Ervin Saunders, 1848-1909

Ervin Saunders, Herald Statesman, 27 June 1938

Ervin Saunders, who was born on April 3, 1848, was one of the six sons of David Saunders, the founder of David Saunders & Sons, a successful tool manufacturing business located on Atherton Street (the street which now separates the library building from the DMV.)

Ervin deserves to be remembered for the “princely munificence” — the words, exactly right, are those of the Yonkers Statesman — with which he endowed various Yonkers institutions, including the Yonkers Public Library

He did so by bequests in his will, which was made public shortly after his death on February 17, 1909. The will was published in its entirety by the Statesman in its issue of March 2.

Ervin explained in his will the reasons for his civic generosity, writing:

“In view of the fact that I have seen fit to give the greater portion of my estate to public uses, it may be proper for me to state my reasons for so doing, namely: Being a bachelor and having no relatives or other persons directly dependent upon my bounty, and considering my next of kin sufficiently independent not to require further provision, I conceive it to be my duty as well as a privilege and pleasure, to devote a substantial portion of my estate to what seems to me to be the best interest of my home city, in which I have spent a happy life and acquired my property, and thus to assist in the relief of suffering therein and to aid the youth thereof to live more useful lives, to establish and maintain happier homes and to become better citizens, and thus to bring the greatest good to the greatest number of my fellow citizens.” 

Perhaps the most influential part of Ervin’s legacy remains in our midst to this day: The trades and technical school which he wished to be built with his endowment and which he directed to be named after his father David. The Saunders Trades and Technical High School was originally located at 104 South Broadway. That building still stands and now serves as the Yonkers City Court and as the headquarters of the Yonkers Police Department, but the trades school relocated in 1980 to 183 Palmer Road.

In his will Ervin took some pains to specify exactly what sort of institution he wanted the school to be and to spell out exactly what he hoped the school would do, indicating that he was establishing a trust …

“To found and maintain a Trades School under the direction of the Board of Education, and as a part of the public school system for the teaching of mechanical trades and the practical and scientific knowledge connected therewith (and necessary to or desirable for artisans and workers therein) to such persons as wish to learn a trade by which to earn their living, particularly, and with every encouragement to those who labor during the day and are thus prevented from giving attendance except to night classes; but these restrictions as to subjects to be taught in and persons attending the school, if found impracticable from time to time, may be modified by the Board of Education so as to embrace instruction in electricity and chemistry, and so as to include other persons, but they shall not be so modified as to permit the attendance of persons … who wish to attend simply for amusement, such fund to he known as ‘The Saunders Trades School Fund,’ and such school to be known as ‘The Saunders Trades School,’ both In memory of my father, David Saunders, Sr., the founder of the firm of D. Saunders’ Sons, in honor of whom a suitable tablet inscription or other memorial shall be erected or provided in said school ….”

The money given to the Library had a similar purpose, as can be seen from another part of the will, where Ervin wrote:

” … I give and bequeath to the corporation known as the Yonkers Public Library the sum of $50,000 as a permanent endowment, to be kept intact and invested as hereinafter provided separate from all other funds, to be known as ‘The Saunders Book Fund,’ the net income to be applied to the purchase of books of all kinds (except those known as novels or writings of fiction, including the so-called historical novel), but primarily to the purchase of technical books relating to all the mechanical trades carried on in the city of Yonkers, for the benefit of artisans and workers therein, and also to the purchase of books on electricity, chemistry and on such other scientific subjects or books on which, in the opinion of said Library or its appropriate committee, there shall be a reasonable demand; and, after meeting such demand, to the purchase of any good literature the Library may be in need of at the time; provided, however, that each book purchased as aforesaid shall contain a label stating that the book was purchased from the income of the fund aforesaid ….”

It may be worth noting that $50,000 was the exact sum with which Andrew Carnegie had endowed the Library to begin with, in 1901.

In 1954, at a celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Carnegie library building, the trustees of the Hudson River Museum presented the Yonkers Public Library with two framed portraits, executed in oil by Yonkers resident William Collins. One was a portrait of Andrew Carnegie and the other a portrait of Ervin Saunders. Mr. Carnegie’s portrait is currently displayed in a place of honor in the library board room. The portrait of Ervin Saunders, unfortunately, seems to have disappeared.