From the TVHS Archives: Emma S. Clark Memorial Library Celebrates Serving the Community for over 125 years
By Karen Martin for The Historian, Summer 2017
“Our neighbor and friend, Mr. Thomas G. Hodgkins, has erected this building and dedicated it to the purposes of a library as a memorial of his lamented niece, the late Miss Emma S. Clark. In doing this it has been his purpose to perpetuate the memory of a good woman…by an institution… which shall be a means of pleasure and culture for all time to come…Reading, when it becomes a habit, is the greatest resource against idleness and ennui that the world offers to an intelligent being, as well as furnishing the only antidote of ignorance. It creates a thirst for knowledge, the lack of which is one of the most melancholy facts of daily life. It is the deficiency most marked in the rising generation…exact knowledge is obtained only by study and reflection, and to encourage these is the main purpose of books and libraries.” (John Elderkin at the opening of the Emma S. Clark Memorial Library on October 3, 1892)
The dedication marked the anniversary of the birth of Hodgkin’s niece in 1836, Emma having passed away August 2, 1889. In 1891 Mr. Hodgkins purchased three acres of the former Ebenezer Bayles property for $2,400 for a library. He spent about $12,000 on the grounds, building, fixtures, books, and an endowment of $16,000. The Queen Anne style library was designed by architects Rossiter and Wright of New York. The stained glass window, representing the archangel Michael, was executed by Heinigke and Bowen of New York.
Thomas Hodgkins early life is a story fit for a young boy’s adventure novel. Born in London in 1803 he was three when his mother died. Sent to France he received a gentleman’s education in the classics and arts. Returning home at fifteen, life with his stepmother was unbearable forcing him to leave against his father’s wishes. He joined the crew of a merchant ship bound for India which wrecked near the mouth of the Hooghly River. Penniless and ill in a Calcutta hospital, he was told he had only six months to live. Determined, he made up his mind that he would live, acquire a fortune, and donate it to large and philanthropic ends. He recovered and prepared a petition to the Governor General of India asking for aid to return to England. Ragged and barefoot he asked for an audience with the ruler of India. Persistence paid off. He was even offered a position in the governor’s household. Thomas refused the honor saying that if they filled his cap every morning with gold pieces, he would not stay in India. Thomas returned to England and eventually married. He came to New York with his wife about 1830 and started a small candy store on Greenwich Street which in time grew into a million dollar business.
In 1875, now widowed, he bought Brambletye Farm comprising more than 100 acres in Old Field. When word came from England that his two nieces Annie and Emma Clark were orphaned Hodgkins brought them here to live. Emma never married, living her life out at Brambletye. Annie married, but after leaving her husband, returned to Brambletye with her daughter.
Hodgkins was a large contributor to many charities. He was a strict believer in the importance of fresh air to one’s health and well-being. While riding the railroad he wore a tube over his mouth with the end outside the car window so that he could breathe fresh air.
In 1891 Hodgkins gave the Smithsonian Institution $200,000 (plus an additional donation of $50,000 after his death), stipulating that the income of one half of it should be devoted "to the increase and diffusion of more exact knowledge in regard to the nature and properties of atmospheric air in connection with the welfare of man". The Hodgkins Medal and Fund were established in 1893.
Mr. Hodgkins was unable to attend the dedication of the new library due to illness and died at his Old Field estate on November 25, 1892. He is buried in the Caroline Episcopal Churchyard next to Emma Clark. His funeral was unpretentious and attended by his intimate friends.
Congratulations and appreciation to the Emma S. Clark Memorial Library from the Three Village Historical Society on serving our community for 125+ years!
Address made October 3, 1892, at the Opening of the Emma S. Clark Memorial Library, Founded by Thomas G. Hodgkins, Esq., at Setauket, L.I. by John Elderkin
Barnwell, Edith, “Notes on Emma Clark and Thomas Hodgkins as told to me by Emma Clark Bills (Mrs. Francis Tweddell), who was my mother”, January 1975. (typescript)
“Emma S. Clark Memorial Library”, Three Village Historian, December 1991 • Emma S. Clark Memorial Library website
Goode, George Brown, The Smithsonian Institution 1846-1896; the History of its First Half Century, City of Washington 1897.
Smithsonian Institution website
Strong, Kate, “Thomas Hodgkin’s Adventures”, Long Island Forum, June 1954