The day of the library

Everyone knows it – The Ross Library is one of the best sources of local history in Clinton County. We have a whole room dedicated to it – the Pennsylvania Room, which is within sight of my desk as I write this. Anyone who wants to learn about the county’s history is welcome to come in and look at our archives. We have books, files, old documents, and newspapers that go back to 1815.

And the driving force behind this, in the old days, was largely Isabel Welch.

Isabel was born in Lock Haven on September 19, 1914. She grew up to become head librarian at the Ross Library, taking over when Mary Elizabeth Crocker died in 1942. Isabel was the longest lasting head librarian the Ross Library has ever had, serving for 42 years until she retired in 1984.

It was Isabel who foresaw the need for some sort of historical archive, planning the collection of local history books and newspapers that later grew into the Pennsylvania Room. There is a portrait of her hanging inside the hallway to the room, a dignified, pleasant-looking woman.

It was 70 years ago when the whole thing more or less opened, three years into Isabel’s term. The open house was held on the 35th anniversary of the library’s opening, on November 29, 1945. World War II was recently over, and the Ross Library was thriving, as reported in a newspaper story the next day.

“This library represents the crystallized generosity of the public-spirited citizens of Lock Haven,” said Senator George Stevenson at the event, because politicians are always dying for a chance to use phrases like “crystallized generosity.”

Visitors were invited into the library, which in 1945 was mostly the old section of the building, where my desk is. They walked into a dark room, not because it was precisely planned that way, but because a fuse had been blown somewhere, which shows that event planning hasn’t gotten a whole lot luckier in the past 70 years. Welch, board treasurer Ed Hecht, assistant librarian Eleanor Eckert, children’s librarian Frieda Grubb, and secretary Carolyn Diack worked around the problem, though, setting a fire in the fireplace and lighting candles on the refreshment table, probably in violation of several city ordinances. The power company managed to repair the damage before too many of the guests arrived.

Ed Hecht was the treasurer, and the only remaining member of the board from 1910, when the library had first opened on Thanksgiving Day. He was honored, and said,”I’ve always loved books and the library, so my work was easy.” He then went on to give several examples from the early days, typically for the average board treasurer, when money was hard to come by and his work wasn’t so easy. This hasn’t changed a whole lot, either; checks can be made payable to the Ross Library.

A bookcase donated by L.L. Raff was unveiled, displaying a collection of seashells donated by J.E. Quigley. We probably still have the bookcase around somewhere, and I’m certain we have the shells. I had them on display at the front desk all summer.

Mayor Edgar Heffner, the oldest mayor of Lock Haven when he was elected, gave a speech in which he promised continued support of the library from the city. Board Vice President N.L. Bartges noted that the county commissioners were good for $2,000 annually, as well.

Visitors were given a tour of the upstairs where artifacts were on display, and the downstairs, which had recently become the historic Pennsylvania Room. Isabel showed the archives off, and Stevenson noted, “We have always been fortunate in this library in having a capable librarian in charge.”

Seventy years ago was the grand opening of the Pennsylvania Room, and the 35th anniversary of the library. This year, it’s been 105 years since we first opened. Stop on by and share the memories with us.

Lou Bernard is a Lock Haven resident with a keen interest in the history of this area. He is adult services coordinator at Ross Library and may be reached at ross13@rosslibrary.org or 570-748-3321.