Library History

The Beginning

The Montgomery Library was initially begun as the result of a motion from the Parent-Teachers Association of Montgomery High School on November 10, 1911, to start a Free Public Library.  It was first housed at the high school itself with a collection of used books from local citizens.  Realizing they needed to raise some funds, a special film was shown on December 8, 1911, at eh Decker Opera House, netting $23.40.

It was a humble beginning.  The board hired the first librarian, Mrs. J. L. Shuler, to work three hours per week that the library was open.  Desiring to add new books, however, would require more funds.  Five devoted women volunteers canvassed the town door to door.  The effort brought in $127.55, which enabled the library to make its first purchase of 110 books.

From 1911 and on into the 1920’s, the library continued to expand by drawing on the good-will in the community.  The local churches donated many of their books which were used in their Sunday School programs.  One area businessman donated a set of Encyclopedia Britannica.  By 1918, the volume of traffic in the library increased to the extent that the hours needed to be extended and the board realized it needed to raise the salary of the librarian – to one dollar a week!

In January of 1926, the library moved into the former First National Bank building on Main Street, where it would remain for the next six decades.  During this time, the library continued to add to its inventory.  In an age before entertainment like radio and television, the library served a critical function for amusement and recreation for the citizens of the borough and surrounding townships.

Likewise, today the Montgomery Area Public Library not only offers patrons a wide variety of literature, magazines and DVDs, it also provides free computer access and serves as a convenient location for local organizations to meet.  The librarians have been asked to proctor for special examinations, and it is not uncommon to see private tutoring being conducted.

A Lasting Legacy

This community involvement is also evident in the practice of compiling signatures for commemorative books that were signed by local patrons during the 35th anniversary of the Montgomery Borough, in 1923, and again in its 75th anniversary in 1963.  These books are also currently on display, showing and interesting reflection on the changing demographics of the community.  Again, in keeping with the heritage of the past century, the board initiated a project known as the Centennial Book.  All visitors to the Montgomery Area Public Library are encouraged to sign the book, marking their participation in this landmark year.

In 1986, the First National Bank moved and the public library was again fortunate enough to acquire their building at the corner of Main Street and Houston Avenue.  The Library moved into its new home.  In 2005, major renovations and improvements were conducted.  Today, visitors to the Montgomery Area Public Library are often surprised to walk into the entrance and see a huge vault in the rear of the main foyer.  The Vault holds four computers as well as the reference section, and also provides and ideal quiet environment for research.

As of 2010, the library had 15,246 cataloged items (books, DVD’s, tapes, etc.), yet in the same year the volume of materials checked out of 31,997.  The current librarian, Susan Thomas, stated that in her fifteen years of tenure, the library has seen an increase in circulation every year.  In the past four years alone, the library has seen a twenty-six percent increase in circulation.

In Celebration

The Montgomery Area Public Library recently conducted a contest for a logo to mark the centennial.  The art department of the Montgomery Area High School, under the direction of Chris Ulrich, resulted in nearly forty entries.  Library patrons were given a month to vote for their favorite, and the winners were Casey Smith for the logo and Emily Ghergehel for the letterhead.  These students were recognized for their achievement on Wednesday, April 13th, at a ceremony held at the library.

The Montgomery Area Public Library will continue to hold various anniversary activities throughout the year, capping off its celebration with a grand banquet to be held at the Genetti Hotel on Friday, November 18, 2011.  The guest speaker will be Professor Dennis P. McIlnay, author of The Horseshoe Curve: Sabotage and Subversion in the Railroad City.  An auction will also be held during the venue, featuring autographed books by such authors as Janet Evanovich, Robin Cook, Douglas Preston, Lincoln Child, Linda Fairstein, Rosemary Wells, Dean Koontz, Wanda Brunstetter, Catherine Coulter, Patrick F. McManus, and many more.

Two libraries were founded one hundred years ago – one in the leading city in the nation and another in a small hamlet along the Susquehanna River in Pennsylvania.  Both the major cities and the small communities have found that the community library serves an invaluable function in spite of current financial challenges.  Visit your local library and offer your support.

Local History

Stories about Montgomery

Residents of White Deer Valley Oppose Munitions Plant
“Montgomery Mirror”
February 19, 1942
Petition Bearing More Than 400 Names On Its Way to the Authorities in Washington.

A petition bearing more than four hundred names opposing the construction of any munitions plant in the White Deer Valley is already on its way to authorities in Washington, according to an announcement made by White Deer Valley residents in the communication to the Federal Department in addition to the petition signed by voters of the Valley including Gregg, Washington, Brady and Clinton Townships along with several residents of Watsontown and Montgomery is a petition bearing the seal of Spring Garden Grange, No. 32 of Allenwood and Eagle Grange No. 1 of Montgomery RD. Value of the property in the area, together with the aggregate total of produce sent out of this rich farm land during the past year was included in the report and it is the hope of residents there that an early reply may be received in regards the attitude of those in charge of the “mystery”. Although is is understood an army manufacturing plant will be operated east of Pottsgrove, the project in mind for the Valley is apparently an additional undertaking as surveyors are still at work there.

