Beacon History, Up Close and Personal

Eliza Howland

Eliza Howland

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Historian will portray library founder Eliza Howland

The Howland Public Library, which began in the building on Main Street in Beacon that is now the Howland Cultural Center, this year celebrates its 150th anniversary.

To kick off a schedule of events in July, August and September, Emily Murnane will portray library co-founder Eliza Woolsey Howland in a program on Tuesday (July 26). During My Heart Toward Home, Murnane will share the story of the Civil War nurse, philanthropist and historical writer in Howland’s own words, using her writings. 

Emily Murnane

Emily Murnane (Photo provided)

The free performance, which begins at 7 p.m., is a collaboration between the Beacon Historical Society (where Murnane is a trustee), the library and the cultural center.

The presentation was inspired, Murnane says, by the historical society’s Ghost in the Mist tours that ran from 2017 to 2019. The brainchild of Robin Lucas, the tours included costumed actors stationed throughout the city portraying figures from Beacon’s past. They shared their stories in the first person with tour guests who strolled by candlelight, led by a guide.

Howland was not one of the characters, Murnane says — “instead we had Nancy Lamont, a librarian, but the crowd reaction to her wasn’t that strong. We wanted someone more recognizable, so in 2019 we switched to Eliza.”

For her performance on Tuesday, Murnane prepared by researching primary sources, “taking the words directly from things Eliza wrote. No one’s going to know her story better than her.”

She says she avoided creating a timeline but instead looked for highlights such as major life changes or “perhaps a moment of drama. We prefer storytelling, not a walking history book. A person’s values, the things most important to them, are what we focus on, not rattling off dates.” 

Her presentation will include a slide show of archival materials playing in the background, with images from Howland’s world, “anything visually we can use to tell the story and also show what we have in our archive.”

COMING UP

150 years howland

This year marks the 150th anniversary of the Howland Public Library and the building, designed by Richard Morris Hunt, that it occupied until 1976. The structure now houses the Howland Cultural Center. Along with the Beacon Historical Society, the library and cultural center are planning a series of events in August and September to celebrate. See beaconlibrary.org for more info and to register.

Monday, Aug. 1
Mini-Library Kit Contest
9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Howland Public Library
313 Main St.
Adults are invited to stop by and pick up a kit to make a bookshelf diorama. The submission deadline is Aug. 19.

Friday, Aug. 5
Celebration Storytime
3 p.m. Howland Public Library
Stories will be geared to children in pre-K to second grade, but all are welcome. Register at beaconlibrary.org.

150th Anniversary Celebration
5 p.m. Howland Cultural Center
477 Main St.
Raise a glass at the original site of the Howland Circulating Library.

People Make it Happen (Opening)
6 p.m. Howland Cultural Center
Browse an exhibit of works by Donna Mikkelsen and Jean-Marc Superville Sovak.

Saturday, Aug. 6
Howland History Exhibit
1 – 3 p.m. Beacon Historical Society
61 Leonard St.
Explore material from the society’s archives about the library and building.

Monday, Aug. 8
Tintype Studio Visit
3:30 p.m. Beacon Tintype
149 Main St.
Teens are invited to learn how photographs were made in the 19th century.

Saturday, Aug. 13
Keeping the Books (Opening)
Noon – 3 p.m. Howland Public Library
This exhibition will include photos and ephemera from Howland Library scrapbooks compiled from the 1870s to the 1970s.

Saturday, Aug. 13
Meet the Artist: Donna Mikkelsen

3 – 5 p.m. Howland Cultural Center
On Second Saturday, Mikkelsen who will be on hand to discuss her historical pictographs in the exhibit People Make it Happen.

Monday, Aug. 15
Call for Art: Words Unbound
Howland Public Library
Today is the deadline for submissions to a group exhibit curated by Theresa Gooby of art inspired by libraries, literature, physical books and the printed word. See beaconlibrary.org.

Saturday, Aug. 20
Artist Talk: Jean-Marc Superville Sovak

1 p.m. Howland Cultural Center
Sovak will discuss his work and Myra Beth Young Armstead will talk about her book, Freedom’s Gardener: James F. Brown, Horticulture, and the Hudson Valley in Antebellum America.

Wednesday, Sept. 21
Richard Morris Hunt in Beacon
Howland Cultural Center
Steven Baltsas will discuss three buildings in Beacon designed by Hunt and commissioned by Gen. Joseph Howland: the library, the Presbyterian Church and the Tioronda Music Room.

During her hours spent researching Howland’s life, “I’ve really fallen in love with her,” Murnane says. “She was the fifth of eight children, all sisters, raised by their mother. She was an outspoken abolitionist, and was involved with public works and the church. Among her contributions, she built the Tioronda School and founded the Highland Hospital, but the library was her great achievement. 

“Despite all these accomplishments, she was notoriously shy and never wanted to be recognized or celebrated — she was fond of making donations in other people’s names. She wanted to do what was right without being recognized for it. She championed the humane treatment of people with mental illness. She’s unique in being so socially conscious beyond her time. She would fight the good fight today, as she was passionate about education, equality and mental health.”

Murnane says she feels bringing historical figures such as Howland to life is essential, because otherwise “history can feel far away and long ago. When we know the names of people who helped us build our home, it turns them from something unreachable to being our neighbors. It gives you a sense of pride and ownership when something becomes more than just ‘that building on Main Street.’” 

The Howland Cultural Center is located  at 477 Main St. Spectators must show proof at the door of full vaccination and wear masks. The event also will be streamed. See beaconhistorical.org to RSVP or for the Zoom link. 

More Howland 150 stories

A Librarian Never Forgets
‘People Make it Happen’

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