History of the Library (Page 3)

The Library's Fourth Home

In the early 1900s, Samuel S. Childs received the deed to the session house/chapel, across the street from the Presbyterian Church, used for Sunday School and Friday evening prayer meetings. He had made a generous gift to the church, which resulted in construction of an hexagonal addition to the rear of its building. The chapel was no longer needed. This structure at the corner of Main and Church Streets (now North Finley Avenue and West Oak Street) had been built in 1887, replacing one built in 1854. Mr. Childs offered the use of the front room to the library.

Dedication of the Sunday School addition to the church was held July 3, 1908. In 1908-1909, Mr. Childs remodeled his building, the former chapel, adding a wing with its Main Street entrance adapted as a public library and reading room, and also adding a second story and porch. A large piazza extended along the north side, and the rear was arranged for a dwelling. The library occupied the building from the porch foreword, having a single room the width of the structure, long and narrow, and two stories high, with a balcony. The remainder of the building became a duplex apartment.

The work was completed in early 1909. The library had been closed evenings since its move to the new building, which was its fourth home. By June 16, the library was open afternoons and evenings. A new door mat, purchased for 65¢ from P.C. Henry's store, welcomed borrowers. Normal schedule resumed by mid-June, 1909, with afternoon and evening hours. The previous year, $30 had been allocated for additional books.

Basking Ridge residents and their friends again were generous to the library, determined that this cultural home be successful. There were continuous donations of books and periodicals. The Ladies Bowling Club contributed 27 volumes and also Rolfe's edition of Shakespeare's Works.

At times, contents of estates arrived. Among the gifts were history books, many multi-volume sets of 27 and 30, and also fiction.

Circulation was very healthy. It had grown from 2,438 in 1904, to 8,000 in 1910, with 668 books in the month of March alone. There were 2,500 books on the shelves, with 221 catalogued and 314 borrowers.

In 1910, Trustee Frederick Sutro announced that his father, Ludwig Sutro, offered to contribute $100 each year toward support of the library, on condition that four to five gentlemen would give another $100 yearly for the same purpose. The reasoning was that in addition to regular contributions from members, these additional funds would be sufficient to cover library operating costs. James E. Bathgate, Sr. and Frederick C. Sutro offered to donate the $100 each. Franklin Conklin, S.D. Conklin and Samuel Owen also joined. (Mr. Owen, a pharm- aceutical magnate, later built an English Tudor mansion, now the Township Hall of Bernards).

By 1910, the Association was out of debt. Miss Barkalow's salary was now $4.25 per week. Trustees voted to pay a substitute $6 to fill in during her two week vacation. Scenic souvenir postcards were selling well and adding to the treasury. New books were supplied by Baker and Taylor, a book wholesaler still in business today.

Also in 1910 the library opened an hour earlier, and shut at 7:30 P.M. in order to accommodate the Union Revival evening meetings held at both the Basking Ridge Presbyterian and Methodist Churches. The library remained closed every evening during the Week of Prayer in January from 1911-1914.

Around 1912, a room which the library had formerly occupied was turned into living rooms. In addition, the apartments upstairs were remodeled into a two family house. That same year the Basking Ridge Amusement Company opened a moving picture show in the old library building at 23 Main Street. (After 1912, Main Street was called Finley Avenue, and Church Street was renamed Oak Street).

Mr. and Mrs. Childs donated nine new bookcases in 1914 to accommodate additional books. That June, a small library was opened in the Presbyterian Chapel in Liberty Corner for the three summer months, with the Bernardsville Library loaning books. (This grew to a larger operation, as indicated in news items of 1925-26, when books were received from both Bernardsville and Trenton Libraries for Liberty Corner. Mrs. Charles Rompf and Madeline Koechlein supervised circulation of these borrowed books for that village. Conjecture is that probably the Koechlein General Store was where the books were housed and that Basking Ridge's library had no books to spare). In November, 1900, a "traveling library" was established in Liberty Corner, consisting of 50 books and kept in the community or six months, later to be rotated. This was in compliance with N.J. State laws, sending books wherever there was not a free circulating library. N.C.J. English was chosen as trustee of the library, with the Rev. Charles B. Condit of the Liberty Corner Presbyterian Church as librarian. Books were kept in the Presbyterian parsonage, the library open Tuesday from 4-5 P.M. and Saturday form 7-9 P.M. Books were loaned for two weeks, with a fine of one cent a day on all books not renewed. It is surmised that this kind of library had waned, with the concept surfacing in the mid-1920s.

The trustees borrowed $80 in 1915 to meet expenses and voted to raise Association membership subscriptions to $2 per year. The "Cent A Day Books" project netted rental fees of $31.92 in 1917.

The patriotic trustees helped organize canvassing Basking Ridge to raise funds for soldiers' libraries during World War I. The entire village of Basking Ridge, the Hill Section near Lyons, and Madisonville were solicited. In addition, 256 books and 415 magazines were collected and sent to Camps Dix and Hall.

