History of the Library

Samuel Stryker

The Stryker Library Association of Lambertville

On September 5, 1881, 28 gentlemen of the City of Lambertville gathered in the offices of Charles Skillman to witness and sign the document establishing the Stryker Library Association, as set out in the will of Samuel Davis Stryker, deceased some fourteen years before. Thus begins the history of the Lambertville Free Public Library.

The provisions of Stryker’s will included a bequest of $1,000 to James Stryker – his brother, and to Ashbel Welch and Charles Skillman as trustees, for the benefit of the town. The sum of $1,000 was to be loaned out at interest until such time as the citizens of Lambertville should raise an amount of money equal to the bequest and the interest for the establishment of a library in Lambertville.

Samuel Stryker, born in 1790 in the vicinity of Pittstown, NJ, came to Lambertville with his younger brother James in 1826. They prospered here, opening first a general merchandise store and later a lumber business. Samuel was the first president of the Lambertville National Bank, serving until his death in 1863.

By 1882 the Stryker Library Association had secured a location for the library, and had furnished it with books and fixtures. An impressive catalog was printed as a pamphlet by Grant, Faires & Rodgers of Philadelphia and the library was opened on June 21st, 1882 in a room over Cochran’s Drug Store at the corner of Union and Coryell Streets. The following year the library moved to rooms in the Masonic Hall at 19 Bridge Street, where it remained until moving to City Hall in the early 1950s, and to the Lilly Mansion in 1989. In 1993 a sizeable grant paid for the second floor to be reinforced to hold the weight of books and for installation of the elevator.

The library was to be open Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays from 2:30 to 5:30 P.M., and from 7 to 9:30 P.M. The library’s collections amounted to over 1300 volumes, by the estimate of the Beacon, which reported on the opening and noted that, aside from works of Literature, “The farmer will find such works on Agriculture as Waring’s ‘Draining for Profit’, Downing’s ‘Fruit and Fruit Trees’, Randall’s ‘Sheep Husbandry’, and Harris’ ‘Insects Injurious to Vegetation’ (a work copiously illustrated and interesting not only to the agriculturist to the general reader)”.

Not a lot is known at this point about the operations of the library from 1882 to 1888, because the only records we have of the library’s operations in that period are in the form of a ledger maintained by various treasurers of the Association, beginning in 1888. From this ledger we can identify book and periodicals purchases, payments for gas, rent, insurance, salaries and the like, payments for library programs, income from library operations, book rentals and subscriptions. In many cases, the entries include the names of the payees, or the titles of the materials purchased, and from whom.

For example, in 1888 we can see from the records of Joseph Smith (treasurer), that the Association bought two shares of Lehigh Valley Railroad stock ($100), a stove ($12.28), coal from A. B. Holcombe ($14.65), paid for three months of gas ($6.53), three months of rent on the rooms ($25), and three months of the Librarian’s salary ($31.25).

Miss Susie B. Hunt was the first librarian, and remained so at the salary of $31.25 per quarter until April of 1894, when she was succeeded by Miss Harriet Holcombe who presided as librarian until March, 1916.

Bessie M. Dilts took over in March, 1916, paid at the rate of $18.75 per month. By then, the rent on the rooms, payable to the Amwell Lodge, was $65 quarterly.

In July, 1919, A. C. Holcombe became the librarian, and continued as such until the City of Lambertville (after a municipal referendum in November, 1925) took over the library in May of 1926.

The portrait of Samuel Davis Stryker which hangs in the first floor reading room of the library has been displayed in the library for most of its history. But over the years, the staff seems to have lost the connection between his portrait and his name, so that in February 1968 a photograph of the painting was published in the Lambertville Beacon with a query for information on the subject and the artist. Five months later the portrait was re-identified as that of Samuel Stryker, done by William Bonnell.

Lilly Mansion

THE Lilly Mansion was built between 1812 and 1830 for early settler Dr. John Lilly, who had bought the land from Judge John Coryell, a son of Captain George Coryell. The lawns and gardens originally stretched from the then newly established Bridge Street east to the cliff and south to Swan Creek, and included a pond and stables. In 1946, the front lawn became the site of a service station, and over the years subdivided lots were sold to the south and east. In later years the mansion was used as the Moose Lodge, apartments, and the Senior Citizen Center. The building was bought by the City of Lambertville in 1980, after falling into disrepair. Major restoration work was completed in 1993, retaining the mansion’s historic character while providing a modern facility for a library that would meet the needs of the community.

