A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE CAPE VINCENT LIBRARY
The early beginning of a library in Cape Vincent came about on February 29, 1936 when the Cape Vincent Improvement League members donated books and set up a library in the Community House with volunteer librarians helping during the open hours. Mrs. William Maloney was the first permanent librarian and she was followed by Gertrude Snell. The Community House remained the location of the library until 1968.
Mr. and Mrs. Robert Purcell purchased the building on Real Street where the library is currently found today, in the Spring of 1967. (The landsite of the famous “Cup and Saucer House”, actually pieces of the original rock foundation of the “Cup and Saucer House” still remain in the foundation of the library’s basement. Read about the “Cup and Saucer House” in the more detailed history of the library found below!) A contractor was hired to remodel the building to create spacious reading rooms. The building was originally intended to be used as a large game museum. Hence the tall ceilings in the main room and the beautiful fireplace that is still here today.
Mrs. Purcell later hired professional librarians to lay out the library, and to help make decisions in purchasing books and library furniture, etc. Mickey Adams Wager became the first librarian at the new building and the Cape Vincent Community Library was dedicated on June 16, 1968. Ultimately the entire building and many of the furnishings you still see today, came into being because of Robert and Hazel Purcell’s generosity.
A More Detailed History of the Cup and Saucer House and Formation of the Current Library Building
Early history states that Count Real purchases this lot of land that was at the head of Gouvello and sloped down to the majestic St. Lawrence River and began the erection of his famous “Cup and Saucer” house on Real Street.* The lower story was a square 60 x 60 feet in dimensions with living room, dining room, kitchen, two halls, a large parlor, and six sleeping rooms. The doors and windows were of French design and a wide porch supported by massive pillars extended across the front toward the riverside. The upper story of the “cup” was much smaller and contained two rooms used by the Count and his secretary as laboratories. The house was built for the reception of Napoleon Bonaparte. Count Real remained a resident of the Cup and Saucer house and was a considerable personage in the little village until the restoration of the house for Napoleon and then he returned to France. It’s been said that ex-king Joseph Bonaparte from the Natural Bridge and Lafayette on his tour through the United States were often entertained here. In 1824, Theopholus Peugnet while settling in this area purchased, with furnishings, the Cup and Saucer House and resided in it until it was destroyed by fire in the fall of 1824. Unfortunately the flames from a wide fireplace engulfed the building and the furnishings and artifacts were completely destroyed.*
It must be told that the plot of land where the Cup and Saucer House originally stood was eventually included in the parcel of land knows as Windy Banks. The house was built shortly after 1870 and the lot stretched to the shores of the St. Lawrence River. In later years this was the home of Mr. and Mrs. Alexander Rutherford. After Mrs. Rutherford’s death Louis A. Whele, head of Genesee Brewery, brought the property and desired to duplicate the Cup and Saucer House as a memento for Cape Vincent. He hired Floyd Gould, a local contractor, and during the excavation for the building he was able with a pick and shovel to delineate the cellar steps and foundation. However, after looking at the project realistically, Mr. Gould felt the duplication was an impossible task. At this point, still determined to build on this site, Mr. Whele decided that he could build a building around this foundation and would erect a museum for his stuffed African animal collection. (* Pieces of the original rock foundation of the Cup and Saucer House still remain in the foundation of the library’s basement.) Mr. Gould constructed the windowless building including the beautifully laid fireplace which remains a centerpiece of the library today. Mr. Whele’s death curtailed the work and the museum was never completed. The Whele family decided to sell the property and in 1967 Mr. Milain Smith, a realtor, purchased the Windy Banks and divided the property into three saleable pieces of real estate.
Often hazel Purcell of Deer Lick Farm expressed a desire to do something for Cape Vincent. With this in mind, Mary and Henry Purcell, brother-in-law and sister-in-law of Hazel, Marion and Eatl Wager and June and Jack Walker discussed with Mrs. Robert Purcell (Hazel) the idea of having a community library in the windowless building on the former Louis A. Whele property. Mr. and Mrs. Robert Purcell did purchase the property in the Spring of 1967. Ultimately the entire building and the furnishings you see today came into being because of their generosity.
Mr. Donald Wood was the contractor responsible for remodeling the inside into spacious reading rooms. Mrs. Purcell hired professional librarians to lay out the library so it would be most proficient. These same “pros” aided in purchasing books, library furniture, etc. Mickey Adams Wager was the first librarian and the Cape Vincent Community Library was dedicated on June 16, 1968.
*Material was researched from the early kept Historical Society’s Scrapbooks.
Compiled by Helen Prudon and June Walker – December 10, 1991
Original Board of Trustees – 1968
Mrs. Hazel Purcell, Chairperson
Mr. Robert Purcell, Chairman of the Board of Trustees, Cornell University
Mr. Walter R. Staub, Senior Partner, Lybrand, Ross Brothers and Montgomery
John J. Conway, Jr. County Judge, Rochester, NY
Mr. Enders M. Voorhees, Retired Executive, U.S. Steel Corp.
Mr. James Dwyer, Treasurer