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The Society's retreat from a partnership with the city had other long-range implications. When the Lenox Library acquired the esteemed Emmet Collec­tion of Revolutionary War materials in 1896, it was "a personal grief [to Kelby] that the fine Emmet collection, which would have rounded out [the Society's]newspaper files for the last century, should have passed to the Lenox Library and be destined to be swallowed up by that Leviathan, the new Public Library."

New-York Historical Society minutes, Nov. 1, 1898, cited in Richards (1984, p. 63).
With the city aligned with and supporting the New York Public Library and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, institutions that the Society considered its prime adversaries, it is easy to imagine how it became a matter of institutional pride that the Society could support itself without governmental assistance. The Society chose not to petition the city or state for operating support again for more than one hundred years, when it was forced to do so by its crises in the late 1980s. The decisions that the Society made in the late nineteenth century to go its own way continue to have effects. By forging a path of its own, the Society took the first steps away from a position of prominence in the city's culture.

Public collections, private club, 1900-1921

During the early 1900s, the Society again confronted an issue that had dominated its life in its earliest days: how to house its growing collections. The Second Avenue building had long outlived its capacity to serve the Society's purposes, and the new site on Central Park West was only that—a site. All efforts were directed toward raising the money needed to finance the construction of a building.

During this time, the Society was led by Robert Hendre Kelby, the brother of William Kelby. The most important achievement of his tenure was securing the support of Henry Dexter, a New York businessman, in the cause of building the Society's new home. Dexter's gift of $200,000 initiated construction in 1904, and the central portion of the building was completed and furnished in 1908 at a total cost of $421,150.

The prospect of a new building engendered hope among New Yorkers that the Society would play a greater role in providing service to the public. During the capital campaign for the building, prior to actual construction, an editorial in the New York Times glowed: "With proper facilities for the display of interesting ob­jects and greater convenience of access, throngs of people would enter its doors where now but few stray in.... The project certainly ought to possess interest with everyone who knows anything whatever of the splendid history of which this island has been the centre . . . events that should become familiar in the recol­lections of every American citizen."

Vail (1954, p. 175).

To some extent, as happened in 1857 when the Society moved into its Sec­ond Avenue home, moving to Central Park West did breathe new life into the Society. The executive committee ended the policy of requiring visitors to be introduced by a member, and attendance at the Society increased. Moreover, interest in the new building spurred donations of books, manuscripts, and art, although this was a mixed blessing as the growth of the Society's backlog of uncataloged items accelerated.

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Source:  OpenStax, The new-york historical society: lessons from one nonprofit's long struggle for survival. OpenStax CNX. Mar 28, 2008 Download for free at http://cnx.org/content/col10518/1.1
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