Dr. Samuel Lilly

From the “Medical and surgical reporter, Volume 42”, Jan-July 1880:

Dr. Samuel Lilly, of Lambertville, N. J., died on April 3d, from injuries received by being thrown from his horse some three weeks prior to his death. Dr. Lilly was born October 28th, 1815, at Geneva, Ontario county, N. Y. He received his early education in Lambertville, studying with his uncle, Dr. John Lilly, who was a prominent public man of his day, and was graduated at the Medical Department of the University of Pennsylvania, March 31st, 1837. He was a member of the New Jersey Medical Society, of which he has been President, and of the District Medical Society of Hunterdon County. He contributed many reports of interesting cases to the medical journals. He was a member of Congress from 1853 to 1855. He was also a judge of the Hunterdon County Court, Consul General to British India, and Commissioner of the New Jersey Lunatic Asylum. He held many offices in the State militia, the last of which was Brigadier General. He married in October, 1839, and again February 12th, 1860, both wives being now dead. At the time of his death “Dr. Lilly was one of the Judges of the Court of Appeals.

From: Transactions of the American Medical Association, Volume 31, p. 1061-1064:

Lilly, Samuel, M.D., was born the fifteenth day of October, A. D. 1815, in Geneva, Ontario County, New York; died at his residence in the city of Lambertville, Hunterdon County, New Jersey, at noon of the third of April, A. D. 1880.

He was the son of William Lilly, of Geneva, Ontario County, New York, who was the son of Samuel Lilly, who was the emigrant ancestor from England of the American branch of the family, being a barrister while in England.

In 1829 Samuel came to his uncle, Dr. John Lilly, of Lambertville, and became the pupil of the Rev. P. 0. Studdiford and of his uncle, Dr. John Lilly, with whom he studied medicine, and attended the medical lectures of the University of Pennsylvania, graduating therefrom in the spring of 1837. Thesis, “Abortion.”

He commenced practice immediately after his graduation, with his uncle, with whom he continued until his uncle’s death in. 1848. In 1847, May 3d, he was admitted a member of the District Medical Society of Hunterdon County, becoming its President May 4, 1852, and again April 15, 1869, and in this time becoming a member of the Medical Society of New Jersey, and its President in 1853, at which time he was a member of Congress.

As a practitioner he preferred surgery, and was a good and safe operator, not using the knife for mere display, but using it or not as in his judgment the best interests of his patient required.

Dr. Lilly wrote an essay on epidemic cholera, which he read before the District Medical Society of llunterdon County October 28, 1851; another on the diseases of India and their treatment, read May 12, 1863; a supplemental paper on cholera continued from 1851, read May 8, 1866. His other writings, consisting principally of valuable reports to societies, resolutions, etc., will be found in the published minutes of said societies respectively.

In 1852 he was elected by the Democratic party to the 33d Congress of the United States ; he served his term with marked ability. He was mainly instrumental in getting the city charter for Lambertville, and was its n’rst mayor, elected in 1849 and re-elected in 1850 and 1851. He was for a long time a member of the board of chosen freeholders for the county of llunterdon, eight of which years he was the director of the board, and very active in the introduction of iron bridges into the county.

In 1866 be was delegated by the Medical Society of New Jersey to the American Medical Association, which met in Baltimore, since which time he was one of the most attentive members of that illustrious body, serving in different capacities, among wbich was that of judicial councillor, and in 1877 second Vice-President of the same.

In January, 1861, he was sent, as Consul-General to British India by President Buchanan, owing to the death of Dr. Iluffnagal, the previous consul.

In 1868 he was appointed Judge of the Common Pleas for the county of Hunterdon, and served five years.,

In 1871 he was appointed one of the commissioners to locate and build the new State Lunatic Asylum; he, with his coadjutors, accomplished the task, and caused to be erected for the State of New Jersey one of the most complete, convenient, and safe structures for that, purpose to be found in the Union. At the time of his decease he was an active member and secretary to the board of managers of that institution.

In 1878 Governor Parker appointed him one of the judges of the Court of Errors and Appeals, and he was since reappointed by Governor McClellan.

From the organization of the Flemington Railroad he has been a director. He was President of the Centre Bridge Company many years, terminating in October last.

At his decease he was the President of the Amwell National Bank at Lambertville aud of the Water Company, and a director of the Lambertville Gas Company, and one of the standing committee of the Medical Society of New Jersey, and likewise a member of the Judicial Council of the American Medical Association.

