The Margaret Reaney Memorial Library on quiet Kingsbury Avenue in St. Johnsville contains an in-house museum plus historical records that are helpful to genealogists.
The museum temporarily closed Jan. 1 so volunteers and staff could clean, refurbish and, in some cases, reinterpret the collections. During a recent visit, library trustees Rebecca Sokol and Sharon Fuller could not provide an estimate on when the downstairs museum will reopen.
Collections include Native American arrowheads and projectile points, items from Palatine German settlements, antique farm and carpentry tools, Revolutionary War era powder horns, Civil War uniforms and buttons, glassware and historic photographs of St. Johnsville. There are church and cemetery records, scrapbooks, family histories and local newspaper archives.
The library has more than 50 paintings by European and American artists. The Victorian-style Memorial Room, used for speaking programs, contains sculptures, some by French artists of the 19th and 20th centuries. The room also features a large hanging carpet from Tabriz, Iran.
MILLION DOLLAR GIVER
The library building and many of the museum objects were gifts from textile manufacturer Joseph H. Reaney. His 1947 obituary estimated that Reaney, born in New Jersey, had made $1 million in charitable gifts during his 82-year lifetime.
Reaney’s father, also named Joseph, fought in the Civil War with the highly respected 5th New York Volunteer Infantry, the Duryee Zouaves. The regiment was led by Col. Abram Duryee and wore colorful uniforms, modeled after uniforms worn by French troops during the Crimean War.
The elder Reaney died five years after the war, leaving his widow, Margaret, to care for 6-year-old Joseph. The family moved to Utica where Joseph Reaney went to work at age 12.
He held jobs to learn the knit goods industry, and came to St. Johnsville to start a small mill in 1892. In 1898 he married Gertrude Horn of St. Johnsville. They had no children.
Reaney’s Union Mills were built on New Street from Bridge Street to Kingsbury Avenue in 1900. He also owned or managed knitting mills in other municipalities in New York and New England. His mills were known for making women’s underwear.
The library, named for Reaney’s mother and located opposite Reaney’s home on Kingsbury Avenue, was built using funds donated by the manufacturer in 1909, the year his mother died. He also paid for the 1936 library addition.
“This building is to be a permanent home for the literature and arts of the community,” said Reaney. The library sits in a park, also donated by Reaney, which abuts the buildings that formerly housed his knitting mills.
The textile manufacturer made many other public donations in St. Johnsville and was known for numerous private acts of charity.
According to Kelly Farquhar’s book, “Montgomery County,” St. Johnsville is named after an early surveyor, Alexander St. John, or the Dutch Reformed St. John’s Church, where Joseph Reaney worshipped.
Palatine Germans settled the area in the 1700s. The 1747 Nellis Tavern is located just east of the village on Route 5. Fort Klock is situated about one mile east of the village, also on Route 5.
Early settlers included Jacob Zimmerman, who built grist mills. The first post office in the area was called Zimmerman’s Corners.
The town of St. Johnsville was created in 1838 from the town of Oppenheim. The township of St. Johnsville contains 11,100 acres, making it the smallest town in area in the state. The village within the town was created in 1857.
F. Engelhardt & Sons made player pianos in St. Johnsville from 1889 to the 1930s. Other past manufacturers included a condensed milk plant, tool factories, and shoe and knitting mills.
Bob Cudmore is a free-lance columnist. Opinions in his column are his own.