A look back at the history and origins of the Fanwood Memorial Library and some highlights from the past.
It is interesting to note that almost from its inception, Fanwood has had a free public library. The idea of a borough library grew from a group of literary-minded women who first met in 1874 and originally called themselves the Saturday Book Club, later known as the Fanwood Book Club. They met regularly at various homes in the borough during the late1800s.
In 1899 they donated their entire treasury of $26 to the borough, along with their collection of 156 books with the stipulation that they be loaned to the public free of charge.
The mills of government ground for three years and in 1902 the borough council submitted to the voters the question of approving the club’s offer, thereby establishing a public library. With a vote of 36-14, the collection was formally accepted by the mayor and council on March 11,1902, “for the sum of one dollar and to be known thereafter as the Fanwood Free Public Library.” The sum of $25 was provided for maintenance the initial year. Thereafter, the library continued to be supported primarily by private donations.
The book collection was kept in a small room in the rear of the Post Office, then located at the southeast corner of North and Martine avenues, not far from the location of the present library. The salary for the acting librarian was resolved by appointing Fanwood’s postmaster to the position at a salary of ten dollars a month. The small library room had its own entrance from the street, but no connecting doorway into the post office. Borrowers entered, selected their books, went outside and around to the front entrance of the post office, where the postmaster checked out their selections.
In 1902 the square mile borough boasted a total population of less than 400 and was largely a resort area, but in 1919 Fanwood had 724 residents and the first regular librarian, Miss Katherine MoAney, was employed to meet the growing demand for books. A succession of librarians followed until 1927 when Miss Janet B. Carter was appointed to the position, which she held until 1942. Under her watchful eye the library expanded twice in the next ten years. In 1928 the Post Office was moved to a different location and the library took over the entire building on North Avenue. It was reported at the time that “the library has outgrown its present quarters and a large room formally used by the Post Office is being remodeled for library use”. It was also reported that “the borrowing of fiction books from the state library in Trenton was discontinued since the borough council granted the library an increase in its budget.” The increased size of the library in 1929 resulted in book circulation increasing from 1,624 books in 1926 to 5,928 in 1929.
In 1942, as a result of a growing collection of books, the library moved to a store front on South Avenue, about 100 feet west of Martine Avenue. Miss Carter supervised the moving of the books before she resigned, and Mrs. Reginald M. Harris was appointed as librarian.
By 1950, with a collection of 7,000 books, Fanwood was in dire need of larger, more permanent facilities. Voters approved a public referendum that year providing for the construction of a new borough library. On December 16, 1951, the present red brick colonial building was completed at the intersection of North Avenue and Tillotson Road at a cost of $45,000. It was to be the first building constructed by the Borough of Fanwood exclusively for its use since the borough was incorporated in 1895. The 1951 building dedication plaque, which is now mounted in the Library entryway reads: Dedicated December 16, 1951: In Memory of the Citizens of Fanwood Who, in all Wars “Gave the last full measure of Devotion”. So nigh is the grandeur to our dust; So near is God to man; When Duty whispers low, Thou must; The youth replies, I can. Ralph Waldo Emerson.
In the belief that a public library is one of the most practical forms a war memorial can take, the new library was named “Fanwood Memorial Library” in memory of the men of Fanwood who lost their lives in the service of their country. The plaque on the memorial rock at the foot of the flagpole on the library lawn honors these veterens from W.W. II 1939 – 1945, Walter R. Stewart, Richard Gere, Theodore F. Ginder, Hugh MacLennan, William J. Brohm, III, John T. MacDermott, Donald E. Vinton, Edward Stagaard. [Korea 1950 – 1953] Charles S. Burns, III. [Vietnam 1961 – 1972] Eugene W. Hendricks, Edward M. Klaniecki. Valour gave them a Common Death; History a Common Fame; Posterity a Common Monument.
By the late 1970’s the library, which had a very vibrant and successful 20 years of service, had again become overcrowded and plans for an addition were developed. Bruce Buckmaster became the director in 1980 and in that year building began on an expansion of the library on both levels. The expanded space, now close to 6,000 square feet, was reopened to the public in 1981.
In 1997 Dan Weiss was appointed director and has dramatically taken a small suburban library into the 21st century with improvements in facilities, staffing and service.
More History of the Fanwood Memorial Library
Here’s more great information (and cool pictures) tracing the different locations of the library since it’s inception in 1897 from Josy+Jersey+Photos – formerly the New Providence Daily Photo blog. Thanks Josy
Here’s a intersting note about the architectural choices made:
“The architecture of our new England Colonial forebears is mainly distinctive for its simplicity.
It was based principally on economic necessity. Construction was simple and materials, which would stand the test of time, were for the most part easily obtainable.
Buildings were devoid of modeling, or ornamentation, but their fine outlines and good composition have had an enduring quality of distinction.
A library building for a residential community such as Fanwood should follow this form. A building of Colonial residential character answers our requirements and is consistent with the heritage of our community.
The use of hand split red cedar shingles, (called shakes in earlier times) and reclaimed brick for the exterior side walls exemplifies this patter and creates the atmosphere of softness and durable character sought in this type of structure.
The interior materials and decor add to this atmosphere and give the desired tone of reflective and enduring calm” (Fanwood Memorial Library, 1951, p. 1).
* I’m actually not sure about the dates of use for the second library; I’ve got some conflicting information from various sources.
It seems like the original building may have stopped being used in 1928, been renovated, started use again in 1930, and shifted into that storefront building sometime between 1930 and 1940.
** If you’re looking for good vintage photos and historical information about Fanwood and Scotch Plains, NJ, the history society has a boatload of photos that are digitized and online.
Bousquet, R. and Bousquet, S. (1995). Images of America: Scotch Plains and Fanwood. Arcadia Publishing: Dover, NH. ISBN 0738563188.
Fanwood Memorial Library. (1951). “Dedication Ceremony and Observance of Fiftieth Anniversary (March 11, 1952).” Retrieved from The Joint Digital Archives of Fanwood and Scotch Plains. http://www.thejointlibrary.org/archives/ [pamphlet]
The Joint Digital Archives of Fanwood & Scotch Plains, New Jersey. (dates various). “Libraries: Fanwood Memorial Library.” http://www.thejointlibrary.org/archives/ephemera/ .