The First Free Public Library in Mercersburg
The First Free Public Library in Mercersburg
An Initiative of the Woman’s Club
By Joan C. McCulloh
As in 2012 the Mercersburg Library Association opened a new addition to the Fendrick Library in Mercersburg, an addition that is enhancing its many services to both citizens of the immediate area and guests, it is well to remember the beginnings of a free public library in Mercersburg.
The Woman’s Club of Mercersburg was founded under the leadership of Mrs. Harry Byron (Ione) on July 9, 1909, “the purpose of which shall be the temporary relief of the poor.” However, immediately the ladies in the club, reflecting the reforming spirit of the Progressive Era in United Sates history, in addition to helping the poor began to consider other ways to make the community a better place and to put their ideas into action. At their meeting on December 5, 1909, the ladies discussed “the advisability of opening a public reading room” and upon a motion determined that a committee be appointed for finding a suitable place. Members of this committee were Miss Foster, Miss Brubaker, Miss North, and Mrs. Byron. At the January 1910 meeting this committee reported that it had been unable to find a place for a reading room, and in February the club, according to the minutes, decided “to drop the matter for the present.”
However, despite the many reforming activities of the club such as the campaign concentrating upon the cleanliness of the streets, the work to stop swearing in the town, and the publication of Old Mercersburg in 1912, the ladies had not forgotten their desire to have a public library. In 1913 they began their efforts in earnest. On June 5 of that year, according to the minutes, “The Library was taken up and after much discussion the Club pledged its self [sic] for the necessary funds for launching the work, but using every possible means for securing outside aid.” At the June meeting the Club had as a guest Miss Anna McDonald, “consulting librarian for the State,” who “delivered a brilliant lecture on Public Libraries in general” and who, it was announced, would come to town in the future to talk to local citizens. From that time the club with the leadership of the newly formed Library Committee or Commission, as it was frequently called, worked tirelessly upon this new project. Members of the committee were Miss Sadie M. Parker, a teacher of algebra and English and assistant principal of the local high school, who served as chair, Mrs. Harry Waidlich, treasurer, Miss Elizabeth Patterson, Miss Hannah Mary Spangler, and Mrs. Byron.
The library committee went about its task in an organized, thoughtful way. With the cooperation of George Fleming, the editor of the Mercersburg Journal, it placed for several weeks on the front page of the local newspaper articles explaining the values to a community of having a library. In the August 29 issue of the Mercersburg Journal in the center at the top of the front page in large, bold print appeared “A PUBLIC LIBRARY FOR MERCERSBURG.” The article stated: “At the May meeting of the Woman’s Club a Library Commission was appointed: Said Commission to endeavor to secure a suitable room and arrange for the establishing a Free Public Library. At the June meeting the club voted to finance the undertaking in its establishment. The effort to secure a room was fruitless until the present time. The large room in the Scheller building over Mr. Grove’s restaurant has been rented and plans for the equipment of this room are being made and will be carried out as speedily as possible, so that the Library will be opened in the very near future. It is hoped that whatever is done will meet the approval and receive the support of the good people of our community. Signed The Library Commission.” Thus the Library Commission announced that it had been able in early August to rent a room for a library on the second floor of the Scheller building above Grove’s restaurant on the first floor. This building, now (2019) owned by Mr. and Mrs. Mark Stoner, is the site of Stoners on the Square, a restaurant. At the regularly scheduled meeting of the Club at the beginning of September the members discussed the means of starting a library, of obtaining books and furniture. The members passed a motion stating that the Club “would give the Committee power get all furnishings and anything else necessary as to books & furniture or contributions of any kind.”
At that same meeting the ladies planned a Book Social to be held on Tuesday evening, September 9, in Town Hall. Again Mr. Fleming of the Mercersburg Journal was helpful as he put both this article announcing the Book Social and later the article reporting the event of the Book Social at the top in the center of the front page of the newspaper with the caption in large print letters. The article introducing the Book Social asked people to bring to Town Hall either a book, a subscription to a current magazine, or a cash contribution or anything that would “further the work” and asked specifically for “ Fiction, Non Fiction, Biographies, Reference Books, Suitable Children’s Books.” The article stated that the library under the management of the Woman’s Club would be “free to all in the strictest sense, and it is desired that our good people become interested in it.… Let Mercersburg show on September 9 a hearty response to this appeal, that she stands for progress and betterment.” By now the library was termed a Free Public Library with emphasis upon the availability of this library to all people. The next week following a large-print title announcing the Book Social the following appeared in the local newspaper:
“The Book Social held in the interest of the Free Public Library of Mercersburg in the Town Hall in Tuesday evening of this week under the auspices of the Woman’s Club of Mercersburg was a great success. The Mercersburg Cornet Band furnished excellent music, the number of men present very small but the number of ladies was large and all manifested a great interest. A great number of books were contributed and subscriptions for magazines and papers given, and some cash.
