First published July 28, 1983:
The weather was propitious, the day being clear and cool – it was Saturday, Aug. 1, 1908 when the doors of the new Patterson Memorial Library were first opened to the public. Earlier in the day the sun shining on the new white marble and gray brick had a dazzling effect on passers-by but by four o’clock in the afternoon, the front of the building provided a shady and comfortable setting for the long-looked-forward-to dedication ceremony.
The exercises were held on the front porch with the audience seated or standing in front of the building. Dr. George W. Patterson, vice president of the library, presided and introduced the speakers. “Seated on the porch were members of the Patterson family to whose united and untiring efforts the citizens of this village are indebted for the magnificent and living memorial, which was given to them on this occasion, for their perpetual enjoyment and possession, for it will do us no good to simply own it, if we do not possess it in our lives.”
In the dedication address, Dr. Patterson, who was actually George Washington Patterson III, told how his grandfather got his name. “About a month after his birth in Londonderry, N.H. in 1799 as his parents, Lieutenant Thomas and Elizabeth (Wallace) Patterson, were going to the meeting house with John to have him peptized, a courier arrived in town with the news that General Washington was dead. On the spur of the moment John’s name was changed and he was peptized George Washington. His early schooling was at the Pinkerton Academy at Londonderry, N.H. where he was a schoolmate of his future wife. In 1841 he removed to Westfield from Leicester, N.Y. taking the agency of the Chautauqua Land Office.
“Hannah Whiting (Dickey) Patterson was of the same Scotch-Irish stock as her husband. She was handsome and of lovely disposition and a perfect helpmate to him at home and in his public life.” It was Hannah Whiting Patterson, daughter of this devoted couple, who was the donor of the library fund. She died May 12, 1894 and had included the following item in her will. “I will and bequeath one hundred thousand dollars to found a library in the Village of Westfield to be called the Patterson Library, and dedicated to the memory of George W. Patterson and Hannah W. Patterson his wife.”
To Hannah’s brother, George W. Patterson II, fell the task of organizing the library corporation (chartered by the Regents of the Sate of New York March 19, 1896) and selecting the choicest securities of the estate to turn over with accrued interest to the Patterson Library Corporation. He then donated the use of a building which he owned and which he fitted out at his own expense for temporary library purposes. Until his death he watched the library grow in books in his building while the library fund grew toward an amount from which a suitable building might be built and to still leave nearly the whole of the original fund intact for maintenance. Regrettably, George W. Patterson did not live to see the completion of the new building. After his death in 1904, the burden fell principally on his son-in-law Frank W. Crandall who from the beginning was treasurer of the library.
Dr. Patterson concluded his dedication address by offering to Harlan L. Munson, president of the Village of Westfield the full and free use of the Patterson Library for the citizens of the community.
In Mr. Munson’s response, he said, “when we pause for a moment to think of the future and what this library will do for the progress of civilization and the good of man within the sphere of its influence our imaginations falter to create the picture. We believe it is built for time. We fear neither fire nor earthquake shock. Generation after generation will pass its columns to seek knowledge from this fine collection of books. It will be a potent factor here in promoting the idealistic against the strong modern tendency toward the materialistic.
“The opening of this library in its new home will be a memorable event in this village. To well-lighted streets and homes, pure and wholesome water, quick and comfortable transportation by steam and electric cars, fine schools and many other conveniences and improvements is now generously added, without conditions of maintenance, a library second to none in any village in the Empire State.”
In his dedicatory address, Dean George Edgar Vincent, PhD, of the University of Chicago and president of Chautauqua, had this to say, “You have a village among the most beautiful in all the land. I have from my boyhood known your lawns and trees and hospitable houses. You may well take pride in all the liveliness by which your daily lives are surrounded, but even here it is possible to live in dull routine; to live sordidly; to live narrowly with little vision – with limited interests. Here are the possibilities of a larger, a more inspiring, a wiser, more intelligent personal and communal life.
It became expedient in the year 1967 to conduct a capital fund campaign for Patterson Library, and thanks to the generosity of Westfield people, “Westfield’s Magnificent Legacy” is alive and well and ready to celebrate her 75th birthday. Many of the prophesies of Dedication Day have come true. Patterson Library is at the present time serving the fourth generation of my own family.
On Aug. 1, 1983 I trust the entire community will join in saying “Happy Birthday, Patterson Library,” to Westfield’s proud heritage as she keeps abreast of the times while aging most graciously.