At one time he joined a military company, and became its Lieutenant, Captain, and, after the death of Gen. Adam C. Davis, Brigadier-General of the Hunterdon County Militia. He assisted in organizing the Odd-Fellows in Lambertville, and also the Masonic Lodge, and to his financial ability that city is indebted for the two substantial buildings belonging to these organizations that now ornament it.

Dr. Lilly was a man of good and temperate habits. He was about five feet nine inches in height, with frank, open countennnce, and weighing nearly two hundred pounds; “of refined and literary tastes, sociable, affable.” In religion his preference was for the Episcopal, being a member of that church. He was kind, generous, and humane, despising trickery, fraud, and duplicity.

He was most of the time healthy; occasionally drooping a little, which he evidently took pains to conceal from his family and friends, not wishing to create anxiety in them in regard to him.

On the 7th of March, 1880, being on horseback, his horse fell with him and partially on him, producing a severe contusion on and in the neighborhood of the left shoulder; on examination of which it was found that the clavicle was fractured one third the way from the acromion end, which, being attended to and dressed,showed no uncommon or unaccountable symptoms; he felt comfortable so far as that was concerned.

But the shock to the system was fearfully prostrating, frequent spells of long-continued syncope, alternating with spells of most excruciating pain, with intervals comparatively free from pain,continuing, gradually growing longer, until the third of April, when, all, even himself, thought him better, he was attacked with another spell, to which he succumbed. Autopsy showed the valves of the heart in very bad condition, and not capable of performing the necessary action to sustain, and recuperate, and repair the system.

James D. and Samuel Stryker

From the Hunterdon County Democrat, Sept. 25, 1883:

James D. Stryker, an aged and well known citizen of Lambertville, died at his residence there on Monday last. Mr. Stryker was born near Pittstown, in this county, in the year 1800. He went to Lambertville in April 1826, and engaged in the business of a general country store with his brother, the late Samuel D. Stryker, which business they continued until April 1848, when they dissolved partnership and retired.

Deaths: In Lambertville, Sept. 17, 1883, James D. Stryker, in the 84th year of his age.

From Snell, 1881: The Lambertville National Bank was originally chartered as a State Bank under the general banking law of New Jersey. Its charter was obtained June 20, 1857. Its first board of directors was chosen May 5, 1858, and consisted of the following persons: Samuel D. Stryker, James D. Stryker, Thomas B. Carr, Nelson V. Large, Jacob Skillman, Charles A. Skillman, Ingham Coryell, John G. Reading, Lipscomb R. Titus, Charles Moore, and John C. Hopewell. Samuel D. Stryker was chosen president of the board, Charles A. Skillman Secretary, and Martin L. Reeve cashier. The first discount committee appointed were Samuel D. Stryker, Ingham Coryell, and Charles A. Skillman.

Samuel D. Stryker continued to be president until his death in January, 1863, when his brother, James D. Stryker, was chosen to succeed him, and has been annually re-elected to the present time.

From Biographical Encyclopedia of New Jersey in the Nineteenth Century” (Philadelphia, The Galaxy Publishing Company, 1877):

Stryker, James D., Banker, of Lambertville, was born, January 7th, 1800, in Bethlehem, Hunterdon county, New Jersey. Having received a good common-school education, he became at the age of sixteen a clerk in the general country store of Samuel Brittain, at Frenchtown, where he remained for three years, after which he went to Bucks county, Pennsylvania, and took charge of his brother’s store there, remaining one year. In 1821 he returned to New Jersey and went into his brother’s store at Flemington, remaining there until 1823, when he engaged in business with Mr. Wilson Bray, at Everittstown. He removed to Frenchtown in 1825, and in the year following to Lambertville. There he united with his brother in establishing a general retail business, under the name of S.D. & J.D. Stryker, the two meanwhile becoming interested in the lumber trade, in favor of which they, in 1848, closed their mercantile business, launching exclusively and extensively into that traffic, purchasing large tracts of timber in the Lehigh regions of Luzerne and Monroe counties in Pennsylvania, erecting mills near White Haven in that State, and selling lumber by wholesale at their mills and at Philadelphia. The business, managed with great judgment and energy, as it was, proved exceedingly profitable. When the Lambertville Bank was organized, in 1858, he was made a Director, his brother, S. D. Stryker, having been chosen president, to which office, on the death of his brother in 1863, he succeeded, and still holds it. He is also President of the Lambertville Gas Company, and a Director of the Water-power Company of Lambertville. Experienced, discreet, faithful, and crowned with success, he has in a high degree, as he deserves, the confidence and esteem of his fellow-citizens. He has been for many years an elder of the Presbyterian Church at Lambertville.