Katonah is one of the three hamlets in the Town of Bedford in northern Westchester County, New York. The hamlet has an unusual history, and the Library has moved and changed with the community.
“Old Katonah” was the third settlement in this part of Westchester County in the first half of the nineteenth century, following the villages of Cherry Street and Whitlockville. The main streets of Old Katonah paralleled and crossed the railroad tracks where milk trains stopped to pick up produce for New York City sale.
The Katonah Village Improvement Society (then known as the Katonah Village Improvement Association) was organized on October 21, 1878. The intention of the founders was to involve the citizenry in projects to add to the beauty and safety of the village. Planting trees, building wooden sidewalks, and installing kerosene streetlamps were early projects.
On December 10, 1880, the first Library and Reading Room was opened with 400 books donated by Association members. In 1886 the Association incorporated and became the Katonah Village Improvement Society, an organization owning the library furniture and book collection. The K.V.I.S. and the Library have remained intimately tied ever since.
Twice in the 1890s, the City of New York Water Supply condemned and purchased parcels of land upon which Old Katonah stood. New York City needed water, and the buildings of the village stood too close to the banks of the Croton and Cross rivers, which would be dammed for the creation of reservoirs. The members of the Katonah community wished to remain together, so they formed a syndicate and planned a new village on nearby land that would not be submerged. A street plan including wide boulevards and regular building lots was conceived, and members of the K.V.I.S. worked together to physically move more than 50 buildings from Old Katonah to New. The houses were drawn along soaped timber tracks by horsepower.
The year 1997 was the centennial of the move from Old Katonah to its current location. The Centennial celebration began on April 5, the exact anniversary of the day when the trains first stopped at the new train station. The celebration, marked by displays, lectures, tours of the old village site, and activities for young and old alike, took place from April 5 to July 5, 1997.
The planners of the new village kept a nice corner lot for their future library. The Reading Room continued as a room in a house moved from Old Katonah to 21 Edgemont Road (now an eatery called The Reading Room) until enough money was raised to erect a new brick and stone building designed by Kerr Rainsford on the saved corner lot in the late 1920s. That and the large addition designed by Lester W Smith AIA in the late 1960s houses the library collections to this day.
Katonah Historical Museum
Katonah’s interesting history inspired local residents who want to keep the events of the past in focus for current and future residents. The Katonah Historical Museum opened in 1984. Exhibits of historical interest concerning the moving of Katonah are on display in the Library’s lower level hallway. These include an accurate diorama of a house on the move from Old Katonah to New Katonah (the model is a couple of feet tall; the actual building is two blocks away).
In 1985, 37 buildings moved or built in situ in the early years of the twentieth century were cataloged and admitted to the National Register of Historic Places.
Katonah Gallery/ Katonah Museum of Art
In 1954, a committee of the Katonah Village Improvement Society established a small art gallery in a single room on the upper floor of the Library building to display works by local artists. In 1956, the Katonah Gallery obtained a charter as an independent organization, and grew over the years into new space on the ground floor following the library expansion of the 1960s. The scope of Gallery exhibitions also expanded. In 1991, the prestigious organization became the Katonah Museum of Art and moved half a mile to their own new, architecturally outstanding building.
For hours and current exhibit and program information, please visit the Museum’s website at www.katonahmuseum.org.