History of the Library (Page 2)

The Early Years

The Bernards Township Library probably began sometime between the years 1751 and 1787, during the pastorate of the Rev. Dr. Samuel Kennedy, fourth minister of the Presbyterian Church in Basking Ridge. In those times, when Basking Ridge was the center of social, religious and educational life for the whole area, the church owned and loaned most of the books available to the community. Although the accounts are fragmentary and much is left to speculation, it is recorded that Dr. Kennedy lent his own books to his parishioners. Undoubtedly, this collection developed into a Sunday School library and eventually, a general library evolved. *

A little later, each of about 15 people donated a book. A list of names was compiled telling when and to whom the book should be handed on. Each of the borrowers could keep the book two weeks and when all had been exchanged and read, the book was returned to the donor. This arrangement was called the Basking Ridge Circulating Library.

Somerset County Court House records reveal that on March 18, 1809, five stockholders of the Basking Ridge Library Company applied for incorporation. The goal was to establish a general library to serve a wider radius of the surrounding countryside. It is unknown if this was a public or private enterprise. Founders were: John M. Simpson, John Ayers, J.G. Cooper, Solomon Doughty and Alexander Finley, brother of Dr. Robert Finley, director of the Basking Ridge Classical School.

The group had been lending books and pamphlets among themselves and had formed an association around that activity. It was based on the Junto Club of Philadelphia, Benjamin Franklin's literary group.

*Note: Until 1760, the area was known as "Baskeridge/Baskenridge". King George II created Bernardston Township that year, in honor of Sir Francis Bernard, royal governor, 1758-1760, who left for a similar position in the Colony of Massachusetts.

First Philadelphia and then Trenton had formed library companies prior to the American Revolution. Books were a rare luxury in pre-Revolutionary times, frowned on by the colonial governors. Library companies were stock companies, subscribers required to pay a yearly subscription which granted permission to peruse the corporation's books in the library room. Some companies allowed subscribers to borrow books for a period of time, while non-subscribers were limited to the reading room.

The Library's First Home

Records have indicated that the Basking Ridge Library Company housed its collection at the School House, known as the Brick Academy, for it was these same men who funded construction of this building in 1809 who were the founders of the Basking Ridge Library Company. A paper researched by Mariana M. Gibson, library director in the 1960s, maintains the library company actively flourished through Dr. Finley's regime or until 1817, as stock was issued to Joel Dayton in 1811, and book purchases in the name of the company are on record in 1815. The library company is mentioned twice in land sales during this time. Also recorded is a building mortgage of $250, dated April 2, 1810, by the trustees of this corporation to the trustees of the Basking Ridge Congregation (Presbyterian Church). People from Vealtown (Bernardsville) who attended church in Basking Ridge borrowed books from this library.

In the founding year of 1809, Thomas Jefferson was in his last year as President, with James Madison succeeding him. Books of that time probably were cloth bound books, English imports -- liturgical in nature. When presses were available, inexpensive reprints by British writers ensued. Reading for enjoyment followed, but there were not many American authors to read.

There is an almost four decade gap in the Basking Ridge history of library activity, although some sort of book-associated lending practice probably prevailed during the mid-19th Century.

The Basking Ridge Free Public Library was organized April 8, 1884 and incorporated May 25, 1889. The Baskingridge Mutual Loan Library No. III (note spelling of village name) set forth its credo in 1884: Rule No. 1: As this book is the property of another, it must not be loaned to one not a member of the Association.

Rule No. 2: As the dates before the names are intended to regulate the exchange of books, so each book is due readers when the date before the name has arrived and each party is privileged to, and should then claim the book before the pre- vious reader (if not foreworded) read or unread.

Listed were two week time periods from May 24, 1884 through May 22, 1886, with 53 subscribers' names.

A library group met weekly at the home of the Misses Doty, 11 Main Street (South Finley Avenue), now the Prudential Brown-Fowler Agency, where the ladies of the village exchanged books amongst themselves.

