SOPL - 50 Years

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50th Anniverary of the charter of the South Orange Library 1886-1936

As copied from original (typewritten) manuscript in the South Orange Library for reference purposes by the N. J. Writers' Project compiling a history of South Orange Village - August 1940

The idea of a free circulating library with a reading room for the Town of South Orange was conceived in the summer of 1886, says the first report of the Board of Trustees. This was the beginning of a new venture which was to prosper beyond the hopes of its founders. We are now celebrating the 50th anniversary of the South Orange Free Public Library.

In going back to the early days, we find a very different community from the present Village of South Orange.Many of the early scenes and the them familiar faces of the citizens are on display at the library in honor of the occasion.

The new association, incorporated October 25, 1886, took over as a loan, the books and other property of the existing South Orange Library Association together with its one room, with the rent paid to February 1st 1887

The founders stated that they considered the position of the room in a second story a serious disadvantage, experience having shown that with other public libraries, coffee rooms, etc., their public benefit was proportional to the easy of accessibility. The funds were $635.65, given by a few persons to whom appeal was made, and this was later increased by the sum of $719.00, the proceeds of a 'Kaffee-Klatsch' held in New York City. the exact number of books handed over was 2151, many badly worn. The trustees subscribed for six magazines, Harpers, The Century, The Atlantic, St. Nicholas, Young Peoples and Scribners. For the first twelve months there was circulation of 7078.

The old library room was given up on May 1, 1889 and a new room rented on the ground floor of the Freeman's Building on South Orange Avenue. The yearly cost of maintaining the library was estimated to be $700.00.

The report of the annual meeting of May 14, 1895 says "Owing to the Growth of the Library, the question of obtaining a building of our own has seriously occupied the Board," Mr. Eugene V. Connet had offered a lot of land on the north corner of Scotland Road and Taylor Place with a frontage of fifty feed on the road and a depth of one hundred and six feet, on condition that the sum of $7,500 be a bona fide subscribed for the construction of a library building on or before May 1, 1895, such building shall only be used for library purposes (Free) and further that no mortgage or other lien shall ever be played or suffered to exist against said building and land."

Mr. Connet's generous offer was eagerly accepted and its conditions met.

The Library celebrated its 10th year by moving into its new building on May 8, 1896 and its popularity as a public institution was shown by a referendum which authorized an appropriation by the Village Trustees of $1000.00. However it was a great disappointment to find that Vox Populi must conform to law and the appropriation was not received as being in contravention of the Station Constitution.

The people of the Village showed their willingness to be taxed for the support of the institution and in years to come again demonstrated popular support by taking the Library over as a Village property.

At the annual meeting of 1901 President James McC. Morrow became historical and gave a few words on the earliest known efforts to establish a public library in South Orange. He states "the first meeting of citizens for its establishment was on November 14, 1864, at the home of Mr. William J. Beebe, directly across the way from us. Among the leeding spirits were Rev. Daniel C. Sprague, Rev. J. Allen Maxwell, all now deceased. They were all present at the first Trustee's Meeting on the 2nd. of December following. They were men of character, intelligence and standing in the community; unselfish to a degree, and believers in the dissemination of knowledge. Would that they were all here today to witness and celebrate with us the outgrowth of their unselfish devotion to duty." Such were the words of a leader of a generation age. Would that they, and he, and all those who have labored so faithfully for a practical ideal and service might be with us today to celebrate the Fiftieth Anniversary of a succeeding venture.

When the Library was 20 years old its circulation showed a total of 23,895, and a total number of books of 7988. These statistics were considered to show that the Library had a flourishing life and a real promise of the future. In the following year the president, Dr. T. O'Connor Sloan stated that an extension running down and fronting on Taylor Place, to give a children's reading room, would be a much appreciated addition to the facilities. It took a number of years to reach this objective but its early mention shows how alive to the needs of the community the former officers were.

In 1916 the growing influence of the library was evidenced by the fact that the annual circulation had increased to 37,977, and then came the years of participation in the war. The library carried on despite the many call for other service upon the active members of the community who were its real supporters. 1921 saw the publication of plans for a new addition to the library.

The referendum held in the Village election, April 27, 1926, marked the 40th year and the people voted to take over the institution by more than 10 to 1. With this action the many volunteers who had worked well and faithfully were succeeded by Trustees and Officers set up in the Library Act under which the referendum was held. The annual circulation had grown from to 55,776. The need for expanded quarters became more pressing.

President Schnell, in the first annual report as a municipal library stated "The taking over of the Library by the Village made possible a larger and better service in as much as funds for the operation of the library now come from taxation rather than from the generosity of a comparatively small group of people."

To meet he needs of fulfilling this service required increased space. In February 1929 the Village Trustees passed an ordinance providing funds for the construction of an addition.

With the completion of the addition and the rehabilitation of the older part of the building the library, as it stands today, reprints fifty years of progress in a growing community. With an annual circulation of 128,584 for the present year we have a marked increase over the 7078 of its first 12 months.

The first 40 years were under voluntary auspices and the names of those who unselfishly gave time, money and services to its establishment and growth are those who helped in every way to make South Orange the community that it is. Many have served and many have given that we might have in our midst an institution second only to our schools for pleasure and benefit of our people.

Mr. Carl Edward Billquist1886-1887
Mr. James McC. Morrow1887-1906
Dr. T. O'Conor Sloane1906-1915
Rev. Alvin Margary1915-1916
Mr. Edward D. Duffield1916-1917
Mr. Edwin S. Allen1918-1920
Mr. Harry J. Schnell1920-1929
Mr. Arthur L. Brainerd1929-

Miss Margaret C. Tait1886-1888
Miss Mary E. Ball1888-1893
Miss Alma R. VanHoevenberg1893-1896
Miss Susan Cowan Foot1896-1897
Miss Roberta F. Watterson1897-1904
Miss Leslie Freeman1904-1909
Miss Julia Schneider1910-1930
Mrs Helen Hill Harris1930-