Easthampton eyes historical preservation restriction for Emily Williston Memorial Library

  • The Emily Williston Memorial Library in Easthampton GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 3/8/2022 2:24:53 PM
Modified: 3/8/2022 2:24:20 PM

EASTHAMPTON — The Emily Williston Memorial Library and Museum is one of the city’s historical and architectural gems and local officials are taking steps to ensure it remains that way. 

The City Council recently approved $15,000 in Community Preservation Act funds for legal fees, appraisals, baseline documentation and other costs necessary to implement a historical preservation restriction on the library building. 

The building has received several financial appropriations from the city’s Community Preservation Act Committee, most recently to improve its heating, ventilating and air conditioning system, according to City Councilor and Community Preservation Act Committee Chairman Dan Rist.  

“This building … is one of the most beautiful pieces of architecture in our city,” Rist said. “It’s right downtown and it needs to be preserved.”

In talking with members of the City Council at a March 2 meeting, Rist explained that the CPA Committee learned there might be a need to expand the library and therefore sell the building. He said the committee expressed concern that if the building was sold, the city could risk losing the historical landmark and in a worse-case scenario, see it torn down. 

The Emily Williston Memorial Library is governed by the Public Library Association of Easthampton. The association is governed by a group of corporators, which has a subgroup called a board of directors. 

In working with the library’s board, Rist said the committee is working toward establishing a historical preservation restriction. If established, the deed restriction would follow the building in a future sale, he said. 

Since opening in 1881, the building has undergone three major renovations: one was in 1930 when the basement was renovated, a second in 1966 and in 2018, the foundation was repaired. 

Greenfield-based Jones Whitsett Architects, Inc. performed an existing condition assessment and planning study on the building in February 2020, according to Elizabeth Appelquist, president of the library’s board of directors. 

“We do need to expand, it’s widely known, and we can’t do that in the space we have now,” Appelquist said. “We recognize that it’s a wonderful treasure as well and especially the historical significance. So, this was really the major reason we voted as a board to engage in the exploratory process of putting on the restriction … It’s important for us to be looking at the details more closely as we go forward. We realize that the longer we’re going to stay in the building, the longer we’re going to need repairs.”

One of the elements that was highlighted as needing improvement in that assessment is compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Although there is a ramp in front of the building, there is no elevator in the building. The children’s area is also not accessible to people who cannot use stairs. 

Appelquist also noted at the meeting that within the last few days, the board has been approached by private developers and would be looking at all possibilities. In an interview with the Gazette, she clarified that the developers, whose names were not disclosed, did not approach the board about purchasing the library. 

“We love this building. It’s gorgeous, hence the reason we’re doing the exploratory process and engaging in discussions,” she said. 

Emily Thurlow can be reached at ethurlow@gazettenet.com.

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