“Miss Sadie Parker, president of the Woman’s Club, called the meeting to order and after a few introductory remarks introduced Rev. Rose who delivered a short address. He was followed by Prof. Finafrock and Rev. Bald in short addresses.
“The prevailing spirit was one of thankfulness; that the town was about to realize a long-cherished hope; that the library was free to everybody; that it was to contain such a great variety of books and reading matter; that it was to be non-sectarian and that all ‘ists and ‘isms, or by whatever names people might be designated, they were alike - all welcome. Contributions are alike solicited from all.
“The shelving has been placed in the rooms and the books will soon be arranged. It will be under the supervision of the Woman’s Club of Mercersburg. Arrangements will be made to have someone in charge while the rooms are open. The work of arranging the books and classifying the magazines and papers will go forward as rapidly as possible. The shelving has been donated by a citizen of the town, and furniture etc. will be forthcoming, and before the long winter evenings set in the people of this community can refer with pride to their Free Public Library.”
The new Free Public Library was ready to open. At the Woman’s Club meeting in the beginning of October Miss Parker announced that the library had about four hundred books, and the committee responsible for the publication of Old Mercersburg in the preceding year stated that it would pay for a set of encyclopedias and a dictionary from the proceeds of the sale of Old Mercersburg. The Free Public Library opened on Saturday afternoon, October 11, 1913, in its rooms on the second floor of the Scheller building with hours from 3:00 to 5:00 o’clock and from 6:00 to 9:00 o’clock with plans to have it open every Saturday and also on Tuesdays from 4:00 to 9:00 o’clock. The Library Committee in announcing to the public the opening of the library stated that it needed a large clock, two or three nickel lamps, coal and wood, a few ferns or palms, a dictionary stand, an umbrella stand, and more books.
In addition to the Club’s continuing to help local people in need and to take many other actions to improve the town, at the end of 1913 the Club focused upon the success of the library, in which it had begun to hold its meetings. On December 1 at the regularly scheduled meeting of the Woman’s Club Miss Parker, according to the minutes of the Club, “gave a very encouraging report of the library, telling of the number of articles of furniture shelving etc. donated by the townspeople, books, magazines and money being contributed by different clubs and committees. She stated that 235 readers were enrolled and “100 books out at once.” At that same meeting Mrs. Waidlich, treasurer of the library committee, said that after the committee had spent the money necessary for setting up the library, it had ten dollars left. Also the Club members agreed to ask ladies who were not members of the Club to serve as librarians.
From 1913 until April 1925 when the Woman’s Club moved the library to the second floor of the Fallon Building on West Seminary Street the Scheller building remained the site of this new, active Free Public Library, as the members preferred to call it. In January 1914 Miss Parker reported that the library had received books from a former resident of Mercersburg and two pictures from Mrs. John L. Finafrock, and the treasurer of the committee, Mrs. Waidlich, noted a gift of twenty-five dollars. In April Miss Parker stated that Mr. Sueserott of Chambersburg had given the library a complete set of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies. By June the committee realized the need for having one person in charge of the library so that the Club voted to pay a librarian from eighty cents to one dollar each week with the stipulation that the paid librarian be, if possible, a member of the Club. Also at that meeting Miss Anna Fallon, librarian at the Mercersburg Academy, brought up the idea of having a Carnegie Library in town and stated that for every one hundred dollars the town raised the Carnegie Foundation would give one thousand dollars. In October Miss Parker gave a report of the first year’s activities in the library. She stated that the cost of establishing the library had been $57.95 and that the current expense was $92.15 Mrs. Waidlich, committee treasurer, reported a balance of $22.72, and Miss Fallon, secretary of the committee, stated that 5,558 books had been circulated during that first year.
