It’s hard to walk by the Hoboken Public Library and not be drawn back to another time, with its Italian Renaissance design and distinctive dome. The interior of dark wood and high ceilings looks, feels, and even smells like a century-old institution.
In fact, it opened on April 5, 1897, and is the oldest public library building in New Jersey—not the oldest library but the first dedicated public library building.
Last year the library applied for inclusion in the New Jersey Register of Historic Places. “We are working on renovations that will be sensitive to the historic value of the building,” says Library Director Lina Podles. “This entails some stabilization of the building and rehabilitation of the front door and staircase on Fifth Street.”
A community room that can accommodate 85 people will also be added to the area on the lower level. “Currently we have no large room for adult or children’s programs,” Podles says. “We have to close regular library business and open it for programs.”
This is welcome news for Laura Knittel, the library’s community outreach specialist. “Our philosophy here is that we are proud of the building and our services,” she says. “In terms of growth and outreach efforts, we will have more space for more programming. Programs in the new room will cut down on interruptions in the reading room and other study areas.”
Past programs at the library have included African mask making, soldering and electronic basics, art exhibits, starting your own business, saving for retirement, book signings and readings, energy efficiency, computer classes, movies, as well as reading, crafts, and video games for kids.
The public library was designed by Hoboken architect Alfred Beyer. Martha Bayard Stevens, who controlled much of the Stevens fortune and was considered one of the richest women in the United States, donated land and money to build the library.
Last March, the library presented an original play, Martha Stevens Returns, written by Hoboken Public Library Board Member Arturo Martinez. Local actress Florence Pate played Martha Stevens, who comes back for a visit to check out the project she initiated more than a century ago.—Kate Rounds