By 1919, the library's collection had grown to 4,500 books. With all but three members paying dues, the trustees increased Miss Barkalow's salary to $1 per day.

Throughout the nation's "lean years," (World War I and the Depression) donations were somewhat smaller, but steady. To supplement the library's collection, a letter was sent to the State Library Association responding to the State's offer to loan 50 books of any choice for $2; children's books were selected. This was called a Traveling Library.

At their annual 1923 meeting, working on a close budget after expenses, the trustees had a balance of $6.22. Courtesy of Mr. Childs, the library was redecorated and other lighting fixtures relocated. A drop light was installed under the balcony. Fortunately, there were many life members who continued to support the library with yearly subscription fees. Many Township streets bear names of early library supporters: i.e., Allen, Blazier, Childs, Conklin, Craig, Culberson, Ellis, Henry, Monroe, Sutro, Turner, Voorhees. It was recorded that during this time, Mrs. Childs donated 15 magazine subscriptions, and to assist children with studies, 13 used books were purchased..

During these years of belt-tightening, there were plays, a bread and cake sale, food table, motion picture party, a concert and a new subscription drive for members in the 1920s.

A policy of not lending papers or periodicals until the most recent issue was received was adopted in 1924. After studying the standardized list of children's books, 20 volumes were bought for $30.

A description of the Basking Ridge Free Circulating Library in the early 1920s appeared in the January 9, 1964 issue of the Bernardsville News:

[The library was] "a very single high-ceilinged room, now a sort of foyer in 1964, and a library in the Victorian tradition, with dark wainscoting in the library and two flanking smaller rooms -- the left one, the librarian's office, and the right one, a small cubbyhole crowded with magazines. Everything, the bookcases, stairway, balcony railing, desk, reading table and chairs, were all varnished dark brown. Windows were large sheets of heavy opalescent glass on the balcony level. The heavy air was from the acrid smell of well-aged high quality paper.

"There was an eight-day wind-up clock which hung from a single nail on the balcony railing. This banjo-shaped pendulum timepiece gained or lost time, according to its tilt.

"Miss Barkalow was an old lady, her advanced years matched the decline of the library. As new books became fewer and fewer, so did visitors at the end of the 1920s. She will be remembered as a slightly stooped figure, with impaired hearing, spectrally sitting without comprehension in the sterile and musty science of bare new rooms."

Samuel S. Childs, major library supporter, died in 1925.

Mrs. Childs Continues the Legacy

In 1929, Mrs. Childs began remodeling the library building. On August 5, 1930, a dedication was held in conjunction with reopening the renovated library, a gift of Mrs. Emma F. Childs of Chatham -- the project in memory of her husband, the Honorable Samuel S. Childs. The benefactress told of his wishes, and the type of building he had envisioned, intimating she would be turning the library over to the trustees. Fred C. Sutro, principal speaker, related the history of the library since its inception May 25, 1898 and eulogized Mr. Childs. The Rev. Lauren G. Bennett, pastor of the Presbyterian Church, praised Mrs. Childs, thanking her for her "splendid gift to the community." Lillian Welch, president of the Board of Trustees, presided over the ceremonies and introduced many former trustees, including Annie Bishop, one of the earliest. Refreshments were elegant and plentiful, with a ledger entry of $3.33 for expenses.

A month later, on September 4, Mrs. Childs presented the property deed to the trustees. The entire first floor was for library purposes, its shelves well stocked with books and literature of the finest for young and old. On the main floor, four rooms had new linoleum laid, with an additional room for conferences and meetings, and an up-to-date newly built kitchen. In addition, the building received a new brick facing. The new kitchen was immediately pressed into use on Tuesday afternoons, starting September 25, for mothers and nurses to weigh babies.

In their letter of appreciation to Mrs. Childs for her gift, the trustees wrote of "a new era of usefulness," and that the library will enlist more hearty and generous support from citizens in the community, as a tribute to the "character, nobility and usefulness of Mr. Childs' life."

On September 15, Mr. and Mrs. Franklin Conklin placed at the disposal of the trustees an endowment fund of $6,000 -- the income from which would accrue for the library to purchase books. This was a memorial, the Phebe Conklin Endowment Fund, to honor the first president of the Association, 1902-1919, Phebe Conklin . (There are two bronze tablets in the History Room of the present library, honoring both the Childs and Conklin donations).

By the end of 1930, the Basking Ridge Library Association was "out of the red," with income from rent, books rentals, subscriptions, sale of postcards, fines and a variety of entertainments. A private dinner party, with an additional donation, funded two tables and 12 chairs in the children's room. At the annual Association meeting, a budget of $1500 was presented: $360 for librarian, $200 for assistant; $240, janitor; $50, insurance; $75, repairs; $300, new books; $275, utilities. A note attached said: "Is not this budget modest and entirely justified by the contribution the library has made and will make to our community?"

Miss Barkalow ordered picture postcards of the Old Oak Tree which were sold in the library and at Mr. Henry's store.