Tuesday, April 19, 2011

We Owe You: One Horse - the Great Neck Library Board of Trustees, circa 1941-46

The Local History Room recently added to its collection the library's oldest existing records - Board of Trustees minutes, correspondence, and ledgers from 1894 to 1949. 
Previously, these documents had been kept in the library's safe, but it was thought they'd be better preserved, and more accessible to the public, if they were kept in the Local History Room, where they are now stored in a fireproof cabinet.  As we reviewed these materials for description, we came across some interesting documents that shed light on just how much Great Neck, and the library, have changed over the years.  For instance, a page at the beginning of the January 1941 - November 1946 board journal is entitled "List of Loans to the Great Neck Library."  In addition to some furniture and artwork, including a painting by the famous artist Childe Hassam, lent by one Robert Tarleton, this document notes that Mrs. Roswell Eldridge* once lent the library a horse.  You may wonder what the library needed a horse for in the 1940's - hauling, plowing, teaching kids about life on the farm?  Your guess is as good as ours.  Of course, it is possible, even probable, that Mrs. Eldridge lent the library the kind of horse that the American Heritage Dictionary describes as "a frame or device, usually with four legs, used for supporting or holding," but we prefer to imagine a large equine mammal grazing and frolicking on the grounds of the old Great Neck Library at 14 Arrandale Avenue.
This first page of the January 1941 - November 1946 Library Board journal lists "Loans to the Great Neck Library."  Note that there is no record indicating that the library ever returned the horse lent to it by Mrs. Eldridge.
One of the few pictures we have of Louise Skidmore Udall Eldridge.
* Louise Skidmore Udall Eldridge probably played the single greatest role in shaping modern Great Neck.  She came from two old, established families of Great Neck and Long Island, the Udalls and the Skidmores.  After her husband Roswell died, Mrs. Eldridge became mayor of the Village of Saddle Rock.  At the time, she was the first female mayor of a village in the State of New York.  She served as mayor from 1926 until her death in 1947.  Mrs. Eldridge was tremendously active in, and important to, the civic and community development and improvement of the Great Neck peninsula.  She was a dynamic, driving force in the founding, early administration, and trusteeship of the Great Neck Library, the Great Neck Park District, the Great Neck Schools, the Village of Saddle Rock, local health services organizations, and the Great Neck Society for Social and Educational Advancement.  Her desire and commitment to helping provide Great Neck with all the services and amenities that a modern community could need seemed to know no bounds.  Before and during her mayoralty of Saddle Rock, she served as an officer on the boards of numerous governmental, charity, and municipal organizations.  She donated funds, land, and endowments to numerous municipal and charitable groups, both public and private, and was thus instrumental in the development of both government and non-government services and infrastructure on the Great Neck peninsula.

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