Middletown Township

A Library for the Township - History Part 2

posted: October 17, 2008
Middletown Library
Public Information
Office #: (732)671-3700

Written by Susan O'Neal, Director
Middletown Township Main Library

The original 74 members of the first Middletown Library Association included some whose names are still associated with the Township: Conover, Gulick, Hillyer, Luftburrow, Hopping, Taylor, Patterson, and Hance. By 1920 there were 1300 volumes in the collection, plus special items on loan from the New Jersey Library Commission. In the years 1916-1920, a book drive conducted by the children of Mrs. Cornell's school netted 335 more books, and packages of magazines were sent to the Camp Dix hospital. The Librarian also reported that Red Cross workers on site made the library a social center and wrote “we hope it has come to stay.” She also rather joyfully reported that circulation in 1918 ran consistently over 200 items per month. Librarian Mary Holmes Taylor resigned her position on April 16, 1920. [insert drawing]

Meanwhile, in the summer of 1917, the Navesink Library Association, a more robust organization, moved into a new building on the corner of Sears and Monmouth Avenues. The property was purchased by William Barclay Parsons and Ellen W. Duryea, the widow of Hermanus Barkelew Duryea, whose family had an estate near Brown's Dock on the Navesink River, and the building--still used today--was constructed as a memorial to Duryea. At the formal dedication in December, 1917, the Duryea Memorial Foundation was incorporated and the Deed of Gift presented to the Navesink Library Association.

The Navesink Library Association Annual Report for 1916 and original minutes of the association are extant and reveal that membership cost $1.00 and monthly dues were 10ยข. Residency in Navesink was not required. Circulation was 6,079, a daily average of 20 volumes. The collection of 1,869 volumes was mostly acquired by gifts, only 36 volumes were purchased. This report shows that even in the very earliest days, the library was a community hub for reading and activities. For those interested in more detail, the entire report has been scanned and is available on the Library's new website.

Interestingly, in her monthly reports, Librarian Adelaide H. Wright actually listed the names of members who were delinquent in paying dues, and for books requested on loan from the State Library Commission, she gave the borrower's name. Obviously library transactions are much more private today! In outreach, she visited the New Monmouth Post Office and high school. The library hosted Red Cross meetings, presentations by the Monmouth County Historical Association, handicrafts, antique shows, and plays.

At the general election in November, 1920 the question was put to the voters of the Township of Middletown, as to whether a free public library should be established. The vote was 2:1 in favor of a Township Library [actual vote 1,025 to 431]. According to the law, the Township Committee appointed a seven-member library commission to direct library affairs and hire a librarian. The Red Bank Register reported that the funding, by law would be a tax of 33 cents on each $1,000 of assessed property.

The appointed Trustees and their official positions were: William Barclay Parsons, President, Clinton B. Lohsen, Treasurer, Ralph A. Bowman, Florence L. Mecklin, Evelyn W. Preston, Secretary, Louise Hartshorne, and James C. Henrickson, Ex officio, School Board Representative.

Al their organization meeting on December 11, 1920, the Board began its responsibilities — a 1921 budget request of $2,952.29 was sent to the Township Committee and $120 was requested in State Aid for an allowance for six schools. The Navesink Library Association building would be the headquarters, renting the facility for $250 per year. It was also decided to begin a fund-raising drive to purchase an automobile to institute a traveling library service [now known as a bookmobile]. Dorothy Norton of South Orange was hired as Librarian.

Also, a procedure for the establishment of “deposit stations” or branches, was written. Resolution VIII provided for the establishment of deposit stations in any “colored church in the Township,” or “where such deposit stations are not established, the colored residents of the Township will be supplied with books through the Library automobile.” For several years leading up to the formal establishment of the Free Public Library of the Township there had been some problems in service to the African-American residents in the Navesink area and documentation is sketchy. This unfortunate chapter in library history reemerges decades later and will be written about again.

Next: A bookmobile and branch libraries as the library grows in the 1920's and 1930's.