day.

In December of 1950, after many delays for many reasons, the brand new Bookmobile arrived in Elmira. Its first stop to Van Etten was on December 14th, 1950- where it dropped off 270 books. For the next 27 years, the Bookmobile would serve as a big part of providing library services to Van Etten residents. Even today, many of our long-standing patrons can remember checking out their books from the Bookmobile as children- where is would park in front of Post Office.

The first Chemung County Bookmobile with its first driver, Thompson Williams (Right) and the extension librarian, Marion MacRorie.
(The first Chemung County Bookmobile with its first driver, Thompson Williams (Right) and the extension librarian, Marion MacRorie. (Center))

All of those 27 years, there were two people who served as the library workers for the Bookmobile and therefore, were the ones that served library services for the citizens of Van Etten- Librarian Marion MacRorie and Library Clerk/Bus Driver Thompson Williams. Some of our long standing patrons will remember Thompson’s kind and smiling face whenever he came to visit.

Librarian Marion MacRorie & Clerk Driver Thompson Williams
(Librarian Marion MacRorie) (Clerk Driver Thompson Williams)

Fast forward to 1968 where it was officially announced that Van Etten would be getting their very own permanent, fixed library with regular hours after nearly half a century of receiving library services through the book drops and the Bookmobile. It was announced by Steele Memorial Library’s Director, Mrs. Thelma R. King that furniture for the new Van Etten Library would come from the Big Flats Library as soon as new equipment for the Big Flats library arrived. 2,000 volumes of books were to be supplied from the Steele Memorial Library for Van Etten’s initial lending collection. Van Etten patrons who relied on the Bookmobile to check out books, or made the trip to Steele, would be able to use those same library cards for the new library. The opening of this new library however, would discontinue the services of the Bookmobile in Van Etten after a long run.

On July 8th, 1968, the doors of the Van Etten Library and the services we provide to this day opened-initially providing books, references, and magazines for borrowing. The first official Van Etten Librarian/Library Clerk was Alice McDowell. Room had been made in the rear of the Municipal Building- at 83 Main Street in Van Etten. This would be the home of the Van Etten Library until 2019- where it moved to its current location at 6 Gee St. The move was successful with the help of the then acting library clerk- Michelle Erickson and dedicated patrons and volunteers of the Van Etten community.

Alice McDowell
(Alice McDowell)

In 2006, the Van Etten Library became part of the Chemung County Library District.

Since the library’s official opening in 1968, there have been 7 librarians/library clerks who have run the library and provided library items and services to the Town of Van Etten. Alice McDowell served as the very first from 1968 into the 1970’s. From the 1970’s to 1980, Linda Bradt- who is still a frequent patron and volunteer- and Bonnie White ran the library after her and served its patrons. From 1980 to 2009, Van Etten Town Historian Bonnie Mallen set the record for the longest running library worker for the Van Etten Library- providing services for 29 ½ years. In December of 2009, Doris Jean Metzger took over until 2014 when Michelle Erickson would run the library until the end of 2019. Since December of 2019, Melissa Neufer has served the Van Etten Library and does so presently.

Before its official establishment as a library- many faces and names have made sure the residents of Van Etten have access to library services either from Steele Memorial Library or our own little library branch in town.

Melissa Neufer
Van Etten Library