Tredyffrin Easttown Historical Society
History Quarterly Digital Archives

Source: October 1967 Volume 14 Number 4, Pages 72–75

The Paoli Library

H. James Weller

Page 72

Many of us remember when libraries were frequently called The Carnegie Library. This was due to the fact that Andrew Carnegie personally, and later the Carnegie Foundation, gave fifty-six million dollars to build 2,509 public libraries. Andrew Carnegie's interest in libraries was a very personal one. He was a "self-made man" whose formal schooling ended when he was only twelve years old, but that was not the end of his desire for knowledge. In his autobiography he puts great stress on the opportunity he was given as a boy to use the private library of Colonel James Anderson in Allegheny. "It was from my early experience," he wrote, "that I decided that there was no use to which money could be applied so productive of good to boys and girls who have good within them and ability and ambition to develop it, as the founding of a public library in the community which is willing to support it as a municipal institution." The Paoli Library is a good example of this.

The building in which the library is now housed was originally built to serve as a chapel for the First Presbyterian Church of Paoli. The ground was purchased for $500.00, and in 1892 the building was built by Ottmer Palmer for the sum of $715.00.

By 1907 the quarters were too small, so the Church sold it to a corporation, namely the Paoli Town Association, the members of which were prominent business and professional men, residing in Paoli. Quoting from the Charter, "The Corporation was formed for the purpose of maintaining a society for the improvement of the streets and public places in the town of Paoli, in the townships of Tredyffrin, Easttown, and Willistown, in the County of Chester."

During the period that the Town Association owned the property it was known as the "Town Hall." For a few years the building was used as a private school conducted by Miss Julia Bronson.

In 1910 the Paoli Library was started and operated by a committee of members of the Paoli Town Association with William Shippen Roney, a Philadelphia attorney (who lived on Darby Road, Paoli) as chairman.

Page 73

Starting with about 1000 books contributed by friends and the Mercantile Library of Philadelphia (of which Mr. Roney's brother was a director) and with the help of his wife, his ward Miss C. L. Blackburn, and Mrs. N. K. Lisle, he used a corner of the Town Hall. For safe keeping, the books were kept on shelves covered with poultry wire. At first Mr. Roney took charge during the evenings and Miss Blackburn and other volunteers were on hand in the afternoons, but progress was slow as the helpers often forgot to attend to their duties. After sufficient books were acquired to be of aid to students, Mrs. George Paschall, the former Miss Florence Greenwood, was asked to serve as librarian.

During the winter of 1912, to help arouse interest in the Library, a series of entertainments were given, including living tableaus with Mr. Roney serving as the reader. One of the tableaus was "The Pied Piper of Hamlin." There were so many children taking part following the Piper that there was hardly room for the audience. About 1918 the Paoli Public School on South Valley Road (now Farra Apartments) became so crowded that some grades were moved into the Town Hall.

After the first World War the Town Association became inactive, and the members of the newly formed Dalton-Wanzel Legion Post took over the civic affairs. At this time the Paoli Library Association was formed and a charter was granted on June 3, 1920 (the Library still operates under that charter). They bought the property known as the "Town Hall" on September 27, 1920. Many of the members of the Paoli Town Association turned over their shares to the Paoli Library Association so that only $1500 was needed to complete the sale. At that time alterations and additions were made; a pipeless heater was installed at a cost of $247.75, three tables were purchased at $13.50 each (still in use), and a new front door costing $25.00 was hung. Forty-eight dollars was spent on calcimining the interior walls and also the interior and exterior woodwork was painted.

Acquiring sectional cases to house them, the Library now had about 1800 books, and as there was no book fund the Library was entirely dependent on friends who gave generously. Among them was Mrs. A. B. Coxe who gave most generously of financial aid and also books for students.

Page 74

A quotation from the first Librarian, Mrs. Florence G. Paschall, written in 1944, says "One year there was a fire in a nearby barn. The Paoli Fire Company had not been able to get new equipment and the Berwyn Fire Company saved the library. Someone, thinking that the library would burn down, began to carry books out; others began to help and in a short time they were reposing peacefully under Dr. Baugh's hedge. When the Librarian came to put things in order she found the books all nicely displayed in the middle of the floor and, I am glad to say, not a book missing."

Until 1956, the Library operated as a free library supported by contributions from organizations and friends who resided in Tredyffrin, Willistown, and Easttown Townships in Chester County. At that time the Board decided to borrow $3500.00 to renovate the Library inside and out. The renovation was done largely by volunteer help. Also, the first trained librarian that the Library ever had (Miss Lois Reed, Retired Librarian of Bryn Mawr College) was hired to recatalogue the Library. In order to pay off this debt and to have sufficient funds to operate with a professional Librarian, memberships were instituted for the borrowing of books, a Family Membership costing $3, an Adult Membership $2, and a Junior Membership (to 14 years old) $1 per year. However, the Library is free to all for reading and study whether a member or not. Some financial aid was received from Tredyffrin and Willistown Townships for about 5 years. Tredyffrin Township did not want to continue contributing unless it could take over the entire ownership and control of the Library. The Library Board did not think this advisable, so today the Library receives some financial aid from the School Board and is otherwise supported by gifts and memberships.

During the month of October, 1960, the Paoli Library celebrated its 50th Anniversary. The week of October 9th was open-house week. From a news item at this time "A portrait of General Pasquale Paoli was presented to the Library by the Rev. J. Jarden Guenther and Mrs. Guenther. There are probably few copies of this picture, pointed by James Boswell, and printed 1769 in England." It was the property of Mrs. Guenther's father, Judge George Henderson, who was a staunch supporter of the Library in its early years. The Guenthers also presented the Library with a map of the "British Camp at Trudruffin (sic) from the 18th to 21st of September, 1777, with the attack made by Major General Grey against the rebels near White Horse Tavern, on the 20th of September, drawn by an officer on the spot." It was engraved and published by W. Faden, Charing Cross, July 1st, 1778.

Page 75

In a Fourth of July celebration, 1966, the Library was honored by being chosen as the place to receive and exhibit two more very special relics of General Pasquale de Paoli, namely a bust of the General and a sword owned by him. The occasion of receiving these items is of unusual interest. The town of Paoli had the honor of receiving a visitor, Paul Ferrani, Mayor of Morosaglia, Corsica, where General Paoli was born. He came to present these two fine relics as a gift from his town to the town of Paoli. Mayor Ferrani made a speech on this occasion from which I quote. "Citizens of Paoli, permit me to feel profoundly moved, and proud, that the honor falls on me to represent, on this American soil, on such a great day, in your town, this little French island, which lives in the shadow of its illustrious children, Christopher Columbus, Napoleon, Paoli.

This great country whose spiritual empire budded in this region, around you, Paoli, whom we judge worthy, more than any others, to receive these precious relics (bust and sword of General Paoli) that I have the honor to entrust to you personally in the name of (Morosaglia) Corsica and in the name of Liberty."

Some people who are not familiar with local history think that General Paoli once lived here, even that he took part in the Revolutionary War, but this is not the case. Now at last we have had an official representative who has visited here.

At present the Paoli Library has 15,000 books on its shelves, with a circulation of 50,000 a year. It operates on an $11,000 budget. The Librarian is Mrs. George Muller, and the Library is open daily from noon until 5 p.m., and on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday evenings from 7 to 9 p.m. Another service to the community is the story hour for the children.

Information from Mrs. Robert G. Funkhouser and from the files of the Library Trustees.


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