For the price of $10,000 in 1910, Margaret Olivia Slocum Sage purchased the land directly across from her summer home on Main Street in Sag Harbor. She chose to build on it in memory of her grandfather Major John Jermain, who lived in the village after serving with the Westchester Militia in the American Revolution. At that time, it was the highest price ever paid for a piece of real estate in Sag Harbor. Two years later, an impressive Doric-columned brick building designed in the classical revival style by Augustus N. Allen was permanently given to the people of Sag Harbor and vicinity as the John Jermain Memorial Library.
Mrs. Russell Sage, as she is known, Sag Harbor’s greatest benefactor, also provided the village with Pierson High School, named for her mother, Margaret Pierson Jermain, and Mashashimuet Park, among other charitable contributions. The library is a landmark in the historic district of the village, listed on the State and National Registers of Historic Places.
Now wrapped in scaffolding for a complete renovation and restoration expected to be completed in the summer of 2014, when the library is to be filled again with restored and repaired chandeliers, wall sconces, antique furniture, and clocks, the building will accommodate growth in the community and for future generations. Large meeting spaces will be suitable for concerts, films, and workshops, and a digital lab with hardware and software will include a three-dimensional printer and movie and music-editing equipment for public use. Far from old-fashioned, the library, from its temporary location on West Water Street, is already circulating laptops, iPads, and Kindles and offering free downloads on Facebook.
The stone lintels of the windows, designed with a Greek key pattern, will remain, as will architectural details such as wreaths, torches, and “egg and dart” molding. Bronze torches will continue to light the entryways, and the winding marble staircase will once again lead to the expansive brick, copper, and stained-glass dome that rises 60 feet above ground. The stained-glass laylight has been removed for re-leading.
On the grounds, the grand tricolor beech tree has been moved to Mashashimuet Park, thanks to the Sag Harbor Tree Fund, and there it will be able to spread and grow to its full 50-foot height. Other commemorative trees are being cared for at an off-site location during the construction and will be returned to a new low-maintenance landscape at the library, planned to have native plants.
Meanwhile, the library is working out of its temporary location behind the 7-Eleven, diagonally across from the village post office. The clean, airy space has art on display and a few water-view windows. Sitting beside one of them last Thursday, Catherine Creedon, the library’s director, said the space is in many ways better than the original. It is handicapped-accessible, she said, and the layout seems to have been perfectly planned. The children’s room, for instance, has a window onto the various adult areas used for reading, writing, and browsing books and movies. A tutor was teaching math to a student at a large desk overlooking the harbor, with many other desks and 13 public computers nearby.
The library has just received its second state grant for the renovation, for $150,000, which “certainly helped,” Ms. Creedon said. The previous grant was used to restore and light the dome at the top of the library. She said the financial assistance from the state would help the renovation to be done “extensively,” so that the library can be a resource for the whole community, including village businesses, which she envisions co-sponsoring programs there.
Ms. Creedon will speak at length about the old and new spaces, the role of libraries in the 21st century, and the part John Jermain can play as “a key shareholder in a vibrant Main Street” on Saturday at 12:30 p.m. at the American Hotel. The lunch, organized by the Sag Harbor Historical Society, costs $50. Reservations can be made by e-mailing email@example.com.
Many people do not know how much their library cards can provide them with, Ms. Creedon said, and consultations are available to explain all of the resources; all one needs is an appointment. She said members of any Suffolk County library can use the free resources, many of which are available online at johnjermain.org.