The Oswego Public Library opened in 1857, one year before Boston's first purpose-built public library. While Boston's building is long gone, Oswego's "Castle on the Hill" continues to serve and is America's oldest public library still in its original building.
The first overdue notice ran that same year in an Oswego newspaper:
NOTICE.—Many valuable sets of books
belonging to the old Oswego Library, and also
to that of the Mechanics' Association, are broken
by missing volumes. Among the missing are...
hold these missing numbers, or any others be-
longing to the Libraries now consolidated in the
new "Oswego City Library," are respectfully re-
quested to return them, with the assurance that
no motive for their retention will be ascribed,
other than that oversight to which we are all
liable. C. HULL, Librarian.
Gerrit Smith, in an 1853 letter, promised to fund the Oswego Public Library with $25,000 for the building and books. This is the equivalent of $2,000,000 today and was Mr. Smith's largest philanthropic gift. Considered the richest man in the state, he was also a social reformer, three time U.S. Presidential candidate without ever campaigning, and an ardent Abolitionist. The tugboat play center in the Oswego Public Library Children’s Room is named in his honor.
From the opening of its doors there were no restrictions on usage because of race, gender, or social standing. Oswego Public Library patrons have always included African-Americans and prominent members of the local community. Early borrowing records confirm that several African-American families used the library during its first years. For example, Tudor E. Grant (a former slave then Oswego barber) and his son George Franklin Grant, 11-years-old when the library opened, are listed in the books.