Friday, September 11, 2009

Books and/on/by the Erie Canal (Part II): Waterford

Books in the Old Freight Office

Now imagine this: among the many contemporary conversions of old buildings to new, have you ever come across one where a railroad station's freight office became a bona fide library? Well, among my travels along the old Erie Canal this summer, I found just that. This was again a bit of a surprise, since I thought I knew this area better than I actually did. But it was pleasant to make this discovery nonetheless.
It is extra special, too, in fact, to find that such an old building has found an even nobler purpose in these modern times, especially the enduring economic difficulties that face us into the 21st century. And in a small town like Waterford, which is a pleasing little village with its fair share of fiscal hardships, a public library like this re-appropriation is a welcome sign of progress.

The old Waterford Station, as the sign here shows, served several purposes over the years. When I ventured into the old brick building, and struck up a mild conversation with the local librarian, she told me (after I declared myself a fellow librarian on a bibliotour of her town and its environs) that the building had served as a restaurant for many years. As a rather narrow building, it was somewhat hard to believe this. She went through some of the details of the restaurant's history, but it soon blurred into a forgetful haze, as I lingered behind her, still amazed at the narrowness of the place. It probably was a fine little Italian restaurant, a nice place for a bar, in fact. I could imagine some biker types and other locals putting a few back amid a tepid cloud of cigarette smoke and an after-vapor of beer breaths mingling like sick dancers. But that's all gone now.

What we have today is this fine establishment, where no longer are plates of heaping spaghetti sloshing in watered down marinara sauces with crusty hard, brown backed garlic breads being served. Instead, the servings are hard- and soft-bound entrees into the imaginative souls of wonder working writers. I'm sure this lovely sign could have once said "Gino's Pasta and Cocktails," but now has been shed to don the spectacle of the publicly endorsed and funded library of Waterford.

Right in the entryway, visitors will discover--once again!--one of my favorite spots in the public library system: the book sale. Yes, it is here, that many a savvy shopper will discover some of the best deals on used books. And the thing is, many of these books aren't "that" used. Some are quite new, in fact. There are some policies in place at most libraries for this sort of thing. I'm not always quite sure what they are, but I'm often grateful for the rewards to be found as a result of these policies!

Inside the Waterford Public Library, one of the questions I asked of the librarian was "what sort of materials do you have on local history or the Erie Canal." The answer was "some, but not much." The fact, though, was that most libraries in these parts--and all over the state, in fact--were celebrating the 400th anniversary of Hudson's exploration and discovery of the River Valley, among other areas. So I encountered this often along the itinerary of my summer jaunts and side-trips. The photo below shows a display of local history and Hudson River related books.

Down by the Canal

Not too far from the Waterford Public Library, one can find the illustrious Erie Canal. But it is not just the Erie Canal that is in Waterford, but the beginning of the eastern portion of the canal, as seen below. The state of New York invested a great amount of money and resources into the site below, which serves as a fine stopping point for maritime sojourners in the Hudson-Mohawk-Erie and even Champlain water systems.

Inside the information center, I found one of the great symbols of our culture: a book stand! I was pleased to discover that this book stand or shelf was actually a "swapping shelf" for fellow travelers along the canal system. So what we have here is "books on water" or yet another phenomenon of the "traveling book." The nice old lady at the desk told me to "help yourself" to the books. I refrained and left them for more proper travelers. Notice here too that there are a variety of maps. Mariners tend to like maps, not just for navigation, but as "mapophiles." And you can see in the next photo...more maps!

Well, for those of you who may be lost, look no further than your closest map. In these here parts, the waterways are king, and knowing the correct water passage is imperative (and could cost you precious hours and even days, if you take the wrong turn!). Below is a broader long view of the Erie Canal leading up to Lock #2. The sign below is the main entry point which distinguishes for the mariner the directions toward the Erie and Champlain Canals. If you have any doubts though, remember: you're entering a zone of great history, which is not only the subject of many books, but is a place where you will find books libraries, book shops, road side sales, and canal rest areas. Who would have thought of finding "free" books next to the Erie Canal? I didn't.

Of course, wonders never cease, as the old saying goes. Our next adventure will take us onto the boats themselves. Until then, don't forget your life jackets.

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