Lafayette Square - Table of Contents

 Central Library
Buffalo & Erie County Public Library

1 Lafayette Square, Buffalo NY
  Public Library - Official Website (online August 2015)

In 2015, the Buffalo & Erie County Public Library (B&ECPL) consists of a Central Library, eight branches in the City of Buffalo and twenty-two contracting member libraries which operate twenty-eight facilities outside the City of Buffalo.

1816 Court House:

Old Court House   Site for the Central Buffalo and Erie County Public library

1871 Grosvenor Library:

Grosvenor Library

The Cyclorama Building

1887 Building:

1887 Buffalo Public Library Includes photograph

Chris Andrle, Buffalo Public Library Reprinted from ARTVOICE

1905 Buffalo of Today: Domestic and Industrial - Historic photo

Historic photo #1

Historic photo #2


1964 Building:


The Mark Twain Room

Tape Art: Piece - Buffalo Caverns

Spirit of  Buffalo mural  by Joseph Slawinski

Buffalo Presidential Center  Museum

2022 Sculpture:

Spirit of Inspiration

See also:

B&ECPL History On Buffalo and Erie County Public Library website (Online August 2015)

Continuous public library service in Western New York began in 1836, when the Young Men’s Association (YMA) was created to acquire books of permanent or lasting value for its members.

In 1886, YMA became the Buffalo Library and later, in 1897, it became the Buffalo Public Library

The Grosvenor Library, a second library, had been operating in Buffalo as a non-circulating public reference library since 1871.

A third library, the
Erie County Public Library, was created in 1947 to provide bookmobile service to rural towns and villages. In an effort to protect the two City libraries and provide improved library services for the entire region, the three library institutions were merged by New York State special legislation in 1953 to form the Buffalo and Erie County Public Library.

- Preservation Ready Survey of Buildings Downtown, Northland and Fougeron/Urban Survey Areas, Pages 4-28 (Online August 2014)

Located in the heart of downtown Buffalo, NY at Lafayette Square, the central library holds a wide collection of rare books and manuscripts, carefully assembled over decades through the generosity of area philanthropists, collectors, and library leaders.

1836 was the beginning of the continuous public library service established by the Young Men’s Association. It wasn’t till 1886 that it became the Buffalo Library, and later the Buffalo Public Library as the result of a contractual agreement with the city of Buffalo in 1897.

A second library, the Grosvenor Library, under the will of Seth Grosvenor, had been operating in Buffalo as a non-circulating public reference library since 1871. In 1947, a mobile book service to rural towns and villages became known as the Erie County Public Library.

During the early 1950’s the city of Buffalo experienced financial difficulties, making it problematic to maintain the three separate services, therefor creating a merger between all the libraries, paving the way for the new Buffalo & Erie County Public Library.

The design of the new library was carried out by Kideney Architects with construction managed by John W. Cowper CO. Construction of the new central library began in 1961 and was completed in 1964 and officially dedicated on October 18th of 1964. The location of the old public library in the center of the redeveloping downtown Buffalo, NY was the determining factor in the site selection. The block to the east was purchased and the construction took place in two phases, the first on the new land and the second on the old site with construction at first floor level spanning Ellicott Street.
- Joseph Tuberdyck, "Buffalo and Erie County Public Library."  DOCOMOMO, May 3, 2014 (online Nov. 2016)

 Saint James Hall and Buffalo's Library
By Anne E. Conable
Manager, Community Engagement, Buffalo & Erie County Public Library 
Buffalo established library services through the Young Men’s Association beginning in 1836. This was a membership organization; dues-paying members (white men, of course) were able to check out books, many of which had been donated from the private libraries of Buffalo’s wealthy citizens. The Young Men’s Association(YMA) operated in several rented locations in downtown Buffalo before 1864.

When the highly unusual $40,000 bequest from Seth Grosvenor’s estate was revealed in 1857, which required establishment of a non-circulating library open to all,discussions began to explore combining the new Grosvenor and YMA libraries but agreement could not be reached. The YMA Library leadership, which had in 1857agreed to add women as members, was by then looking for new larger quarters that would accommodate not only a rapidly growing book collection but also the fledgling collections on fine arts, local history and scientific discovery that had been started. The fear of fire was a significant concern.

All efforts were delayed by the advent of the Civil War.

