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Prendergast Library building

James Prendergast Free Library
Cherry and Fifth Streets
(Original Library building located on Fifth Street
509 Cherry Street (Library Mailing Address)

“Site Seeing” An Architectural Sampler, Fenton Historical Society, 1991
(The Fenton Historical Society sponsored a tour of several prominent buildings in Jamestown on August 16, 1991.)

The most prominent building in the city which bears the name of Prendergast, also bears the mark of one of America’s leading architects of the 19th Century, Henry Hobson Richardson. The rounded arches, the rock-faced masonry walls, the turret on the southeastern corner containing a full-sized room, and the general air of ruggedness about the building are all defining features of the style. Because it was adapted from premedieval Roman-inspired buildings, this architecture has been labeled Richardsonian Romanesque.

This building, occupying such a conspicuous position both geographically and culturally, was a gift to the city from Alexander Prendergast, the city founder’s son, and his wife Mary. They commissioned its construction in memory of their son, James, who died in 1879 at the age of 31. Architect A.J. Warner of Rochester received $65,000 to design and build the 127 feet by 100 feet structure. Planning and construction took place over an eleven year period. Mary Prendergast, active in overseeing every phase of the building, died in 1889, before its completion in 1891. This year, the James Prendergast Free Library celebrates its 100th anniversary.

Extensive alterations and additions were completed in 1960 as library services and readership increased. The original building today contains offices, meeting rooms and storage space. The original oak fittings and red tile fireplace remain in the former Reading Room which lies to the left of the main entrance. This room now houses The Art Collection which was purchased with a bequest of $25,000 from Mary Prendergast. The Collection, largely by European artists, is said to exemplify American art taste at the turn of the century.

The stone steps leading to the building from Fifth Street were cut from a single stone, following Mary Prendergast’s instructions “… to eliminate the havoc that frost works with masonry in this climate.” Entrance for the tour will be by way of those stone steps and through the arched doorway.

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