A Monthly Column on Historic Structures of New York's Southern Tier
The Jewel AND the Crown

Next week Saturday, August 11, as the small village of Newark Valley holds its annual "Newark Valley Days" festival, there will be a special reason for the community to celebrate. On that day at two o'clock near the bandstand on the village green, local and state officials will join with preservationists and the community to recognize two of Newark Valley's most prominent and architecturally significant landmarks. It's official, several years after starting the process, spearheaded by resident Joan Knapp and the Preservation Planning Group of Newark Valley, the Tappan-Spaulding Memorial Library and neighboring Municipal Building have been added to the State and National Registers of Historic Places.

Born in 1880, Lee Roy J. Tappan was the only child of an important and respected family in the village. Growing up he spent his time engaged in collecting, reading, writing and painting. As a collector, Lee Roy was to become an authority on Indian relics, antiques, and oriental curios. As a writer he authored many magazine articles on these subjects, contributed writings to literary magazines, and published a book of his poetry. In 1905, at the age of twenty-five and suffering from meningitis and tuberculosis, Lee Roy Tappan died. With no surviving immediate relatives, his will included funds to construct a library, to be known as "The Tappan-Spaulding Memorial Library", and as specified in his will, "an inscription to that effect is to be placed over the main entrance". Tappan also donated his collection of artifacts, including Indian relics, weapons, china, coins, jewelry, and other curios, stipulating that they be "placed in cases in the library building, and never be taken from the building except in case of fire".

Village leaders contracted the prominent Binghamton architectural firm T.I.Lacey and Son, to design the new building. Some of the firm's other buildings in the area are the Press Building, Security Mutual, and Kilmer Buildings in Binghamton. The unique and eclectic design of the library represents a mix of Arts & Crafts and Classical design elements, the most striking features being broad overhanging eaves with exposed rafters, and a distinctive three-stage clock tower rising above the terra-cotta tile roof. The interior includes prominent white oak columns, oak trim, and display cases filled with Tappan's collection of artifacts. A large portrait of Lee Roy Tappan hangs over the fireplace and memorial plaques are displayed on the overmantel. On visiting this distinctive and unique architectural "work of art", it is clear to see why this landmark is known as the "Jewel of Newark Valley".

If Tappan-Spaulding is the jewel, the rest of the crown holds it in good company. Next door to the library is the Knapp residence, previously listed on the National Register, and directly across Rock Street, bordering the village green, stands a magnificent Queen Anne-style brick and stone structure… the other landmark being commemorated on Saturday: Newark Valley's Municipal Building.

Constructed in 1887 as the Union Free School and Academy, the two and a half story facility was built to consolidate two existing school districts. It would accommodate senior, intermediate, and primary grades in three classrooms… one large classroom on each floor, and a third smaller classroom above the front stairs. The building and land were donated to the village by local politician and industrialist, Royal W. Clinton, whose portrait hangs at the main entrance. The Union Free School would provide a central source for education to residents of Newark Valley and surrounding communities until 1931. Resident Maxine Geerken remembers it well, she was a member of that last graduating class 76 years ago. At that time a new school was constructed, and the original building was adapted for use as a village hall. It continues to operate in that capacity to this day.

It is interesting to note that both of these historic buildings continue to be fully utilized. Crowded with books and museum artifacts, and including a children's library in the basement, the Tappan-Spaulding Memorial Library serves the community just as Lee Roy Tappan envisioned over one hundred years ago. The library is open to the public four days a week, Tuesday through Thursday, and Saturday. As with the library, every inch of the Municipal Building continues to be used in service to Newark Valley and surrounding communities… in addition to operating as a village hall, it houses the Post Office, Berkshire Emergency Squad, Newark Valley Historical Society, Northern Tioga County Youth League, the Boy Scouts, a quilters group and weight-loss clinic. The large "Rollie Noble Community Room", adorned with pictures of turn-of-the-century graduating classes from the Union Free School, is frequently booked for community and neighborhood meetings.

As part of the Newark Valley Planning Committee's strategic plan, a prestigious consulting group out of Buffalo recently did a study of both buildings. The study concluded that the community should consider selling the building to a developer to be refurbished for use as housing. That's just not likely to happen says Newark Valley Mayor Jim Tornatore, adding that his community has great affection for the building, and makes very good use of it as-is. In talking with Tornatore the affection is obvious. "I love this building… it is in excellent condition" says Tornatore, as he points out the impressive architectural detail in the attic, the tall wooden ladder leading up to the belfry, massive wood beams and rafters, and the impressive stone foundation in the basement. "They don't make buildings like this anymore".