Troy's main library: an inspiration

troy library composite
By Akum Norder

Troy's main library is the most beautiful public library in the Capital Region. It's what a library should be: somewhere you want to spend time in, a space that makes you think beyond your own world. The architecture reflects the library's mission perfectly. Add a couple of comfy chairs and place to get coffee, and I might never leave.

troy library windows

troy fireplace

Processions of stained-glass windows let in light along both sides of the main reading room. Look up at the soaring ceiling: Stained-glass skylights brighten the room further. At the far end of the room is a columned marble fireplace with an ornately carved mantle. It's the one Meryl Streep huddles in front of toward the end of Ironweed.

troy checkout

Downstairs, the checkout desk sits in front of a Tiffany window. Ask and they'll illuminate it for you. The faces glow and details leap out: It's luminous.

troy tiffany lit

But it might just be the stacks I love best.

troy stacks

Taking the iron staircase from one floor of the stacks to another conjures images of librarians in high-necked blouses and ankle-length skirts, silent except for the taps of their boots on the metal steps. A rope-pulley dumbwaiter sends books from floor to floor. Glass-block floors maximize light; metal shutters on the window help control it. The stacks are ornate and cramped and functional.

troy reading room

The library has plenty of the contrasts you'd expect from a space that's had to adapt many times over the years. Harsh florescents hang above wall sconces. In the teen room, a fading battle flag shares wall space with manga posters.

And true: The glass-block floors of the stacks are yellowed. And there's peeling paint on the ceiling. But no matter. It's a space that inspires.

From the beginning, though, it has struggled with funding problems.

Mary Hart sponsored the construction of the library in memory of her husband, William Howard Hart. It opened in 1897 as the Hart Memorial Library.

troy library exterior

"Unfortunately, needed operating support did not match the grandeur of the new library," the library's history states. "Mary E. Hart presented the sum of $5,000 on the condition that if another $45,000 was raised, she would contribute an additional $5,000." But the trustees couldn't get the funding together. And they ended up losing the original 5 grand, too.

After six years of struggling, the library trustees changed the name to the Troy Public Library in the hopes of getting city funding. And in time, the city did contribute -- though funding the place has continued to be a scramble over the years. Just three years ago, the library had to sell off four 19th-century statues to cover capital expenses.

Honestly, it's amazing they haven't shuttered the place in favor of some smaller, more sensible building. But it's a delight that they haven't.

troy down the stairs

Find It

Troy Public Library
100 Second Street
Troy, NY 12180


But the best news is that Trojans voted to make the Troy Public Library directly tax supported in 2009, so finally the place has a predictable source of income.

Always loved the old libraries and public schools and fire houses and everything else. It's like they built these places for more than function, to be public landmarks, something the community could be proud of, something to pass on to future generations. Now a days people always whine about "wasteful spending" and taxes, it's like there's no more will to invest in our own communities. I guess our successors can look forward to debt AND a crumbling infrastructure.

Also fascinating is the library right next door to the Troy Public Library. Tucked into a space in behind the big courtroom right next door is the law library. similarly constructed, gorgeous, even quieter, yet functional and clearly well used and loved.

I am so glad to hear that, Mary. I was afraid they were closing soon...or so I heard!

My family loves that library!

Dee Dee, The Troy Public Library that was going to close is in Troy Michigan. Just read that they have gotten a reprieve from their City Council. They had 250 people show up at the meetings and they managed to convince the Council to take another look at things. Just proves that it takes people's involvement in their libraries to keep them going in these economic times. Everyone should support their libraries in what ever way they can. They are the fabric of communities.

Thank you for your support.

It's exquisite! I want to climb up the stairs with that cool iron under my fingers, find a book, find a corner and read.

Just wish the children's room was bigger. Excellent story and photos.

Great article - I spent a wonderful rainy afternoon there a few years back doing research for a project in grad school - What a stunning place. :)

If you're ever in Utica, be sure to check out the main branch of the library. The architectural similarities are quite striking, with Troy having the nicer windows, and Utica having the nicer building. Both are eerily similar with the glass block floors and the cast iron staircases. Utica's library is also situated directly across the street from the Munson-Williams Proctor Institute, which is a pretty cool museum, and worth the trip in its own right.

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