Preservation Trust buys Edgartown Carnegie Library building

The nonprofit plans to turn the century-old building into an Island heritage and welcome center

The Edgartown Library has started its fall film series. — File photo by Susan Safford

Edgartown selectmen on Monday unanimously voted to sell the town’s Carnegie Library building on North Water Street to the nonprofit Martha’s Vineyard Preservation Trust for $1. The Preservation Trust was the only organization that responded to the town’s request for proposals.

“I for one am just thrilled that the Preservation Trust is going to shepherd this iconic building in Edgartown into the future,” Selectman Art Smadbeck said.

“It’s just a very ambitious plan,” Selectman Margaret Serpa said. “Good luck.”

Chairman Michael Donaroma, a member of the new library’s building committee, said that he remembered voters at annual town meeting who inquired about the fate of the building once the new library, now under construction, was completed.

“We kept saying we’re going to have something good,” Mr. Donaroma said. “I don’t think we could do anything better than this.”

The Martha’s Vineyard Preservation Trust owns and cares for a number of historic and beloved buildings across the Island. These include the stately Old Whaling Church and Daniel Fisher House on Main Street, Edgartown, the Flying Horses Carousel and Union Chapel in Oak Bluffs, and the Grange Hall in West Tisbury.

The Carnegie Library building was completed in 1904, and was a gift to the town from Andrew Carnegie, among the more than 2,500 libraries he funded around the world. The official sale date is contingent upon the library vacating the property upon completion of the new library building.

Chris Scott, executive director of the Preservation Trust, told The Times the plan is to turn the building donated by Andrew Carnegie into an Island heritage and welcome center. The center will feature the trust’s collection of maritime literature, a timeline exhibit of Island history, and will act as an information resource for Island visitors.

“What we want to do is provide visitors with a well-organized experience where they can get essential information about opportunities for enriching their visit, whether they are interested in retail, restaurants, or galleries,” Mr. Scott said.

Mr. Scott said that the timeline facet would use the Preservation Trust’s properties as the exhibits through which Island history will be told. The center, however, is not intended to be a museum.

“This is more for visitors to get a quick sense of the historical development of the Island,” he said.

Mr. Scott said the Preservation Trust has begun preliminary meetings with the Edgartown Board of Trade to address staffing needs.

Mr. Scott estimates that renovations will cost $1.5 to $2 million dollars. The capital campaign, he said, is already underway. He estimated that fundraising is about two-thirds complete.

“Like most of the buildings we take on, they’re old, for one thing,” he said. “When you have a change in ownership, it triggers — if you do a substantial renovation — the requirement to bring it up to code … It can be costly, but it makes the building function better in today’s world. We can do it without changing the appearance of it, dramatically, from the street.”

Mr. Scott said he was unaware the Preservation Trust had submitted the only proposal for the building until the selectmen’s meeting Monday night.

The most recent Preservation Trust acquisitions were the Norton Boathouse and Osborne Wharf building five years ago.

“The story of the Preservation Trust’s buildings is the story of the Island, and that’s the story we want to tell,” Mr. Scott said.