All interviews were taped and documented.They are available through the Reference
Department of the Teaneck Public Library. The Library is not responsible for the accuracy
of the statements nor does it necessarily endorse the opinions expressed.

Agnes C. Norton, Teaneck Library Director, 1929-1961

(Interview taped 7/16/1975)

I came to Teaneck March 19,1929 and began work at the library the day President Hoover was inaugurated. I was born in Proctor, VT, and before coming to Teaneck had been assistant librarian in Hanover, N. H.

I saw an ad in the library Journal ,applied for the Teaneck job and was asked to come for an interview. I had never been in New York before. I met Mrs. Jordan, Mrs. Sample and Mrs. Hawkey in the tiny library office. I sat outside all afternoon. Mrs. Ethel Ward was running the library. At that time the library was the small central part of the present building. Frederick Warner, an architect, had given his services to design the first building with its white columns.

Mrs. Jordan was a very distinguished white haired lady who wore beautiful hats. Mrs. Hawkey and Mrs. Sample were sisters. During the afternoon we listened to Hoover's inaugural address. Mrs. Sample had a nice home near the present Route 4.  Mrs. Sample and Mrs. Hawkey were Stevensons.

The trustees got me a room on Queen Anne Rd. near Johnson Ave. with Mrs. Clarke. Dr. Pindar bought the house soon afterwards. I walked to work over muddy streets.

The library was under state law, established as a municipal library. It was started by a group of women who had an opportunity to buy a slave house on Teaneck Road -- 1279.  Mrs. Greenlaw  signed the note for $2,000. Mrs. Frances Quasdorf who lived on West Englewood Avenue near the top of the hill was another director.

There were 2,000 books when I came. They were not catalogues. I suggested they call in a specialist who did that job. When I left there were over 100,000 books. 

The original library had had two additions, one in 1936 built with F.W.A. funds ($66,000) and one in 1952 when the council appropriated $237,000 for two more wings. I worked very hard, especially for the second addition.  I did much public speaking. Council Haggerty (Cecil) told me he didn't like all those things about libraries I was sending to the council, but it worked.  I always tried to work with groups. There was a friendly feeling toward the library.

George Cady was the architect for both additions. I helped with planning, but architects all have definite opinions. I suggested we call James Bryan, an expert from the Newark Library.

During the 1936 building, we moved all the books to a little store across from St. Anastasia School -- built shelves and moved all the books. We were there for about a year. We had professional movers in 1952. We continued operating throughout the building project.

The founders of the library, sold the slave house at a profit of $15,000 which they committed to the town for a library. There was a public referendum for $20,000 to erect the building on Municipal Grounds.

The Greenlaws were well to de People. He was a fine man and she was too. She was on the board of education and was later on the library board.

Dr. Franklin Gaylord was on the board when I came.  The Gaylords had lived in Russia for many years. He was with the Y.M.C.A. She fled before the Revolution and they had a house in England. Mrs. Gaylord was active in Girl Scouts.  They are charming, cultured people. They took me to New York often.

Miss Mabel Moore lived with the Gaylords in Russia. I lived with her. She had a black servant named Torina who drove a motor cycle all over town. She had attended operas in every capital in Europe.

Later I lived with Mr. and Mrs. Bower on Carlton Terr., then I took an apartment on Red Road--one of the first apartments in Teaneck. Then I moved to 34 State Street. That apartment had stood vacant for some time, the windows were broken. Nelson Ayers built it and went bankrupt before it was finished. It was a fine building with 2 elevators, 5 stories high and casement windows. I lived there for 30 years. The tenants were nearly all Episcopalians. I remember Mr. and Mrs. McCloud. Charles Stool lived there later and quite a few teachers--Jeannette Pfeil, Dorothy DeVanney.

We wouldn't think of going on Cedar Lane without a hat and gloves. I went to Now York a great deal--to the theater and restaurants. There was good food at Ella Barbour's. The bus fare was a quarter.

Mrs. Gaylord's father had been pastor of a well known Now York Church. She burned to death when her robe caught in an electric heater. That was after her husband's death.

I enjoyed my job. Mrs. Jordan was a strong personality. The library board of five members was appointed by the mayor according to state law. Once the mayor appointed someone the women didn't like and they resigned is a body.  I think it was when Mr. Greenlaw was appointed and they wanted Captain Wilcox. There is a plaque in the library honoring the original library group, including Mrs. Caddy and Matte Scott.  It got cracked. The women called an expert and they all sat around watching it being fixed.

In a community like this social life nearly always involved couples. I went to New York because that was where the action was. I often took a bus to shop in Hackensack at the little shops.  There were no big stores. The Now York Trimming Store was there. I used to sat at the Colonial Restaurant in Hackensack which was quite good.

The Blue Bird Inn was standing when I came,  but it was past its heyday. The Rotary club met there and I spoke to them. It was the first time I had addressed an all-male group.

Mr. Volcker came shortly after I did. I know his wife and children. Ruth was going to Simmons College to study library science and worked in the Teaneck library as part of her training. Mr. Volcker used to go over the bills and kid me about the title of some of the books. He had a dry sense of humor. I still hear from Mrs. Volcker who lives in Lyons, N.Y.