After a span of 80 years (1809-1889), the Rev. John C. Rankin, pastor of the Basking Ridge Presbyterian Church, called a meeting on July 8, 1889 to sound out the community sentiment for a public library. Although Dr. Rankin appointed a constitutional committee to formulate action towards this goal, it was almost nine years later that a certificate of incorporation was filed! Meanwhile, in 1889, trustees operated from the second floor of the Moffett Building at 22 East Henry Street, now Weichert Realtors. Books were brought to the room on a certain night and exchanged. Samuel A. Allen served as secretary for 50¢ a week. Years later, Allen received a gold pen in recognition of his services.

During the years of 1889 and 1891, the Basking Ridge Library Company had two ice cream festivals in the Presbyterian chapel, as fund raisers. Served were cake and boiled cream, which had been taken to Morristown for freezing. Trustees used some of these funds to order two bookcases, a paper punch, a rubber stamp, and four lamps for the library. To "fix up" the room, $35.80 was spent and a catalog was printed for each member in 1891. Membership was 25¢ per person.

The Library's Second Home

By 1893, with funds at a dangerous low, the library was relocated to the home of the Misses Mary and Elizabeth Barkalow at 31 Main Street (South Finley Avenue), offered rent free, where the sisters served as librarians, without pay; instead, they received membership tickets for their services. Their house was called "The Brick House," a handsome building with Victorian Gothic influence, which remained in the family until the 1930s.

There was a certain amount of business with summer people; hunting and fishing also brought lodgers to the area. The Washington House (now The Store Restaurant) and the Union Hotel, site of the present First Fidelity Bank, provided lodgings for traveling salesmen who arrived by rail and used livery stable horses and buggies to make their rounds in the locality.

Trustees voted in March, 1895, to allow summer boarders to borrow books for 10¢ per week. There were 34 catalogs printed for members and in July, postcards were sent to them requesting lists of books to be considered for purchase. Printed slips were placed in the catalogs with new offerings. The library did not prosper and the following year, there were 30 members with a mere 61¢ in the treasury.

Members' dues were still delinquent. Trustees voted 4-3 on January 29, 1898, to make the library free, if funds could be raised to support it. In April, they voted to have a charter drawn and on May 21, 1898, the Basking Ridge Free Public Circulating Library was organized. This was according to an act passed by the New Jersey Legislature on April 8, 1884, which provided for the establishment of free public circulating libraries.

1898 -- The Founding Year

Subscribers sworn before Judge Atwood L. DeCoster, Master in Chancery of New Jersey were: Dr. Rankin, Phebe Conklin, Samuel S. Childs, George Greulock, Elizabeth Henry, S. Ella DeCoster, Parmenas C. Henry and Mary B. Barkalow. The person who would be in charge was Miss Barkalow. She and her sister, Elizabeth, were appointed librarians at a salary of $1 per week each. Operation of the Basking Ridge Free Public Circulating Library began on June 1, 1898, with the remaining volumes of the original library company absorbed into stock. The present library's archives acknowledge 1898 as the true founding year.

The objective of the library was to provide free reading to the people of the village of Basking Ridge and vicinity by the establishment of a library, which should be open to the public, free of charge. (Judge DeCoster, who executed the charter, submitted his bill of $14: $10 for certificate of incorporation, $2 for recording fee and $2 for copy to the Secretary of State). Original officers were: Phebe Conklin, president; S. Ella DeCoster, first vice president; N. Morris Culberson, second vice president; Elizabeth Henry, secretary; Dr. John Rankin, treasurer.

Membership fees were: Associate, $2; Fellow, $5; Patron, $10; Life, donation to the Association of money, property or books to the value of $100 or by vote of trustees; Founder, donation to the Association of money, property or books to the value of $300 or by vote of trustees. The Association was governed by 18 trustees, who had the power to fill vacancies on their own for unexpired terms. The annual meeting of members was the second Tuesday in May, with the trustees meeting every second Tuesday of May, August, November and February or whenever necessary. Library and Finance, in addition to Auditing, were the two standing committees.

