South Orange Library Beginnings

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South Orange Library Beginnings

The South Orange Public Library was officially founded in 1886, as a 'free circulating library', with a Board of Trustees. One October 25 of that year the South Orange Library Association was incorporated so that anniversaries are always reckoned from this date.

In reality, however, the Library had already existed for 22 years. Proposed first in 1864 by William Beebe, a New York tea merchant, it met in The Republican Club of which Mr. Beebe was President. A director, Stephen Ballard, was appointed director at a salary of $150 a year, which amount was also to cover the wages of an assistant. Until officials incorporation, dues were charged to belong to the Library, making it a private, or subscription Library instead of a 'free public' one. Many libraries in our country were started in this way.

From 1886-1926, though dues were no longer charged, the Library was supported by private donations from interested citizens. Then, on April 27, 1926, by public referendum, the Library became a municipal, tax supported institution under the auspices of the Village of South Orange.

Early pictures, before 1881, show the Library on the upper floor of Smith & Lum's at South Orange Avenue and Sloan Street. In 1884, Sloan Street was widened to accommodate the new brick railroad station, and the building was moved to 75 South Orange Avenue, near Scotland Street. A second pi9cture shows the Library at this location, above what now was Beck's Hardware Store. NOTE Though the photo dates from 1886, note the gas light, almost like those of today!

This Time

In 1889, the Library again moved to the ground floor of the Freeman build, now the site of Gruning's candy store.

In 1896, the Library moved to Scotland Road on land donated by Eugene Connett with the condition that the building to be erected be used for library purposes only. It is interesting to note that plans for a children's room were proposed as early as 1906. The Room became an actuality in 1929, when an addition was built, but it is clear that children had been using library facilities right from the beginning.

Some significant statistics

In 1875, there were 1,646 books in the Library. Ten books a day were the circulation figures, or 3,000 for the year. In 1886 circulation figures were 7,078 books for the year. In 1916, the circulation had increased to 37,977, and by 1926 when the Library became a part of the Village, circulation had increased to 55,776.

More books, more employees, more citizens in South Orange, more services provided by the Library, drove the circulation figures to 128,584 in 1936, and in 1960, when the Library Trustees began to contemplate a new building, the annual figures were 155,055. This new building became an actuality in 1968 and is today the beautiful new Library at 65 Scotland Road.

For more than 100 years, the Library has been a part of the citizens' lives in South Orange, just as the founding fathers envisioned so long ago when they met at the Republican Club to talk about raising monies for a 'library.'