“The West Chester Library Association have so far completed their work of providing a suitable building for the use and preservation of the library, that on Tuesday evening, February 7th , the dedication exercises were held. The weather was very unfavorable. The pavements were slippery and at 7:30 o’clock in the evening when the audience were assembling a drizzling rain was prevailing, but nevertheless the building was crowded to its utmost capacity. The lower room was used for the dedication services, and the upper room in the charge of a committee of ladies was made ready for the social event of the evening which followed.”
West Chester Public Library 1888, photo by C.E> Bradford
So begins the lengthy article (almost 40 column inches) in a February 1888 edition of the Daily Local News describing, in full, the dedication of the West Chester Public Library. The reporter is unknown, but he included almost every word spoken that evening: a speech by Lincoln L. Eyre, Esq. of Philadelphia and a lengthy poem by Sarah W. Peterson, recited by James Monaghan, Esq. of West Chester. Sentiments in both speech and poem reflect the times which saw public libraries as repositories of good literature that could help shape readers into moral, cultured and enlightened citizens of the republic.
Mr. Monaghan also spoke, noting that “good books are a blessing and bad books are a curse,” and going on to state that, “I never read three books of fiction in my life and never will. I hope that class of reading will be kept out of this library and especially the red-pepper literature.” One has the feeling that he’d be dismally disappointed in our reading habits today and exactly what Mr. Monaghan meant by “red-pepper literature” is not clear at the moment. However, one can guess, and suspects that H. Rider Haggard’s Allen Quatermain novels, purchased in the early 1900’s, would not have been acceptable reading materials per the good lawyer.
Also mentioned was the “Bayard Taylor Memorial Window” which “had been ordered without expense to the library.” That “window” was actually five stained-glass windows placed at the front of the main floor of the library building. The windows were put in place shortly after the February dedication and still grace the main floor today.
The reporter then went on to describe the social event held in the “upper room,” now the Children’s Department. On display were photographs of the new library building taken by Charles Bradford, and interestingly, “photographs of the Electric Light Works as they looked the morning after the explosion.” One wonders what happened! There was a “flower table” with “button-hole bouquets” for sale; small calendars with the library building pictured on them “sold rapidly.” Refreshments were available and a “fancy table,” where such things as “scent bags” were sold for the benefit of the library.
The library formally opened its doors to the public in April of 1888. Patrons could read books in the library, or if they had purchased a certificate for $5 per year they could borrow books to read at home. The library did not become a free public library until 1906.