A meeting protesting any action by the government to place a munitions plant here was held in the Stone Church Monday evening when the more than three hundred persons gathered discussed the reported proposal. With Carl Berger acting as general chairman and Elizabeth Jamison, secretary, committees representing the various districts concerned were appointed and made a hasty but thorough survey during the past two days as well as securing additional names on the petition. the petition as adopted read:
“We, the undersigned residents of White Deer Valley located in Lycoming and Union counties, State of Pennsylvania, do hereby petition the United States Government that in securing land for war purposes it consider the number of homes to be broken up, churches to be torn down or removed, cemeteries to be desecrated and amount of valuable farm land to be ruined or otherwise made of no value for crops, were White Deer Valley selected. We, therefore, beg that we be left in possession of our homes and that another site less populous and progressive and less farm value be chosen”

Persons making a survey included: John Dietrick, Lemuel Pauling and Brady Russell of Washington Township; William Bastian, Robert Farley and Norman Waltman of Brady Township; Ross Jarrett, Merle Page and Clyde Tallman of Clinton Township; and Carl Berger, Walter Meek and Harry Jamison for Gregg Township. These men were assisted by several others from the valley while too, R. G. Armstrong of town and Dr. Amos Persing, Jr. and Fred Rombach of Watsontown were appointed to assist in any way as representatives of the communities.

This is taken from the booklet, How Did Montgomery Get Its Name?, compiled by Rev. Adam P. Bingaman:

…The Montgomery family and other families were getting along well until July 28th, 1779, when the British, numbering 100 men under the command of Capt. John McDonald, with the support of 200 Indians under the command of Hiokoto, a Seneca chief, attacked and burned down Fort Freeland on the Warrior Run Creek, about four miles from the Montgomery homestead (Bishop Farm). The capture and massacre of Fort Freeland, which was located near the present site of the Warrior Run Church, is another story, interesting indeed. However, time does not permit to consider it at this point. John Montgomery, hearing gunfire, on the day of the massacre, sent one of his sons on horseback across the fields to a hilltop, to get a view of what was happening. When the son reported what was happening, Mr. Montgomery warned his neighbors, and they quickly made their escape to the general area of what is now Harrisburg. There he rented and lived on the farm of John Harris, founder of Harrisburg, until 1783, when peace with Great Britain was declared. He then returned to his homestead, only to find that the Indians had burned down all of his buildings, and that one Captain William Rice and his 40 German soldiers, sent by British to our frontiers in the fall of 1779, had built a nice two-story limestone fort over the spring. Making some alterations the Montgomery family lived in it as a dwelling. Incidentally, the Fort is still standing. The name of the Fort has been much disputed. For some years after the Revolution it was known as Fort Montgomery. It is presently known as Fort Rice, named after the Captain who was responsible for its erection… (to read the entire story of how Montgomery got its name, come to the library and ask the librarian to show you this booklet.)

The Best Small Town on the Susquehanna

March 21, 1887, Montgomery borough was incorporated by an order of the court of Lycoming county, the corporation still lives, but those active in its formation have joined their fathers.

It was new in every sense of the word. Not one of the men active in its organization had any experience in government. the newly elected borough officers were like men groping in the dark. There was no precedents to guide them. Every step had to be felt out carefully and information from surrounding towns gathered in order that no mistakes might be made. The various departments met to do business wherever it was most convenient.

The Borough council held its first sessions in the rear of D. F. Loves’ hardware store. Nail kegs were used for seats and the lap of the secretary was used for a desk to write minutes of the proceedings.

There were two general stores in the new town, Henderson and Son’s and Houston and Co. One church, the Presbyterian, one school house, located at the southwest corner of the present Houston Avenue and Bower Street.

Two industrial establishments, Houston’s shop and the planing mill of Henderson Hull and Co., on the site of the present post office.

There was no sidewalks anywhere, nor any paved streets. An old brown building stood on the west side of Main Street, about where the A&P Store is now located and this was the only building on that side of the street, between Henderson and Sons store at the railroad and Houston and Co.’s store, corner of Main Street and Houston Avenue.

East Houston Avenue was a field used for farming purposes, as was Broad Street east of Charles’s Shrey’s. Wagner Avenue and its row of homes on each side was used for farming purposes as was Kinsey Street, Melvina and Louisa Streets.

Montgomery: Miss Mina Fowler Relates Story of By-gone Years

It can be said of Montgomery as of Rome, that “it was not built in a day”. Some ninety odd years have passed since its beginning when the first house was built by Henry Bower (known as the Lydia Bower home). Charles Saeger and John Lawson soon added to this beginning and by the early seventies (1870’s) twenty-seven families had thought well enough of the location to invest in home-building. At this time also, a hotel and general store had been opened and four industries located here, Barber & Henderson PLaning Mill, H.P. Smith Machine Shop, Benjamin Hess tannery and George Heller plaster, sawmill and bark plant. The two former, in addition to local employees brought a number in from out of the State. These were taken care of at the five boarding houses established within the town limits, the oldest of these being that of Mrs. Debbie Yoder, located on Main Street.