When Mr. Votee was mayor he entertained all of the Republican mayors in Bergen county. They started in the library because he wanted to sell the library idea to all the politicians. He entertained them at another time on a Feb. 14. There was a big snow storm and no one came but Mr. and Mrs. Votee, Mr. and Mrs. Volcker and me. Mrs. Votee had prepared loads of food -- hams, cakes, etc. Mrs. Votee used the library quite a lot.

Many local groups were born in the Teaneck Library -- The Teaneck Symphony, the Garden Club, Teaneck Camera Club and the Bergen County Artists Guild all started there. In the 40s the library sponsored a Children's Theater. Six professional people ran it. Once they took a pony downstairs to the auditorium. The auditorium would be filled with 200 children at 1 p.m. then for another show. Mr. and Mrs. Flannigan helped. The theater cost $2 for the season.

During the 30s we had a lecture series with top speakers like Clifton Fadiman. Interest lagged after television developed. The Teaneck Symphony which is now the Bergen County Symphony rehearsed in the library. Otte Radel was the director. Among the active members were Mr. and Mrs. Raymond Bonz and Mr. and Mrs. C. W. Berhorn.

We had exhibits by many local artists like Harry Bressler. Hazel Kitts Wires exhibited the work of her students once a year.

I remember Teaneck Author's Night put on in 1946. We had 14 authors all from Teaneck. Alice Papin was the time keeper. There was an editorial in the Record saying how well timed it was. Jim Bishop, whose book "The Glass Crutch" had just come out. Other authors were Thornton Bishop, Herbert Stack, a safety engineer who had a book on that career; Walter Storey, antiques editor of the N. Y. Times; Mrs. Storey who had a book on home decorating; Bucky McDonald, the postman who had a book of poems called "It's Spring Again;" Geraldine Huston who had a little book on "It's Fun to Be Safe;" David Tobey wrote on Basket Ball Officiating; Mrs. Helen Davidian who wrote "Parallel Destiny;" George Foley who wrote "Sinbad of the Coast Guard," Thomas James and Edward Sinclair Smith who gave an interesting talk on Automatic Control Engineering. Mrs. Catherine Humphries who wrote "Let's Pretend" and Robert Weaver -- a wide variety of Subjects and this was 30 years ago.

We did a lot of work with children. I did it in the early days. After 1936 we had a children's room. Mrs. Ward was my only assistant when I came. That June we got Miss Alice Rust, a trained librarian and a capable woman. She made a good basic catalogue. She stayed 13 years until she resigned--a great loss. Betty Brown was my next assistant. Bobette Vandenberg McDonald came after that. We had programs in the park and reading clubs in summer. In the early 30s we had book deposit in the elementary schools. Mrs. Josephine Gabriel visited the schools. This continued to the early 50s.

We had story hours let by Bobette and later Adele Taylor.  Baseball was the theme of one reading club and we had Alex Gaston formerly with the Boston Red Sox speak.

In 1948 I addressed a combined Jewish and Methodist group in the building where the Christian Science Church is now. It was the Jewish Center then. I also spoke at the Ba'Hai center and for all the PTAs, the Woman's club book group, the College Club.

We displayed hobbies in the library. Mr. Lufberry had a collection of photos of Coney Island in 1908. Mr. Zenerin exhibited fantastic doll house furniture. Mrs. Fourgette, Valentines. Mr. and Mrs.Meek, small boxes and cartoons by George Wolfe who now lives in Glen Rock.

Staff members were all active in professional organizations. I served as vice president of the N. J. Library Association and on the Public Relation Council. This way we kept a finger in professional activities.

During the war there was an interest in books on Iceland, the Pacific and other places where our boys were stationed.

My sister was married in the Greenlaw house. She came to live with me after my mother's death. She was engaged to a man at Fort Monmouth. Mr. Trombath performed the ceremony about 32 years ago.

I have been so fortunate in having many friends. I led discussion groups which met in people's houses and enjoyed them so much. The people had so much intellectual curiosity. The Council of Jewish Women had one group. That is one of my pleasantist memories. We had a fine reference room. A man from the N.Y. Public Library said our reference library was outstanding.

I found going out in the community interesting. We had one of the first record collections in the area. Started it with $100. We also loaned prints of masterpieces. Teaneck was one of the first in this field. We didn't spend a lot of money. I think books should come first. Now there is a category for non-print material.

We had some of the New York Times microfilmed. I retired in 1961--now they do a great deal of microfilming. So many things have changed. When I left we had one funny duplicating machine that you had to pour ink on. Now libraries can rent all kinds of things and children seem to have plenty of dimes. I have worked in other libraries since and observed the trends.

I try to appeal to the young that destruction of public property is also a disservice to their classmates-- this is not now.

I don't believe a public library should be a depository for ancient books--they belong in museums. Books must constantly be discarded but you have to know what you are doing. For instance, Ida M. Tarbell's History of Standard Oil is a rare and valuable book.


Back to Oral History of Teaneck