Parkersburg's First Public Library
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First Public Library and the handful of young women who set about establishing it. Hunter Moss had a book store in what today is the 400 block of Market Street back shortly before the turn of the century. It was located where the Commercial Bank now Wesbanco stands, a two story building with some vacant rooms on the second floor. The young women who decided it was time the community had a public library were able to get space on that second floor of the book store.
They decided they could raise enough money to get a small library started. This was about 1891. They sold stock at $5 a share, and anyone who bought a share of stock could add another $1 and become a book borrower for one year. Anybody who didn't buy stock had to pay $2 a year for the right to use the library.
Mrs. C. W. Shrewsbury was the first librarian. Also helping were Mrs. R. H. Thomas, Mrs. T. B. Camden, Miss Kate Harris, Miss Winifred Cox, Miss Bessie Murdoch, among others. Attorney W. W. VanWinkle gave continuous support to the group. Their first nest egg finally grew to $1,200. That included between 75 and 100 owners of stock to begin with and the $1 and $2 annual Subscribers, with no doubt some gifts from at least some interested business men.
They opened the library with what books they could afford. Initially, the little library was operated entirely by volunteers three hours a day usually around three days a week and another three hours Saturday evenings. In time they found they could afford to pay a small sum for library help the pay was $2 a week. Then the City of Parkersburg with its fine new city building decided to offer the library small quarters there along with a donation of around $500 annually from the city budget.
In 1903,the library group became aware of the library interests of Andrew Carnegie and in January 1904 started negotiating with Carnegie seeking financial help. At that time Carnegie was giving $34,000 to any community seeking a library, providing that community would give the grounds and guarantee to raise 10 percent of his $34,000 gift, each year, to support the library.
The young women went to work with the approval and assistance of some of the more progressive businessmen and were able to obtain the lot at Eighth and Green streets just back of the (then) Parkersburg High School. They also were able to guarantee the $3,400a year, no small sum for such a venture at the time.
June 10, 1904, James A. Bryan, president of the board of education wrote the steel magnate assuring him they could meet his requirements. June 18, the school board passed the necessary resolution promising the site and the maintenance of the building to be used as a free public library. June 21, Stephen Davidson, representing Carnegie, took care of the details.
It was Oct. 5, 1905 that the library was dedicated with one of the largest crowds believed to have ever gathered in Parkersburg, present for the dedication. The library occupied the entire first floor with the book stacks at the rear running up three floors. The board of education had offices on the second floor, and the basement was used by the truant officer, the school nurse, the physical director and for supplies.
Among the earliest years of the new library those giving support included a group of seven young women who believed firmly in community efforts. They included Marie Andrews (later Mrs. T O lHiteshew), Bess Stewart, Ida Peters, Anmna Taylor, Beryl Moore (later Mrs. I. M. Adams) and Pauline Stephen (later Mrs. Wilmoth).
From the day the Carnegie Library opened it had wide usage. A little later there was a pay shelf with a 5-cent-a-day fee for new books that went out. Once they were paid for, they went on the free shelves. By 1939 the Parkersburg Carnegie had grown to own 27,500 books, with circulation to 108,607 borrowers at year's end. The library subscribed to 46 magazines and 11 newspapers, including the New York Times, Baltimore Sun, and papers from Washington D. C., Cincinnati; Pittsburgh; Charleston; Columbus; Chicago, among other cities.
Parkersburg library users were able to keep up with what was going on in the nation long before television. From opening day, the old Carnegie was never closed for an extended period until July 27, 1943. It was hit by lightning with extensive roof damage and had to be closed for repairs. It was not reopened until Oct. 4. In time, Parkersburg outgrew the old library.
The building was in need of extensive repair and a move was started to obtain a new library. By early 1973, the site of the old Emerson School in north Parkersburg was selected and the project, spearheaded by the Junior League of Parkersburg and other groups, eventually resulted in the new Parkersburg/Wood County Library at the intersection of Emerson Avenue and 31st Street.
But the many who had used the original building downtown never quite were able to forget the years of service provided by the old structure. Today it stands empty, the roof and other areas in need of repairs, and a new generation who never knew the old building is turning to the new facility with its spacious grounds, its many new facilities and all it has to offer.
Just what effect the current economic picture is going to have on the library is of deep concern to many area readers who have grown up knowing the old library, making use of the new and hoping the service will not have to be sharply curtailed. Its usage had stepped up many times what it was even a few years ago. However, from time to time there have been budget slashes which have of necessity, curtailed some of the services.
The books circulated at the Parkersburg library from July 1, 1981,to June 30, 1982, totaled 217,134 volumes. The library also circulated 36,468 records, tapes, maps, slides etc.
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