by Shannon Butler

This week we are continuing our focus on buildings in Poughkeepsie that are gone but not forgotten, in other words, there is proof of their existence here in our Local History Collections. Today we want to share with you the sad story of the demise of a bookstore, along with a large portion its books. Anytime you hear of a book-burning, what usually follows is a cringe of the body and an overall sadness. The value of a good collection of books can be measured in several ways, the rarity of each volume, the importance of its contents, even the noteworthiness of its previous owners. So imagine if you will, thousands of such valuable books going up in flames on the side of the road right in downtown Poughkeepsie (did you feel that cringe?).

John Lindmark had discovered his love of book collecting and selling when he purchased a rare American law book for $300 and turned around to sell it for $7000! From then on, he made a business of books. He and his wife Rae moved to Poughkeepsie in 1912 and set up their first bookstore on Liberty Street. They soon outgrew it and moved to 290 Main Street. By 1933, they purchased the old Christopher Columbus schoolhouse on Church Street and began moving their books to the new location. It was one of the first stores one would see as you crossed the Mid-Hudson Bridge into Poughkeepsie. By 1945, Lindmark had over 300,000 books that was said to have been valued at approximately $2 million!

If you purchased a book from Lindmark’s store it was certainly an experience. The estimated 14 miles worth of shelves encompassed more books than were housed at the Adriance Memorial Library and the Vassar College Library combined (at least, at the time). Piles of books could be found everywhere and nobody knew just where everything was except for John Lindmark. His books also were usually marked with a blind stamp that read “Bought from Lindmark’s Book Shop, Poughkeepsie, New York.” Some of his fancier books might even have an elaborate bookplate complete with cherubs and lions and a slogan that read “New and Antiquarian Booksellers, Rare and Valuable Books for the Connoisseur and Collector.”

Mr. Lindmark was certainly a bit of a celebrity in his own right, as he became known nationally as a bookseller, he was mentioned in various papers across the country. However, it also appears that he had a reputation of being a tough negotiator, and if a deal didn’t go the way he wanted, he could be unprofessional and downright cruel. He told the Poughkeepsie Journal in an interview in 1962 that he once had a very old family bible that belonged, “to one of the richest families in the city and I told members they could have it for $400.” The family turned down his offer. Years later he offered it again, this time the family claimed “they couldn’t offer any more than $175” this offer angered Mr. Lindmark who then went on to say “I told them it was their last chance or I would tear out the pages, one by one, in front of them. They said no, so I tore out the first page. Then I tore out the second and kept tearing until today there is no family bible.” This begs the question; could the ending of this story have had a better outcome if Mr. Lindmark had a cooler head?

In 1961, the Poughkeepsie Journal announced that a cloverleaf design would be built to change the access of the Mid-Hudson Bridge and improve the North-South arterial. This meant that the state was taking over a good portion of Union Square, Harris Street, South Clover Street, and Church Street. Lindmark’s bookstore was right in the middle of it. New York State offered Mr. Lindmark $22,000 for his building (which by this point was over 120 years old and partially damaged from a fire). However, the state did not offer any money for the removal and storage of the book collection which was valued at over $1million! Mr. Lindmark had no other investments or valuables to speak of; his entire life was devoted to those books.

By 1963, Governor Rockefeller approved legislation for $3,000 in state funds to help Mr. Lindmark move his books, but Lindmark referred to this offer as “a mere pittance” and turned it down. Various institutions from the surrounding area offered to help move and store the books, however the stubborn 72 year old turned down all offers of assistance. It was his belief that the state should pay and pay handsomely for his removal. The state did not agree. Ultimately the city of Poughkeepsie was forced to act to remove the books from the building. Judge Milton Haven finally ordered on April 4th 1963 that the books be placed on the street outside the building. It didn’t take long for the crowds to make their way over to watch the process. The unprotected books were now not only up for grabs, but exposed to the elements. Within days, the pile had been reduced in number, scattered through the streets, and dampened beyond repair. This forced city officials to pile up the mess that was left, and burn it.

Today, as you make your way through the cloverleaf intersection just off of the Mid-Hudson Bridge, you would never know that a bookstore filled with treasures once stood right in the middle of it. It is certainly a sad story, but one does wonder if there could have been a better outcome.