Love of literacy, books and the written word go a long way back in Hawley, Pennsylvania, as it has in other communities large and small. While information is sketchy, there is indication that Hawley had a small community library just prior to the mid-20th century, some 20 years before the present Hawley Public Library was set up.
HAWLEY - Love of literacy, books and the written word go a long way back in Hawley, Pennsylvania, as it has in other communities large and small. While information is sketchy, there is indication that Hawley had a small community library just prior to the mid-20th century, some 20 years before the present Hawley Public Library was set up.
“I used to go in there to get my library books,” said June Ellingsen Strait, a Hawley native who is only a few months from her 98th birthday. She was asked about the early library on Church Street, which Peg Murphy mentioned she had heard about. Peg was instrumental in forming the current library, which started in a storefront coincidentally right across the street in 1961. This library of course has been resoundingly successful, with the new building on Main Avenue being built in 1966.
A chance find in The Hancock Herald newspaper (Hancock, NY) for February 27, 1936 contained the headline, “Public Library for Hawley.”
A very brief article followed: “The Hawley local school board in conjunction with the village authorities plan a public library for Hawley with a full-time librarian. Miss Harriet J. Beemer, a graduate of Pennsylvania State College, is to be in charge. The school library numbers about 1,500 volumes. Next summer Miss Beemer will take a special library course. The library will be open September 1st.”
It isn’t fully clear whether this article implies the public library was to be separate from the high school library, in its own location, or if the public would be welcome at the school library. The school was located on Academy Street.
June said that she recalls Miss Beemer as the high school librarian, but does not remember her in the small public library she would visit. She also didn’t recall who was manning the small public library.
Both June and Peg stated that this earlier public library was located in what was a small shed-like attachment to the two story brick storefront at 519 Church Street. The address of the attachment was 517 Church.
This storefront today is the home of Black Bear Conservatory. There is an alley way to the left of it where the small addition was attached.
June described it as something similar to a side porch that was enclosed.
The brick storefront was built around 1900 and contained a succession of a general store, department store and dry goods store. After the power company P.P.& L. opened Lake Wallenpaupack in 1926, this storefront became a P.P. & L. office.
In 1954 it became the Craft House, a gift shop first run by Julia Schlager Ames and husband Harold. There daughters Joan Douglass and Fanny Marshall took it over in 1969, running the shop till 1989.
Joan stated that she did not recall that the small addition housed a library. She said that Abraham M. Skier started his insurance business there (which opened in 1920). Skier moved the business to Main Avenue in 1925.
In 1948, Frank Rodgers began his insurance business in this structure. At some point between 1953 and 1961 the business moved to Honesdale where it became Rodgers-Olver-Polley Insurance (now Shelley Insurance).
Barbara Corrigan rented it from the Craft House for a shop, Joan stated.
Joan said, “We used to call it the ‘Little House.””
A picture of the Craft House from 1982 clearly shows the little addition to the left. Joan said that it was taken down after they had sold the brick storefront.
Stopped after school
June Strait said the library was in that spot “quite a while” and they had “a lot of books.” She said that they used to stop in after school and take out books. June and her family walked a couple miles to and from school; her home was (and still is) on the upper end of Spruce Street, outside of “East Hawley.”
A search of The Wayne County Citizen archives for the fall of 1936 did not reveal any more news about the library opening. Unfortunately copies of The Hawley Times for that year have not been found.
A report about Hawley Borough Council, however, was located in the November 11, 1945 edition of The Hawley Times, mentioning the library.
Almost in passing, the article states, “At a previous meeting it had been decided to move the library to the borough building. As plans were being made to make some slight alterations to accommodate the library equipment, the question arose concerning what should be done with the paper salvage that is now being stored in that particular part of the building. It appears that the salvage committee will seek a different place for the paper storage, if one can be found.”
A look for further mention in borough council meeting reports published in 1944 did not find any more mention of the library, nor did a check with the next couple months in 1945. It should be added that some of The Hawley Times’ council reports were surprisingly short.
Perhaps the public library moved to borough hall, which during that period was located in what had been a house, on Spring Street (Route 6), facing up Main Avenue. The borough hall went up in flames in October 1952. Whether it took the library as well- or did it close beforehand, is yet to be seen.
Another news brief was seen by this writer a while ago, which referred to the library being at borough hall. It listed at least some of the book titles that could be found on the shelves. This article is being sought.
As for Miss Beemer, June remembers her well as the Hawley High School librarian. “She was a nice person…,” she said. “She helped you find something, a book, what would be best. “She was very smart… very nice and helpful.”
Harriet Jane Beemer was born March 29, 1913 to Frederick and Mary Beemer. She was the youngest of five; the others were Helen. Lewis, Frederick and John. Her brother John C. Beemer worked for the Hawley Water Company and was Hawley Fire Chief from 1955 to 1968. He died, August 18, 1982, survived by his wife Mary Irene (known as Irene) and their two daughters. Irene Beemer taught math at Hawley High School.
Harriet lived at her parental home, 769 Hudson Street.
She attended Pennsylvania State College four years, graduating in 1935.
Miss Harriet Beemer started her employment at the Hawley school in 1936. The 1940 census lists her as the public school librarian; she worked 35 weeks the year before, and had no other income. Harriet was single. The 1941 Hawley directory lists her as a teacher.
Her niece, Mrs. Mary Catherine (Beemer) Higgins, who lives in the Lakeville area, said that her Aunt Harriet moved to Philadelphia where she lived the rest of her life. Harriet was employed by a publishing firm, and remained single. Mrs. Higgins said she didn’t recall when her Aunt Harriet died, but it was when she- Mary -was young. Harriet Beemer died prior to her brother John (Mary Higgins’ father), who died in 1982.
She was laid to rest at Queen of Peace cemetery in Hawley.
She stated that her Aunt Harriet always remembered her at Christmas.
Art Glantz recalls that the high school librarian in the 1940’s was Mary Ann McKelvey, and prior to her, Elsie Swingle filled that role. (Art graduated in 1947.)
Anyone with information about Harriet Beemer, as well as other school librarians or this early public library in Hawley, is asked to contact the writer.
A new chapter
It would appear that interest was building in having a solid, public library. in the early 1960’s, Peg Murphy was raising her kids at the time and was involved in the Parents Teacher Association (PTA). She and her PTA friends saw the need to start a community library, and under Peg’s leadership they saw it happen.
At the time, however, the borough council, all men, did not see a need for it, she said, but council too came around. The PTA moms rented a storefront at 520 Church Street in 1961.
Many volunteers came aboard. One of them was Irene Beemer (Harriet Beemer’s sister-in-law).