History of The New Martinsville Library
It is known history records the first library was constructed seven centuries before the birth of Christ. It was located in modern day Iraq. The ancient library was the site of 30,000 cuneiform writings. The stone tablets were arranged according to information on many different subjects. Back then as today, information was collected and housed in one central location. The idea was for it to be accessible at that time and into the distant future. All that we know of the ancient philosophers, commerce, science and religion was recorded in the old world libraries.
The history of the New Martinsville Library begins in 1946. Ronald Hassig laid down the foundation for the first city library. He presented an ordinance to city council for its formation. That first library was established with the support of the Women’s Civic League. The organizing of the library begin with the guidance of a five member commission. Its charter was signed by Mrs. Bert Herbert, T.W. Heiskel, Miss Ethel Rothlisberger, C.D. Snodgrass and Mrs. C. E. Wolf.
That first library was located on North Street in the Bridgeman building. Its location was next to the old Central Grade School. The single room cost $20 a month rent for the new library. To oversee the new collection of books, a paid employee, Mrs. Robert Thomas was hired. She began organizing the collection of 162 books. At first, the board inquired as to the cost of metal shelving for the books. It was learned each would have a cost of $34 a section. That cost would have exhausted the first month’s budget pretty quickly. Fortunately, a local carpenter agreed to build them for $13 a section from raw wood. A single room, an employee, books and shelving were the beginning of the small library. The new board wanting to stay within the budget could not justified the purchase of chairs at the beginning. None of this could have been possible without an allotment of $75 a month from the city council. On November 16, 1946 the door of the library opened to the community bringing the dream of a city library true. Before long, the library could boast 190 patrons.
Over the next three years, the library quickly grew. By 1948, it was realized a single room could no longer hold the collection of books and magazines. About a block away on the corner of North and Maple Avenue, a two story building was chosen for the growing library. In January of 1949, the new location was opened.
During the following years with guidance from the board and library management, it grew into a first class operation. But with insight to the future, the board understood someday the library would need to once again expand. Two decades after it began, the library had a patron base of nearly 8000. On the shelves the growing library now had books and periodicals numbering over 6000. Once again the board looked to the future.
The board set forth to design plans for a new building. They wanted a building that could contain as many as 40,000 books. They also wanted a special section for children. In another section, they wanted periodicals, historical and cultural materials to be available for viewing. They also saw the need to have a meeting room for the public along with a small kitchen. After much consideration for the building to meet 1977 needs, they wanted to be sure it would be able to grow into the future. Final design called for a modern stylistic building that contained over 8000 square feet of usable space.
With ideas for the new library formulated, construction of the Hannibal Dam and locks helped to provide a location. Soil from the river project was being used to elevate a location alongside Washington Avenue. The mounded soil at that location would meet required flood elevation guidelines for the building. With the plans complete along with funding and location, construction began in 1976. The following year in August of 1977, Senator Jennings Randolph spoke at the library’s dedication. The project had an estimated cost of over a half million dollars. It is important to note, that although the financing was through the state and federal government, much of the money was raised through fund drives and pledges from local businesses, industries and the community. Since its beginnings in 1946, the library owes its existence to the support of the Women’s Civic League, Friends of the Library and the city of New Martinsville. Just as important are those who use the library routinely and support it. They are the foundation on which the library has continued to grow.
With the opening of the new library in 1977, a journey that began in 1946 was completed. Our new library quickly became a center of learning for schools, colleges and churches. Along with its collection of fiction and non-fiction, the library is the gateway for research into the community’s history along with genealogical studies.
Next week, May 3rd through the 8th, the New Martinsville library will celebrate 75 years with an open house. Due to the restrictions during this time of Covid-19, the events will be limited to displays of photographs from the past, along with individual wrapped cupcakes and cookies. Debbie Mason, Library Director, along with staff and the library board invites the public to share this important time in the library’s history, as they take a moment to remember Through the Lens.