Again Mr. George Fleming of the Mercersburg Journal was supportive of the library project as in October 1914 he placed on the front page of the newspaper a long article, based upon the yearly report of Miss Parker, reviewing the work of the library during its first year. The first sentence was “The Free Public Library of Mercersburg has come to the close of its first year, and what must be conceded a successful first year.” The article went on to state: “Mention has been made during the year of gifts from friends which made the equipment more efficient and attractive. Requests to individuals toward the support of the work have not as yet been made. Care has been taken to see to the destruction of all books that have been in homes where there has been a possibility of contagious disease. Worn out books, papers and magazines ragged from bending have been sold.” The article noted that Miss McDonald, consulting librarian in the state library system who had visited Mercersburg earlier, had visited the library in September and had “expressed her delight regarding the location, equipment and neatness of the rooms.” This article stated also the following: “Those in charge of the Library have been courteous and helpful to patrons, and it is certain that pleasure has been experienced in many families into which several books are taken almost every time the Library is opened. The Reference books have been used from time to time and an increase in the patronage in that direction is hoped for as the desire is to have the Library known as much for its reference advantages as for any others.” This long article noted also: “It is to be hoped that the years that follow will be crowned with success, that the time will come when the Library will have its own home, perhaps a Carnegie building supported by the Town of Mercersburg. An earnest request is made by the Woman’s Club that the citizens of our Town VISIT the Library, even though they do not wish to borrow books. They will find many interesting current magazines, comfortable chairs, splendid light, in short, everything conducive to the pleasant whiling away a little spare time.”
In the era from 1914 until 1920 the Club was extremely active. With the beginning of World War I in 1914 the Club emphasized relief, especially to Belgium. Also in these years the Club focused upon local problems such as cars speeding through town. It chose the fountain for the Square, led its purchase and had it installed. It also paid for and had fabricated and installed historical markers to commemorate the lives of James Buchanan, Hugh Mercer, the Irwin sisters, and William Findlay. Despite all of these efforts and accomplishments the Club continued to administer the library in the Scheller building with great care and held bazaars and card parties in order to finance it. For a time to help to defray expenses of the library the Club rented for $1.00 each month to Mrs. Paul Westhafer a place for storing goods in the back of the library. The Club assumed all expenses for maintaining the library; for instance, in 1915 the Club was paying Dr. J. S. Swartzwelder $5.00 each month for rent and Mrs. Myrtle Straley for cleaning. The minutes of the Woman’s Club in this era reflect the Club’s devotion to the library and its willingness to adapt to changing situations. In May 1915 as Miss Parker announced that she would no longer be able to serve as chair of the library committee, the President, Mrs. Byron, suggested that a new library committee of twelve members be appointed. In September 1916 the members of the library committee were Miss Parker, Miss Long, Miss Fallon, Miss Keller, Miss Agnew, Miss Steiger, Mrs. Krebs, Mrs. Boyd, Mrs. Steiger, Mrs. Fendrick, Mrs. Waidlich, and Mrs. Byron. In November of that year Mrs. Byron, chair of the library committee, reported that the library had issued six hundred and fifteen cards, that the library held nine hundred and thirty-nine books, and that the total circulation in the past year had been 3,067.
In December 1916 the Club’s revised by-laws adopted that month stipulated that each member of the library committee should be responsible for the library for one month. In 1917 the Club renewed its lease for rental of the second floor of the Scheller building for five dollars a month with the addition of another room and the understanding that the Club would pay the bill for the electricity for the rooms but not for the hall. In November 1923, ten years after the opening of the library, the annual library report stated that during the past year 4,068 books had been circulated, two hundred and twenty-six fewer than had been circulated during the preceding year. In 1923 the library committee incurred an additional expense as for the first time since its opening in 1913 it had one hundred and thirty-one books re-sewn or re-bound at a price of sixty-five cents per volume. By 1924 the rent for the library had increased to six dollars a month or seventy-two dollars for the year.
The library remained on the second floor of the Scheller building until April 1925 when the Woman’s Club rented the second floor of the Fallon building on West Seminary Street. On April 17 when the Club met “in the spacious new library room,” the president of the Club, Mrs. Byron, thanked the following: Mrs. Harry Smith who had given two candle sconces, Miss Patterson who had lent her piano, Mrs. Spangler who had lent a piano stool, and Mrs. Rinehart and Miss Fallon who had given pictures. The minutes noted also that Mrs. Byron had given a bookcase and table. Later that year the Club accepted the kind offer of C. Edgar Fallon, the owner of the building, to store the coal in the cellar of the building and authorized the library committee to hire a janitor. In November 1925 Miss Anna Fallon, now the chair of the library committee, reported a circulation of books for the year as 4,140 and added that during the summer months the library had borrowed juvenile fiction from the Library Extension Division of the State Library. The library remained on the second floor of the Fallon building until 1935 when the Woman’s Club moved it to the second floor of Town Hall. The Woman’s Club operated the Library in Town Hall until May 1962 when the Mercersburg Library Association that now owns and operates the Fendrick Library was formed. During the almost forty-nine years in which the Woman’s Club maintained the library at its own expense its foresight and efforts enriched the lives of many.
Note: The Woman’s Club is now called the Women’s Club.
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