Duties of the Library and Finance Committee were to provide suitable accommodations for the safe keeping of books and other properties of the Association; to engage librarians and instruct them in their duties; to select and purchase books and other reading materials, to prepare catalogues, purchase stationery, arrange reports; to attend to payment of insurance and rent; to obtain funds for carrying out the object of the Association and to attend to all details pertaining to the library that might arise from time to time.

The first annual report of 1898 listed 139 book donors, with contributions totaling $67. The constitution of the Public Library Association was adopted in 1898.* Expenditures were $242.48 and

*Note: Revised in 1898, 1941, 1958, 1964 and amended in 1960, 1966, 1968 twice and 1971.

receipts, $277.30. The 1898 membership of less than 50 had grown to nearly 300 in a year, with 4,000 books circulated, the highest monthly average being 400. Of 262 new books added, almost half were donated. The librarians' salaries were posted at $104 for the year.

Member categories were: FOUNDER, Samuel S. Childs; PATRONS, Childs and his brother, William Childs, Mrs. A.W. Dennett, S. Conklin, Charles Roberts, Mrs. F. Nishwitz; LIFE, Frank Conklin, Samuel E. DeCoster; FELLOWS, Mr. and Mrs. Luther Childs, Mrs. S. Conklin, Phebe Conklin, N.M. Culberson, J.C. Culberson, S. Ella DeCoster, Joe Faulkner, George Greulock, P.C. Henry, William Van Dorn; ASSOCIATE, J.J. Allen, Mrs. A.C. Bockhoven, N. Bowers, Mrs. L.H. Bowers, Mr. and Mrs. Heman Childs, Henry Tobelman, Elizabeth Henry, Dr. F.C. Jones, Rachel Moore, Dr. Rankin, Dr. H.G. Whitnall, D. Van Liew.

In 1898 many of these trustees took turns serving as librarian until Miss Barkalow began work. To help pay the rent and buy books, a small monthly fee was charged for the use of the books.

The Library's Third Home

It was during this time that the library was moved next door to the Barkalows', an old house at 23 Main Street (South Finley Avenue), owned by Samuel S. Childs, site of the present Ridge Restaurant. This was the library's third home. Mr. Childs remodeled the building for use as a library, making a room with a small stage for community use and later adding two steel bowling alleys in the basement. He presented the Basking Ridge Free Circulating Library with two sets of pins and three balls for the alley, feeling that money could augment the thin coffers of the treasury. The alleys became a large part of the library's operation. Mr. Childs continued to supply the bowling pins and balls when necessary, and underwrote alley maintenance. Bowling alley fees were very welcome throughout these years. Entries in ledgers cite $82.02, $48.00, $36.80, $70.95 and $64.55.

When the library opened at its new address, books totaled 500. Franklin Conklin donated 75 new books. A clock and table were bought for the reading room. Within three months, there were 205 borrowers. Circulars had been distributed throughout the village promoting the library and its new location. Within a year, the trustees voted to continue as a free library.

New catalogs were issued at 10¢ each. At the start of 1900 volumes totaled 836 in cloth and 70 in paper. There was an oyster supper, concert, plate and spoon social, ice cream social and door-to-door canvas to raise funds. Later, a shredded wheat demonstration was held to benefit the library. Annual dues from members, donations, other entertainment and fines, supplemented the income.

In the first catalog of the Basking Ridge Free Circulating Library in 1900, more than 1,000 books were listed, three written by Horatio Alger, Jr. and 18 by William Shakespeare. Twelve years later, there were 36 books each by the same authors.

By 1903, there were 2,643 books owned. Basking Ridge residents continued to contribute books. In addition, the Bernardsville Library donated 57 that year, and there were others from the Women's Christian Temperance Union. Prominent residents contributed additional services, such as Dr. William Pennington, who repaired 125 books. Merchant P.C. Henry and school principal Willett Neer varnished chairs and woodwork. Samuel Childs, then a New Jersey State Senator, continued as benefactor extraordinaire. Childs was a partner with his brother, William, in the successful nationwide Childs Restaurant chain. (Samuel S. Childs and his wife, Emma Alward Childs, lived on their estate, Shannon Lodge, on Old Army Road, Bernardsville. This is the site of the Fellowship Deaconry Nursing Home. William Childs and his wife, Victoria, resided at Willmere Court, off Old Army Road in Basking Ridge.)

