For 58 years, Library Hall in Mattituck was a hub of activity, a beacon that drew the community and held great personal significance for the scores of residents who spent time there.
For 87-year-old Betty Kalin, the musty and oddly comforting smell of the old books that once lined the turn-of-the-century building’s shelves stands out most in her memory.
“Isn’t that funny?” the Mattituck native said recently, a hint of wistfulness in her voice. “But I loved it.”
On the evening of Feb. 16, 1905, back when Theodore Roosevelt was president, a dance was held in Mattituck to celebrate the opening of Library Hall. The two-story shingled building, boasting tall arched windows and dark wood paneling inside, had been erected a year earlier at the southeast corner of Westphalia Road and Pike Street, directly across from the Long Island Rail Road Station in what is now a parking lot. Back then, the hall was known as Lupton Public Library in honor of its benefactor, Frank Lupton, a Mattituck native who made his fortune as a New York City publisher.
That night’s festivities included songs by the Mattituck Quintette, speeches from local church leaders, music by the Eclipse Orchestra and an exhausting assortment of 25 waltzes, two-steps, grand marches and quadrilles.
According to John Traversa, who wrote an article for the Peconic Bay Shopper in the late 1970s called “The Great Mattituck Hall,” that winter evening “set the pace for years to come and the hall became a center of culture and entertainment on the North Fork.”
Jeffrey Walden, associate director of the Mattituck-Laurel Library, agreed.
“For a period of time, [the hall] was the center of all community activity,” he said.
The library had two rooms on the first floor — one for reading and one for meetings — where groups like the Lecture Course Association and Dramatic Association met. The library was manned from 1926 to 1963 by Catherine Phillips, a dark-haired, bespectacled woman whose name still easily rolls off the tongues of locals like 73-year-old Ray Nine.
“She was a nice woman,” Nine said. “When I was probably 10 years old, I used to work in her garden and weed it for her. I made 25 cents an hour. Put some of it in the bank, believe it or not.”
Like Kalin, he vividly remembers the library’s distinctive odor.
“There was something about the smell,” he said with a slight chuckle. “It was different than anything else and that always amused me.”