LIBRARY TO FETE LIFE OF SIGMUND EISNER

Local-history librarian Elizabeth McDermott, below, with a custom-branded Eisner lightbulb in the second-floor New Jersey Room of the Red Bank Public Library, once the home of industrialist Sigmund Eisner. (Click to enlarge)

By JOHN T. WARD

On April 15, 1937, the Red Bank Public Library – for decades an itinerant but growing collection of books and archival material – finally found a permanent home, relocating from a downtown storefront to a mansion at 84 West Front Street.

Three months earlier, the heirs of Sigmund Eisner – mass-manufacturer of uniforms for the Army, the Boy Scouts and other organizations  – had donated their late father’s mansion overlooking the Navesink River to the library.

The shared hope of H. Raymond, Monroe and J. Lester Eisner was that the house would provide a warm and dry place for reading, but also that it would function “as a bit of a museum, too,” says local-history librarian Elizabeth McDermott.

Next month, the library will celebrate its 75th anniversary in the house with museum-like displays that highlight Eisner and his transformative impact on Red Bank as an industrialist and philanthropist.

The event, says McDermott, “is completely about” Eisner.

The ornate first-floor parlor of the Eisner mansion, above, and an undated photo of Sigmund Eisner, below. (Click to enlarge)

Valued at $25,000 at the time, the house was donated partly furnished, according to a Red Bank Register account of the opening. Wicker chairs provided welcome indoor seating overlooking the river.

The house had been home to Eisner and his wife, Bertha Weis, a member of a well-established Red Bank family. An Eastern European immigrant who “came to Red Bank as a peddler,” Eisner set up a sewing machine in a rented house near Broad Street and eventually built an manufacturing empire that employed 5,000 people at its peak during the first World War, said McDermott.

Eisner’s complex of factory buildings at the West Front Street and Bridge Avenue was reported to be the largest uniform factory in the world, she said.

Some of that property is now the home to the Galleria at Red Bank, a collection of restaurants, shops and offices. Another portion, on the northeast corner of that intersection, is home to the Antique Center of Red Bank.

Antique Center owner Guy Johnson is lending some of his collection of Eisner and old Red Bank memorabilia to the library display, including uniforms and a lightbulb branded with the Eisner name, probably for use in the factory, McDermott said.

The event will also highlight the reopening of the library’s New Jersey History Room. For many years, an ornate front room trimmed in ornate Gothic woodwork served as the repository for reference and archival materials about Red Bank, Monmouth County and the state. But the rarity and delicate condition of some of the materials, including one-of-a-kind atlases and directories, called out for a dedicated, controlled-access space, said McDermott.

That space is now a second-floor room of several hundred square feet that is open to the public from 2 to 4 p.m. each Tuesday afternoon, and by appointment at other times. McDermott said it is available to anyone, and is particularly helpful to people interested in researching family and property histories.

McDermott herself has been immersed in the materials as she assembles the exhibit, she said. And one regular visitor, a volunteer in the effort to put together the exhibit, has been known to exclaim, while going through old photos, “Oh my god, that’s my great-grandfather,” McDermott said with a laugh.

The goal of the exhibit is to create “a kind of timeline” about Eisner, a philanthropist who left money in his will to his factory workers, as well as to a host of churches of various persuasions, said McDermott.

“He didn’t have any barriers,” she said.

The building got a $1.6 million renovation in 2007, reopening after a problematic 15-month closure in January, 2008. In the interim, the library operated out of retail space donated by Hovnanian Enterprises.

Here’s an article from the January 6, 1937 edition of the New York Times announcing the donation of the house to the borough: Eisners deed house to library

And here’s the announcement about next month’s event:

On Saturday, April 14, 2012, from 2 – 4 PM, the Red Bank Public Library will celebrate 75 years as the Eisner Memorial Library with a Ribbon Cutting and Reception in our newly restructured New Jersey History Room.

Our New Jersey Collection contains many unique and valuable items pertaining to the Library, the Borough of Red Bank, and Monmouth County. The Library building itself is a special place, having been previously the home of Sigmund Eisner, businessman, civic leader and philanthropist, and his wife Bertha, an influential businesswoman and civic organizer. Presented to the Borough of Red Bank in January 1937, the former mansion was opened as a Public Library on April 15, 1937, thanks to the generosity of the Eisner sons, Raymond, J. Lester, and Monroe Eisner.

Please join us on April 14, as we celebrate this historic anniversary in our beautiful building on the Navesink River. For more information, please feel free to contact the library at 732-842-0690.

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