Wells Memorial Library

Snow-covered library with pine trees in background
Wells Memorial Library

Photograph by Nancy Todd, courtesy of the New York State Historic Preservation Office

Quick Facts
12230 NY 9N, Upper Jay, New York
Architecture, Education
Listed in the National Register - Reference number 11000289
The Wells Memorial Library in Upper Jay, New York was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 2011. The library is significant both for its connections to Upper Jay's educational history, as well as serving as an outstanding example of a small community library executed in the Tudor Revival style.

By the end of the 19th century, Upper Jay was a hamlet whose economy was fueled by tourism to the surrounding Adirondacks. Married philanthropists Jean Wells and Wallis Craig Smith were drawn to Upper Jay after Jean's father died and left a substantial tract of land in the area. Inspired by the natural beauty of their surroundings, the couple built an elegant country estate in the "Great Camp" tradition of the Adirondacks, and gave generously to the surrounding community.

In 1905, the couple volunteered to donate a library building and site. In order to establish the library, the townspeople had to secure a certificate of establishment from the New York State Education Department State Library and Home Education. At the time, the department was headed by Melvil Dewey, a highly influential librarian who invented the Dewey Decimal system of library classification nearly thirty years prior. Through his establishment and leadership of the American Library Association (ALA) in 1876, Dewey had also helped direct major philanthropic interests toward funding public libraries, with the goal of increasing free access to information and reading to the masses.

Dewey's office issued the certificate to the Upper Jay library, and indicated that one hundred dollars in pledges or cash and one thousand dollars in property be secured before a permanent charter could be issued. The document further stated that the library be for the free use of inhabitants of the district in accordance with the laws of 1892. The library received its charter from the New York State Education Department on April 26, 1906, and opened its doors on April 20, 1907.

While the library's operating expenses in its first few decades of existence were mostly paid by the Smith family and community fundraisers, it became a part of the New York public library system in the 1950s. Today, the building continues to serve as a library for the local community.

Last updated: December 8, 2023