At a social in his home, February 3, 1903, William Childs suggested circulars be printed to send to people telling about the library, that it was free and how it was supported. He felt newcomers should be approached as new subscribers.

The salaries of each of the Misses Barkalow were increased around 1903 to $1.75 per week.

An historical talk, "Catherine Di Medici and the Astrologer," was given by Miss Mary A. Jacobs of New York City in 1904. The location was described in newspaper accounts as Library Hall. Could this have been the small stage area envisioned by Mr. Childs?

In 1906, 1,000 souvenir scenic postcards of Basking Ridge were ordered by Mary Barkalow and sold at Mr. Henry's store and in the library. These cards, printed in Germany, were very popular and contributed greatly to fund raising. In the first year, sales totaled $25. They are very collectable items today.

Trustees voted to place a box in the library room for contributions to defray expenses and also decided to send cards to those interested in the library, requesting a donation of $9 for the purchase of new books. This latter action was a new plan of personal subscription, rather than the revenue obtained from entertainment and bowling alley fees. With these contributions, the library was redecorated in 1906, with more bookcases added.

A strong friendship had developed between Mrs. Samuel Childs and the Barkalow sisters who in 1905 began construction of three new houses on the lots situated at the rear of the library.

In 1905 Mrs. Christopher Barkalow, mother of the librarians, died at age 88. Elizabeth Barkalow became bookkeeper in P.C. Henry's store and in 1908 was assistant postmaster in town. Therefore, whenever Mary Barkalow was unavailable to work in the library, i.e., vacation or other business, the library was closed. However, an item in the Basking Ridge notes of the Newark Evening News, June 16, 1909 states: "Miss Emma Collins will take charge of the Basking Ridge Free Library during the temporary absence of the librarian, Miss Mary Barkalow." (Miss Barkalow took several weeks vacation at Shelter Island Heights, New York.)

A life membership was offered to Mrs. Job L. Haas (nee Elizabeth Henry) a founding trustee, and teacher for 20 years in the public school, upon her removal to California in August, 1908.

Newspaper clippings in the scrapbooks of Dr. Pennington reveal the fund raising activities during the first decade of the library's operation. Some events, under the direction of the library's entertainment committee included: cake and bread sales, plays, comedies, a pound social (admission was a pound of something saleable), an operetta and instrumental music evening, given by the Mozart Club. Summer lawn sociables were given with readings of Tennyson and Longfellow at the home of Mr. and Mrs. Ludwig Sutro. Chinese lanterns provided lighting for the evening. A stagecoach, hired at $2.50 for the night, would leave the Bernardsville station at 7 P.M. for Basking Ridge, and later return the guests. (Augustus Oliver was engaged as driver.) Other presentations were: a concert by the Rutgers College Glee Club; a play by the Physical Culture Class of Jessie Lyons, with tea served; concerts by the Choral Society, under the direction of Professor T. Williams Pearman; music and literary program by the Farewell Society; and an evening of entertainment with an elocutionist and vocalist.

The clippings further reveal that the library was the center of community life. There were so many organizations which met there in the early part of the 20th Century -- and for very important matters. The Fire Company convened in 1909 to discuss ways of procuring a new fire house. A mass meeting was held in 1907 to discuss Basking Ridge and Bernardsville applications to become separate boroughs. The Board of Health met in 1909 for a second reading of the new sanitary code of Bernards Township. Other groups using the building included: the Village Improvement Society; Physical Culture Class; Shakespeare Club; Choral Society; Botany Classes (only in summer); Field Hockey meetings; Board of Education; and St. Mark's Church, which held a Valentine social featuring stereopticon views of Italy. Clubs were granted use of the library rooms for a fee of $1 per evening with a 10 P.M. curfew.