The small, handsomely detailed 129-year-old building that housed the West Tisbury Free Public Library for a full century was purchased from the town this week by the Martha’s Vineyard Preservation Trust.
With its mahogany trim and mansard roof, the two-story, 600-square-foot former town library will now be restored and returned  to active community use. The building is tucked along Music street near the West Tisbury town center.
“It’s another little piece of the Island and we’re very pleased to be able to do this,” said Christopher Scott, executive director of the Preservation Trust.
“The old library will now become the treasured landmark that it was for nearly a century, and I am very pleased that the Trust has taken ownership of the building,” said West Tisbury selectman John Alley yesterday. Mr. Alley was actively involved in the project to turn the library building over to the Trust.
The Trust purchased the building from the town for $1 on Wednesday this week. Town voters gave the West Tisbury selectmen permission to sell the building at the annual town meeting this spring.
Built in 1870 by Moses Mitchell, the building was originally part of the Mitchell Boys School campus, where it was used as a dormitory and later for study and recreation rooms.
In 1891 the building was purchased by a group formed a year earlier to create a free public library in town. Purchase price for the old Mitchell building was $360. According to accounts in files at the Gazette, a committee was formed to raise money for the purchase of the building. The committee raised $450, which was enough to pay for some extras, including a brick chimney and interior and exterior painting.
In 1893 the library group was incorporated. The public library was owned by the nonprofit library corporation until 1969, when it was purchased by the town.
In 1993 the town library moved from the Music street building into new quarters behind the Howes House. The former library building has served as temporary quarters for both the town police station and the senior citizen center in the past. For the last six months it has been unoccupied.
The building is in the French Second Empire style, with many fine details, including mahogany turnings, brackets and some carved work in the dormers.
“Ninety per cent of the mill work is still there - it’s a happy circumstance and it indicates to me that the person who built it had some resources, because it was not a simple job,” said Mr. Scott. “It fits into Music street, and if you look at the detailing on the West Tisbury town hall, it is similar to the library.”
A third building originally located between the library and the town hall was known as the Canary Cottage because it was painted bright yellow. The cottage was acquired by the town some years ago and demolished.
The interior of the former library building also boasts some handsome finish work, including a newel post and two main support posts that are turned, A bay window in the rear of the building is not original but adds nice light, Mr. Scott said.
The former library is the third purchase by the Trust in the center of West during this decade. In the early 1990s the town center went through an uncertain period, when the town post office vacated Alley’s General Store and the general store closed in the winter for the first time in its history. At about the same time the Martha’s Vineyard Agricultural Society decided to relocate to new quarters along Panhandle Road. The old agricultural hall and Alley’s Store were both in poor condition and needed restoration.
The Preservation Trust stepped in to do both jobs at separate times. Alley’s is now an active general store with a post office, and the old agricultural hall is renovated and in use as a community building and community theatre.
“It wasn’t just us,” said Mr. Scott, pointing to the widespread support from town and Island residents, and also to the current plans by the town to renovate the historic town hall.
“But this was an important piece of the puzzle,” Mr. Scott said of the former town library. “This building always has been an educational and cultural amenity for the community, and with some commitment to restoring it, it will be there again,” he said.
“One of the things this is doing is pulling the piece of history back to life,” said Mr. Alley.
“For those people who have moved to town in the recent past,” he added, “This restores the town’s historic center. And for those who were somewhat familiar with the old agricultural hall, everybody can turn with pride and say, ‘There it is over there.’ I am sure the same thing will happen with the library.”
Mr. Scott said the Trust will immediately launch a project to restore the building, which has deteriorated badly in places. The main elements of the restoration will involve replacing the wood-shingled rood and repairing a small structural failure on one side of the building where the granite foundation stones have become displaced. Plans also call for repainting inside and out, and restoration of the millwork.
The building will also be made accessible for people who are handicapped. Mr. Soctt said the cost of the restoration is pegged at about $250,000.
Planned uses for the building include possible use by the town library trustees and also possibly the Martha’s Vineyard Historical Society. Mr. Scott said a deed restriction limits the building to cultural and educational uses.
He said the stretch of West Tisbury from the Mill Pond to the old agricultural hall is a strong example of West Tisbury style and character. “The town hall and the church are the absolute keystones,” he said, adding:
“It is one of the parts of the Island that defines the Island character - and it always makes me glad when I drive through to see it still there and still working.”