A Brief History of the Library

video used with permission from Tom McMorris of McMorris Photo

The Beginning
Our library was opened December 5, 1891. Melville Dewey, the secretary of the library department at the State University of New York, signed the Certificate of Registry for the library, dated February 14, 1896.

The library was named after Benjamin F. Bancroft, banker and benefactor of the community in the mid-to-late 19th century.

The Starting Collection
A unique collection of Natural History books was donated in memory of Hiram Walker (who passed away in 1870). The Walker Collection, as it was called, contained over 400 books. The majority of these books were on Ornithology.

Ornithology was popular in early 20th century Salem. The infamous John James Audubon had a granddaughter who lived in Salem. Marie R. Audubon lived in Salem from 1890 to 1925. In 1897, she published her grandfathers’ journals, which are still available today in the library’s Audubon Collection.

The fire of 1976
In January of 1976, a structure fire destroyed the upper floors of the Proudfit building.  Thanks to the heroic effort of the Salem Fire Department and volunteer townspeople, about 1/4 of the library collection was saved. Included in the survivors were nearly the whole Local History collection, bound newspapers, and rare books dating back to the early days of Salem.

The 1976 fire was later determined to have been caused by an electrical fault.

The modern library
The first floor of the Proudfit building was saved, and now houses the library.  We boast a collection of over 30,000 items, seven public computers with high-speed Internet, and a childrens‘ area.

The library was granted a provisional charter by the Board of Regents of the Education Department of the State of New York on December 13, 2011, and an absolute charter on March 12, 2013.

With the dissolution of the Village of Salem into the Town of Salem on March 31, 2015, the Bancroft Library was rechartered as a town municipal library (formerly, it had been chartered as a village library). The library is currently chartered under an absolute charter from the State of New York.