New York Library Association. - The eBulletin

Literary Landmarks in Honor of NYLA’s Anniversary

by Lisa C. Wemett, FLS President


In the first few years of wedding anniversaries, we all seem to be guided by traditional gifts: paper for year 1, wood for the 5th anniversary, crystal for year 15. Then things get a little more complicated and costly: silver for the 25th anniversary, jade for the 35th, and gold for the 50th. So what do you give to an association that is celebrating its 125th anniversary?  OK, maybe a pledge to help them pay off their mortgage, but that really wasn’t on my mind a year ago.

In the Winter 2014 issue of the Empire Friends newsletter, Rocco Staino, director for the Empire State Center for the Book, contributed an article about the Literary Landmark™ program.  United for Libraries, a division of the American Library Association, looks for nominations of historic literary locations to be designated Literary Landmarks. At the time of Rocco’s article, NYS had eleven places that had earned that distinction, including hotels, a lighthouse, and a windmill. But since so many of the sites were downstate, I began to wonder if there were locations in the “north country” near NYLA’s 125th annual conference in Lake Placid.  Not finding any on the list, I determined that getting a Literary Landmark™ (or two!) in honor of NYLA’s anniversary would be a great gift and certainly something to celebrate in 2015.

I had personally visited two such worthy historic sites several years apart when staying with a friend who lives on Upper Saranac Lake: the Wilder Homestead outside of Malone and the Robert Louis Stevenson Cottage and Museum in the village of Saranac Lake.  I made some overtures to each site’s administrators and held meetings to discuss the program with both groups in July 2014.

Section Support
Knowing that it is sometimes difficult for a site to afford the $800 for the cost of the plaque, I offered ways the groups could look for sponsors.  But I felt NYLA could help in this effort, and I put out a call for donations to all NYLA Sections to give to this initiative. The Youth Services Section (YSS) led off strongly with a contribution of $1 for each of their members.  Both YSS and the Section of School Librarians (SSL) clearly realized the importance of these sites to young readers, notably Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Farmer Boy and Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island and A Child’s Garden of Verses.

Ultimately, all NYLA Sections joined with FLS to contribute to the effort: Academic and Special Libraries Section (ASLS), Leadership and Management Section (LAMS), Public Library Section (PLS), Reference and Adult Services Section (RASS), and Section on the Management of Resources and Technology (SMART).  Collectively, with 100% participation, we were able to raise enough to cover the cost of the plaques for both sites.  FLS and the Empire State Center for the Book thank all of the executive boards of the sections for their generosity and support.

Cause for Celebration!
The Literary Landmark™ designation is cause for celebration. It is a wonderful opportunity to recognize the work of the groups that have protected these historic sites for many decades and their continued efforts to maintain these valuable locations so readers will be able to enjoy them for many years to come.

We hope you will be able to join us on Saturday, July 11, at the Wilder Homestead, for their dedication event.  A bronze Literary Landmark™ plaque will be unveiled during the Homestead’s Children’s Art Event (10 a.m. until 4 p.m.)  There will be art activities for children and 19th century games, along with an awards ceremony for the children’s art show which begins Saturday, July 4.  Museum admission applies to this event.  Visit Facebook and “like” the Almanzo Wilder Farm page to receive additional details about the dedication ceremony plans as they develop.

The Robert Louis Stevenson Cottage and Museum will be hosting an event late in August. We will be publicizing the date to the NYLA membership as it draws closer and the plans are finalized.

The Wilder Homestead
Laura Ingalls Wilder (1867–1957) first wrote about her life growing up on the American frontier in Little House in the Big Woods (1932). The childhood home of her husband Almanzo was made famous by Laura in her book Farmer Boy, the second title in her “Little House” series. The 1933 book, published by HarperCollins Publishers, introduced young readers to a year in the life of Almanzo on his family’s farm in northern New York. Almanzo lived at the Wilder Homestead from his birth in 1857 until 1875 when his family moved to Minnesota. The farmhouse is the only “Little House” venue still on its original property.

The Literary Landmark™ designation joins other honors for the Wilder Homestead, which previously was placed on the New York State Register of Historic Places.  In December 2014, the Wilder Homestead was named to the National Register of Historic Places. The Homestead includes the original Wilder home with period furnishings and an 1860s era one-room schoolhouse, which was added in 2013.  The barns at the farm were rebuilt on the sites of the original ones according to blueprints Almanzo recreated from memory. There is a small museum gift shop, and the Trout River, where Almanzo fished, is across the road.

The Robert Louis Stevenson Cottage and Museum
The Robert Louis Stevenson Cottage and Museum is maintained by the Stevenson Society of America, which is celebrating its 100th anniversary in 2015. The cottage is the most significant, the oldest, and the first of its kind historical Robert Louis Stevenson site in the United States.

Stevenson (1850-1894) lived here during the winter of 1887-1888 with his family, renting the green-shuttered white cottage from Andrew and Mary Baker. The Bakers’ tenant was the famed Scottish author of Treasure Island (1883) and Kidnapped (1886) and certainly the most popular writer of his time following the publication of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1886) before he had set foot in New York.  Plagued by poor health all his life, Stevenson sought the fresh mountain air as did many visitors who made Saranac Lake a world-famous center for the treatment of tuberculosis.

The prosperity that came to him during his stay in Saranac Lake gave Stevenson much of the means to finally travel to a part of the world he so yearned to visit. When he left Saranac Lake in 1888 for his South Sea voyages, an endless stream of star-struck literary pilgrims came to see the spot where Stevenson created some of his finest contributions to English literature. The cottage is well preserved with an expansive collection of personal mementos belonging to Stevenson and personal artifacts used by him.

Future Literary Landmarks
More than 130 Literary Landmarks™ across the United States have been dedicated since the program began in 1986. If you have a site in your area that you think is worthy of the official Literary Landmark™ designation and would like the Empire State Center for the Book to assist in that effort, please contact Rocco Staino at rocco.staino@gmail.com. Please place Literary Landmark™ Designation in the subject line of your message.  Nominators may be Friends groups, libraries, historical societies, or other groups associated with the site. The Center is actively looking for opportunities to have Literary Landmarks highlighted throughout New York State. The Literary Landmark™ program is administered by United for Libraries. To learn about the program and see a list of the other Literary Landmark™ sites in New York State, please click here.