In 1864, the YMA settled on purchasing for $112,500 St. James Hall, an existing hotel building with a well-used event hall on Eagle Street between Main and Washington Streets (current site of M&T Plaza). A public subscription campaign raised needed funds in less than three months, and the YMA was able to move in on January 10, 1865. And the move was fortuitous – the YMA’s previous home in the American Block (Main Place Mall location) burned to the ground that January 25!

In his opening address at St. James Hall, YMA leader Oliver Steele called the building a “…grand concentration of all the literary, art and scientific societies of the city, all with ample room, and all in a position to cooperate with each other.” The tenants in the building along with the YMA included the new Grosvenor Library, Buffalo Historical Society, Buffalo Society of Natural Sciences, the Fine Arts Academy, the Young Men’s Christian Union,Buffalo’s Law Library, Young Men’s Catholic Association, and the Erie County Medical Society. All were charged a reasonable rent for a period of time to payoff the YMA’s purchase with the promise that they could stay indefinitely thereafter rent-free.

It was in April 1865, as the country was still reeling from the War, that the martyred President Abraham Lincoln lay in state at St. James Hall on his last train ride to burial in Illinois. An estimated 80,000-100,000 mourners paid their last respects at his bier.

The building provided principal income for the YMA -- $9,000 the first year -- from stores on first floor and from St. James Hall,which continued as the city’s primary lecture hall and event space. During its early ownership, the YMA sponsored lectures as a form of “civic education” by Julia Ward Howe, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry Ward Beecher, Thomas Nast, and other prominent national figures. As the YMA steadily gained popularity,competition grew for its leadership roles, a mark of prestige in the city.

Wise leadership, public support and an entrepreneurial spirit meant the YMA was free of debt  by 1878. But its leaders knew that the YMA would have an even greater impact on the growing city through reorganization and innovation. They chose Josephus Larned (1836-1913) as the new Library Superintendent in 1877.

Larned, a former newspaper man, had worked alongside Mark Twain at the Buffalo Express and unsuccessfully run for office before serving as Buffalo’s Superintendent of Education 1871-1876. The YMA Library’s collection had grown significantly though the purchases were haphazard and the catalog woefully out of date. Over the next two decades with Larned at the helm, this daunting reorganization task ultimately led to a greatly improved book collection, reorganization and professionalization of library staff, honorary library memberships for teachers and free ones for children, more selective book purchasing, and the first Children’s Room and Children’s book collection in an American library. The YMA also became the first complete application of the Dewey Decimal System in an American library thanks to Larned’s friendship with library pioneer Melvil Dewey. Larned later succeeded Dewey as President of the young American Library Association.

It was under Larned’s proactive leadership that the YMA again began considering anew larger library for the rapidly growing city. Courthouse Square, now Lafayette Square, was deemed the best, most central location for a new library, where the old Courthouse had been, and a design competition for the new building took place in 1884, won ultimately by architect Cyrus Eidlitz. In tandem with the building of the new library, the YMA took on a new identity – the Buffalo Library. The Library vacated St. James Hall in late 1886, moving into its magnificent new building with its cultural partners. The formal opening of the new Library was February 7, 1887. The Library retained ownership of St. James Hall, intending that the building would continue to support library operations.It was at that time renamed the Richmond Hotel.

Fiery catastrophe again struck the Library’s former home -- on March 18, 1887, the Richmond Hotel went up in flames with a loss of 15 lives. Gone was St. James Hall -- even worse for the Library was the loss of $30,000 in annual revenue.

Eidlitz was again enlisted to design a new “modern, fireproof” hotel to replace the lost Richmond; built at a cost of $675,000 and now named the Hotel Iroquois, it immediately became the city’s most elegant hotel. The Library leased the hotel’s management to outside operators for $54,000 per year.

A change in State law in 1895-96 made the Hotel Iroquois a taxable property, causing a financial crisis for the Library in putting the income from the successful property in jeopardy. The Library was shortly thereafter forced to sell the hotel, with the proceeds to be used to pay off indebtedness on the new building. This was part of the negotiation with the City of Buffalo in 1896 to take over the funding of the library, now renamed again as the “Buffalo Public Library” in 1897. Citing “too much government interference” in the operations of the Library, Larned resigned his post that year, but continued to advocate for libraries for the rest of his life.

Photos and their arrangement © 2010 Chuck LaChiusa
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