The library is located in an old stone structure built between 1801 and 1818 to house the H. and B. Noble General Store. During the mid-1800s, it included a corner set aside for books available to the public on loan. Later, the building was made available to the Essex Free Library Association by the Noble family which retained the right to select members of the library’s board of trustees. The Belden H. Noble Library came into existence as the Essex Free Library in 1899 when it was granted a “provisional” charter by the University of the State of New York. It received “absolute” charter in 1906.
From the beginning, major efforts were made to attract young readers. As early as 1908, children’s borrowings accounted for about half those of adults. By 1947, the ratio had increased significantly. Children were borrowing almost as many books as adults. This may have been due, at least in part, to a program initiated at the Essex School by English teacher Amy Mason.
Early on, the library served borrowers form such nearby communities as Willsboro, Reber, and Whallonsburg. It also became a favorite meeting place for various organizations and activities. In World War I, it was used for Red Cross and other “war work.” It filled a similar role in World War II. When family member Mrs. Henry M. Baird died in 1954, her will stipulated that the building could continue to be used as a library by the association. She left money in trust for upkeep with the provision that in case of the sale of Greystone, the family home, and related properties, the trust would be dissolved.
Mrs. Baird’s heirs offered the building to the Library Association in 1955. The trustees, however, felt that “due to finances” they could not accept under the terms given. In 1974, Fermine Baird Baker deeded the library building and the parcel of land in which it stands to the Town of Essex in consideration of one dollar with the stipulation that the structure “shall forever be used as a library.”