Two railroads then served the town as new. The Sunbury & Erie, now the Pennsylvania Railroad, was put through in 1852-4 and the Catawissa Railroad, later merged with the Philadelphia & Reading, was completed in 1873, a Mr. Malone having the contract for the work on the local section. Contracts for grading, etc. for the Sunbury & Erie, were let to Fletcher McMurray and Robert Ciane. Material for building of the P. & R. depot was first deposited above the crossing at the E.B. Fowler farm and framing of the building done there.

Benjamin Bear, one of the oldest residents of the upper valley expressed the wish that he might be the first train passenger. His wish was granted and he was privileged to enjoy many more years of life and watch its progress and usefulness. No everyone, however, shared his kindly anticipation in the coming of the railroad.

A gentleman who had been traveling to some extent after visiting here, passed on to Williamsport and being pleased with the quiet, social air of refinement which pervaded the place, remained for some time. In conversation one day with another gentleman, he remarked, “Oh, you don’t know how sorry I am that you people are going to have a railroad.” His hearer replied, “Why it will certainly be a great advantage to us in every way.” “I fear not,” said the former. “It will be just the reverse. You are now a quiet, contented, peaceful and happy people with a delightful society where everybody knows everybody else; moral and well behaved and in the enjoyment of everything you need for your comfort and occupying a valley which fairly rivals the ‘Happy Valley of Resselas’.

Now you are going to have a railroad, the whistle of engines and the smoke of furnaces to darken your skies and vex you. And then, as if to cap the climax he added, “You will be overrun with thieves and scoundrels and crime will increase and poverty abound and these, and a thousand other evils will more than balance any benefit the railroad can possibly be to you.” Not all men are sound in the matter of prophecy as events have proven.

The first Pennsylvania depot was a long ambling structure on the south side of railroad at Main Street and built of rough boards such as are used for barns and painted a dull red. This housed the railroad offices, ticket, express freight and coal. A tin shop, shoe shop or other business was invariably carried in the Main Street end. Both this and a second depot on north side of tracks were destroyed by fire. On the vacant lot adjacent to the building huckleberries grew in abundance and furnished many a tasty dessert for hotel guests.

Many fatal accidents have occurred throughout the years on the two railroads aggregating perhaps a half hundred. Not a few no doubt were occasioned by carelessness on the part of victims.

One particularly tragic death on railroad property was that of Levi Houston’s five year old, only son, who in company with his nurse, Frances Borden, was crossing the culvert when he stopped to look down at the water. Losing his balance, he fell to the creek below and was drowned.

The first general store faced the railroad at Main Street and here one could purchase anything from delaines (don’t know if this is a word, looked it up in dictionary) to shoestrings, and molasses to gunpowder, excepting of course, women’s ready made clothing. John Huntingdon was the first proprietor. The second floor housed a milliner shop where makeovers accounted for a large part of the business done. This shop was managed by William Hartzell.

A town hall was erected on Broad Street by Barber and Henderson. This first story was used for a Select School, which had originally been housed in the dwelling of Phineas M. Barber at the east end of the town. When the school was moved to Broad Street on account of lack of accommodations, practically all families who could afford the expense, sent one or more pupils. The cost was $40 per annum and faculty members were recruited from Philadelphia and elsewhere. These, with others were housed in the McLaughlin dwelling at 2nd and Broad Streets. Between this and the Hall, a long bridge was constructed with plank floors to span a creek below and afford a short route for both foot passengers and vehicles. When it had served its time, like the “One Hoss Shay”, it fell and was no more.

The Town Hall was utilized for many more purposes than the Select School. Lodge rooms occupied the second floor and the basement accommodated at times a restaurant, store or butcher shop. As there were not churches erected until 1873, it was also used for Sunday School and church sessions. Rev. Phineas M. Barber being the minister. In later years it was found necessary to hold public school sessions in it.

Pedagogues are not always remembered kindly by students, but Montgomery had one such, who for his kindly speech and gentle manner was said to have been beloved by all who studied under him. Some years after leaving here, he was totally deprived of his sight and remained in that condition for a long period, residing at the home of his daughter, he was suddenly aware that his sight had been fully restored, a blessing which continued to the end of his life.

Amusements, either with local or imported talent, were few and not of a type to impress one overmuch. They consisted of Indian Minstrel and Mesmerist shows. Between acts, medicines were sold with a cure-all guarantee and many a good silver dollar changed hands. Persons who wished to part with over-sensitive teeth were given ample opportunity. The operation was desired chiefly by women. Some were calm while others gave vent to screams, these being largely drowned by the shouts and laughter of the assembled crowd.