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An old-fashioned gathering in Patchogue to celebrate a community accomplishment

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It was a throwback day for a throwback building.

If we wrote about Friday’s events in Patchogue Village 100 years ago, our story would have likely started like this:

“All of the townspeople of Patchogue gathered for a grand celebration … ”

The re-opening of the Carnegie Library had that kind of feel to it.

At least 500 people gathered at the corner of West Avenue and West Main Street for the afternoon’s festivities — good for about 4 percent of the village’s population of 12,250.

Not “all the townspeople” — but not bad for the digital era, either.

They were there to celebrate books and learning and local history, of course, but they were also there to celebrate an accomplishment: all the work and human capital that went into saving an historic building that, time and again, looked as if it might be erased from the village’s landscape forever.

“It isn’t government that makes thing happen; it’s people that make it happen,” said Patchogue Village Mayor Paul Pontieri in his remarks to the large crowd. “And you’re the people who made it happen, so thank you.”

The Carnegie Library, which was built using $10,000 in seed money from steel tycoon Andrew Carnegie, opened in 1908 on Lake Street — on land that was donated by Edwin Bailey, whose grandson, Bob Bailey, was also in attendance Friday.

The building was home to the Patchogue-Medford library until 1981, when the library moved to Main Street, according to an historical account handed out Friday. The building then became part of Briarcliffe College, but was later left vacant for a decade after Briarcliffe moved to a larger facility in the village.

The library property was eventually purchased by TRITEC Development Corporation, which later built its 291-unit New Village at Patchogue apartment complex between Lake and West Main streets.

Around that same time, in 2011, a group calling itself Friends of the Carnegie Library emerged, born out of fear the historic building would be discarded, explained some of the earlier members, including David Kennedy, now a local chamber leader, and Steve Lucas of the Greater Patchogue Historical Society.

They also noted the simultaneous work of Patchogue-Medford Library employees Laura Accardi and Karen McCahey, who were selling baked goods to try to raise money to save the building. The group got to calling the women “the Cupcake Ladies.”

They all lobbied to preserve the structure, vowing to give it a good home, and their efforts didn’t go unnoticed.

“And, as always,” Pontieri remarked Friday, “then came the Knapp-Swezey Foundation [with a $1 million donation] to make it happen,”

The state also issued $300,000 in grant funding to help the project along.

That, and TRITEC funded the pricey and painstaking job of lifting the 100-ton brick building and moving it, two inches a minute, to West Street. 

“Whenever we go into a [development] project, you have to pay tribute to what’s been in a place before,” said TRITEC’s chief operating officer, Rob Loscalzo.

After meeting with the Friends of the Carnegie Library, as well as the Greater Patchogue Historical Society, TRITEC committed to donating the building and moving it to a location of the groups’ choosing.

Finding such a location wasn’t easy. The quest was helped along by county Legislator Rob Calarco of Patchogue Village, who helped to secure county-owned land  just west of the court building on West Main Street. 

“Every once in a while when you’re an elected official you get to do something you can really feel and see and touch,” Calarco said Friday. “Certainly today is one of those moments.”

The building’s main floor will be used for Patchogue-Medford Library youth activities, with the lower floor playing host to rotating Greater Patchogue Historical Society exhibits and meetings.

The library will start hosting programs this summer and should be open for after-school activities in September.

Patchogue-Medford Library Trustee Harold Trabold kicked off the day’s events by saying he remembers being told “this day could not happen,” for various reasons. 

“So look what happens when a community comes together and expresses its wish,” he said.

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The new frieze that was commissioned by the Patchogue-Medford Library. The old one went lost over the years.

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The Greater Patchogue Historical Society exhibit space in the library’s lower level.

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John Murray, the owner of Kilwins Chocolates Patchogue, dishes free fudge in the food tent.

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People who had received their first library card at the Carnegie Library were invited up for a group shot.

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Patchogue Mayor Paul Pontieri delivers his remarks Friday afternoon.

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TRITEC’s COO Rob Loscalzo and other TRITEC representatives were invited to the podium for recognition.

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Land for the original Lake Street location was donated Edwin Bailey. His grandson, Bob Bailey, was on hand.

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Some of the original Friends of the Library were recognized during Friday’s ceremony as well.

About the author: Michael White

Michael White is a Bellport resident, longtime newspaper reporter and editor, and the owner of greaterpatchogue.com. Email him your story ideas or tips: mike@greaterpatchogue.com