The historic Skene Memorial Library is located in the village of Fleischmanns in Delaware County, New York.
The Skene Memorial Library was constructed in 1901 in honor of Dr. Alexander Johnston Chalmers Skene (1838-1900), a noted physician and medical researcher, and one of the most prominent summer residents in the village of Fleischmanns. Dr. Skene was a Scottish immigrant who arrived in America at the age of nineteen. He became a surgeon and contributed to the theory, practice and teaching of gynecology. Skene was “generally looked upon as one of the foremost physicians of his time.”
Skene was born in the parish of Fyvie, Aberdeenshire, Scotland and received his early education in his home country at Aberdeen and at Kings College. After his arrival in America at age 19, Skene first studied at Toronto, Canada, then at the University of Michigan, and ultimately graduated from Long Island College Hospital in 1863. He began his medical career as an assistant military surgeon in the U. S. Army, serving during the Civil War at Port Royal, South Carolina; Charleston Harbor, South Carolina; and at Decamp’s Hospital on Davids Island, New York. After the war Skene continued his interest in military service through his work as a surgeon for the National Guard in the 12th Regiment and the 1st Division, and also as a Lieutenant Colonel on the staff of General Molineux in 1884-1885.
Upon completion of his military duty in 1864 Skene entered private practice. Skene served as a professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Long Island College Hospital from 1866 to 1899, as the Dean of Faculty of that institution from 1886 to 1893, and as president from 1893 to 1899. Skene helped found the American Gynecological Society and opened his own sanitorium in Brooklyn. He was the author of numerous six books (including one novel) and dozens of papers; was a member of many domestic and foreign medical societies; is credited with inventing several surgical instruments; and has his name associated with a part of the human body – Skene’s Glands, which he discovered in 1880. His county home in Highmount, above Fleischmanns, was designed to recall a Scottish castle and named Bonnie Em.
Alexander Skene passed away at 62 years of age on July 4, 1900 at his summer home in Highmount after suffering from a heart ailment for some time. Funeral services were held at the family residence in Brooklyn, with the Reverend Edward P. Ingersoll officiating. Skene is buried at the family plot in Rockland Cemetery at Sparkill, New York. After Skene’s death, an impressive monument in his honor was sponsored by a committee of physicians and former patients. The monument was sculpted by John Massey Rhind and placed in 1905 at Grand Army Plaza in Brooklyn, New York.
Funding to build the library came from fundraising by local residents and summer visitors, supplemented by a $5,000 donation from steel magnate Andrew Carnegie (1835-1919), a childhood friend of Alexander Skene. No conditions were placed on Carnegie’s gift other than the library “continue to bear the honored name of Doctor Skene, whom we shall ever hold in grateful remembrance.” News of Carnegie’s donation for the construction of the Skene Library was published in various regional newspapers, several of which also reported that “Dr. Skene once saved the millionaire’s life.” Carnegie also sponsored other libraries in the Catskills region, including buildings at Catskill (1901), Kingston (1904) and Saugerties (1915).
Land for the library was donated in October 1901 by Herbert and Augusta Vermilyea and John and Frances Scudder. The cornerstone for the library was laid on November 25, 1901, with work beginning shortly thereafter. Construction was completed by Crosby Kelly, a lumber mill owner at Fleischmanns and builder of many local residences. Sol Myers is credited with painting the library and George Mayes completed the interior work. The library received its charter on December 19, 1901.
The building was designed by the architectural firm of Marshall Lansing Emery (c. 1863-1921) and Henry George Emery (1871-1956). Marshall Emery began his career with the firm of Withers and Dixon, and opened his own architectural practice in New York City in 1894. Five years later, in 1899, his younger brother Henry, having previously worked at the prestigious firms of R. M. Hunt and Warren & Wetmore, joined him to form the partnership of M. L. and H. G. Emery. Other notable buildings designed by the Emery brothers include the Jamaica Hospital on Long Island, St. George’s Episcopal Church in Manhattan, the Polheumus Memorial Library in Brooklyn and the Elks Lodge in Albany, New York. The Emery brothers also designed several buildings in the Nyack, New York area, including several personal residences, the St. Ann’s Roman Catholic Church, St. Paul’s Methodist Church, the Nyack Library and the Nyack Hospital. Remarkably the firm continues to exist today, now operating under the name of CPLA Architects.
As for the design of the Skene Memorial Library, it “combines features of the Queen Anne and Shingle styles in an eclectic, late Victorian period design. Its design is similar to other resort era buildings in the village, such as some of the larger village residences, summer homes and small hotels. Interestingly, the library’s form and some of its details are also characteristic of the designs used for some of the region’s many resort era railroad stations. The low rectangular form, broad hipped roof overhanging eaves and shingle cladding are typical of the type, while the broad, sheltering porch and distinctive octagonal tower suggest functions such as providing shelter and identifying locations. On the interior, the library’s plan is typical of other period libraries, featuring a hierarchy of public spaces and the ability to define spaces for public and private functions.” (Skene Memorial Library, National Register of Historic Places.)
The Skene Memorial Library is listed on the National Register of Historic Places as a “distinctive intact example of an early twentieth century public library building and as a center for community life in the village of Fleischmanns for more than a century.”
Throughout its history the Skene Memorial Library has played an important part in Fleischmanns history, providing a community space for fairs, lectures, recitals, theater productions, movies and town meetings. For more information about the Skene Memorial Library visit their website at www.skenelib.org.