Early library history in Waterloo dates as far back as March 13, 1830 when a public meeting was called to consider the establishment of a public library. A constitution was drafted and the Waterloo Library Association was formed. Membership shares were $3.00 or the contribution of books worth at least $3.00 Quarterly installments of 12.5 cents were provided. In May 1933 this library had 387 volumes with another 53 added that same year; bringing the total to 421 volumes. Circulation was a total of 735 volumes in 1834. The Waterloo Historical Society was created on April 9, 1875. The stated purpose was to form an organization “by which the early history of the village may be rescued from oblivion”.
Starting in June of that same year, the Historical Society met in the County Clerk’s office building which was then located on Virginia Street. Later that same year, the Historical Society was incorporated by New York State action to become known as the Waterloo Literary and Historical Society. In January 1876, Thomas Fatzinger offered $5000 towards the establishment of a library by the Waterloo Literary and Historical Society. This necessitated a new act of incorporation which was completed on March 22, 1876. The name was therefore changed to the Waterloo Library and Historical Society.
In November 1877, plans for a permanent library building were made. On February 12, 1878, a lot 60 feet by 60 feet on the corner of Church and Williams Street was obtained. Because of the centennial celebration of the Sullivan Campaign, little visible progress took place in 1879. Plans for the new building were accepted in 1880, with Nichols and Brown of Albany as architects.The foundation was to be completed on or before June 1, 1881. The cornerstone was laid on September 28, 1880.
The building itself is in a style that is called Queen Anne. This architectural style of the 1880’s and 1890’s was popular when the industrial revolution in this country was building up steam. Some obvious characteristics of this style are exemplified in this very building. The overall shape of the building is asymmetrical. For example, there are fewer windows on one side of the door than the other, the roof is steeply pitched, irregular and covered with slate. The dominant gable faces the street. There were two courses of base stone upon which well-rounded quarry stone was laid in cement. The outside walls of the building are brick. The joists are spruce. The bone bridging throughout is of either spruce or hemlock. The floor is seasoned Georgia Pine that is 1.25 inches thick and not exceeding 3.5 inches wide.The library roof has exposed trusses, shaped so as to clear the windows. The cornerstone is limestone with the design of the society seal engraved on the east, and the date 1880 engraved on the northern end. Inside the cornerstone was placed a metal box containing several documents etc.
The second floor was designed to serve as both a lecture hall and theater stage. Originally there were 300 birch veneer opera chairs. A trap door in the stage platform led to the costume room below the stage. It became known as Fatzinger Hall and was used frequently for lectures, musicals, and other entertainment until it closed in May 1911 because of being considered a fire hazard. The room was used to house the museum until the new Terwilliger Museum addition was built.
The first librarian was Horace F. Gustin who was paid a salary of $50.00 per year. In 1878 there were over 3,000 volumes available for public use. Originally the library was open only on Wednesday from 1-5 and 7-9. Remember, this was the library operating out of the lower level room in the County Clerk’s office on Virginia Street. Starting in January 1884, the library was open in the new building four afternoons and evenings a week. In 1890 the library and its books were declared for free use by residents, instead of being limited to Society members only.
The Seneca County News ran this item in 1927: “Few if any libraries in New York State can equal the record of the Waterloo Public Library in loaning in one year more than twice the number of books on the shelves. the total circulation of the year was almost five volumes to each inhabitant”…
Today this library is one of the oldest library buildings still in its original intended use in New York State.
In 1900, there were over 1,000 registered and labelled items in the museum. As the number of museum items continued to increase, the need for a separate museum display became apparent. Thanks to a bequest from Charles Terwilliger, an addition was built in 1960. This addition became known as the Terwilliger Museum. In 1966 the Waterloo Memorial Day Centennial Committee recognized the need for a suitable repository for the many records and mementos associated with Memorial Day. The Memorial Day Museum was acquired in 1966 from the Village of Waterloo. It was a brick house located at 35 East Main Street. Almost immediately two rooms were open to the public. Work on preparing other rooms to be open to the public continued until 2002. In addition to perpetuating the meaning of Memorial Day and honoring all war veterans who gave their lives serving our country, the museum recreates rooms indicative of life in Waterloo in 1866.
Besides the erection of its beautiful library and museum buildings, the Waterloo Library and Historical Society has made some noteworthy accomplishments through the years. These include the publication of a full account of the Sullivan Campaign on its Centennial Anniversary in 1879, the erection of the Red Jacket Monument near Canoga marking the birthplace of the Seneca Indian Chief Red Jacket in 1891, and the erection of the Lafayette Monument in 1922.
Any building over 100 years old is in need of more than simply routine maintenance. The Waterloo Library and Historical Society Board of Trustees kicked off a major capital campaign project on March 23, 2006. In different phases over the next three years the beautiful historically significant building will have a new slate roof, repaired stained glass windows etc. The library and Terwilliger Museum will also have their electrical, plumbing, heating, and air conditioning systems upgraded. The vision and hard work of the current Board of Trustees continues the vision and energy of those who have been associated with this building and museum since its inception.