A History of Lovett Memorial Library
Author’s Note, 28 January 2014:
What follows is the history of Lovett prepared for the Centennial in 1985, with a few minor corrections and updates. Much more is known now about the Lovett family and, of course, the library’s history over the past three decades. Further corrections and updates will be posted as I am able to do so. David T. Moore.
On March 12, 1885, Reverend Simeon C. Hill of the Grace Episcopal Church, Mrs. Samuel W. (Margaret Ada) Potter, and Miss Louisa D. Lovett opened the Mount Airy Free Library with 421 books and a treasury of $11.20. The location was a rented room in the office of the Abraham Thomas Lumberyard, where 7153-55 Germantown Avenue now stands.
Mrs. Potter was remembered in the Library’s Minutes Book as “the direct means of the Library’s being established, having for several years kept a small circulating library at her home for the boys in the neighborhood, hoping to, and succeeding in, raising their standard of reading matter from ‘dime novels’ which were all that could afford for themselves.” Reverend Hill joined the effort as President. Miss Lovett was Secretary and Treasurer. Mrs. Potter was volunteer Librarian-in Chief when the new institution opened to serve the entire community.
Donations of cash, books, and magazines paid the rent and filled the shelves, with several volunteers assisting Mrs. Potter. Miss Lovett’s widowed aunt, Charlotte Lovett Bostwick, then undertook to erect a library building at Germantown Avenue and Sedgwick Street, dedicated to the memory of her brother, Thomas Robert Lovett, from whom she had inherited the land upon his death in 1875.
A Lovett Family History…
About 1865, Thomas Lovett, a bachelor, a lawyer, and a former attaché at the American Legation in Constantinople, purchased the property whose boundaries ran along the Avenue from what is now the South end of Lovett Park to what is now the north end of the Mount Airy Playground, and as far back as Chew Street. This included the “ten-acre field” on which Colonel Augustus Roumfort had drilled the militia in the 1820s, and the famous “Steamboat House,” erected by Erasmus James Pierce in the 1830s when he imported mulberry trees and silkworms to Mount Airy, and rented by the Lutheran Home in Civil War days to house orphans of Union soldiers killed in that conflict.
The Lovett family had originated in England, whence a John Lovett emigrated to New York in the early 1800’s. The Mount Airy branch came to the “Steamboat House” by way of Washington, D.C., where John’s grandson, Thomas, had purchased the Kalorama estate in the 1840’s in trust for his mother, Louisa, then married to her second husband, Charles F. Fletcher. She had four daughters and two sons by her first husband, Thomas Lovett.
Louisa Lovett Lansing’s husband, Army Captain Arthur Breese Lansing, was a veteran of the Mexican War, during which he obtained an Aztec idol which later was possessed by the library.
Of Charlotte Lovett Bostwick’s husband, we know nothing but his name: Edmund.
Thomas Robert Lovett remained a bachelor.
George Sidney Lovett married Caroline de Beelen; two of their six children were Louisa, already mentioned, and Caroline, who, after her mother’s death, became the adopted daughter and heir of Mrs. Bostwick.
Emma Lovett Breese was wife to Admiral Samuel Livingston Breese, who brought from Rhodes the two stone cannonballs now on the wall in front of the library,. Mrs. Breese’s home stood on the present playground property, between the library and the “Steamboat House.”
Anna Matilda Lovett Maulsby’s husband, Dr. George Maulsby, was a surgeon who became Medical Director of the United States Navy.
As none but George Lovett had children, the family’s real and personal property kept being reconcentrated, often to the eventual benefit of the Lovett Memorial Library, which Mrs. Bostwick chose to erect on a portion of that historic “ten-acre field.”
The “Memorial Free Library” Opens Its Doors…
What was designated the Memorial Free Library opened its doors on the evening of Saturday, March 12, 1887, in the building designed by Ashton Tourison and constructed by Martin Hetzel. This building, now the library’s meeting room, retains some original touches: the mantelpiece crafted by Robert C. Gavett and the fireplace it surrounds, as well as one small piece of stained glass window by Milton Shafts of the Belcher Mosaic Glass Co.
Tourison developed much of Mount Airy, notably the “Sedgwick Farms” area east of the library. Hetzel erected the present St. Michael’s Lutheran Church, of which he was a member, at Phil-Ellena Street, the Lutheran Seminary Chapel at Allens Lane, and the original “Old People’s Asylum” (now demolished) at the Lutheran Home across the Avenue from the library.
The library continued to operate with a volunteer staff led by Mrs. Potter, and subsisted on gifts of cash and reading matter from the general public.
Then, on February 17, 1888, after the Lovett family had sold what remained of the Kalorama estate, Mrs. Bostwick presented a $25,000 endowment fund to the library and constituted a Board of Managers to govern the institution. The Fidelity Insurance, Trust, and Safe Deposit Company (now the Fidelity Bank) was chosen as trustee for the land, building, and endowment fund, and the Managers used the fund’s proceeds and other contributions to operate the library.
The Founder’s constitution ordained that there be a self-perpetuating Board of nine persons “of whom at least four shall be ladies, and none but Protestants shall be eligible,” that Louisa D. Lovett “shall be Secretary and Treasurer for the term of her natural life,” that “standard novels may be put into the library, but no light novels, nor any immoral or irreligious book or paper shall be permitted in the library at any time,” and that the librarian must “remove from the library any book or paper when requested to do so by any three of the managers.” The constitution also ordered that “the library shall remain a free library forever upon the premises at the corner of Germantown Avenue and Sedgwick Street, Germantown, Philadelphia, and it shall never be opened on the Lord’s Day.”
Reverend Hill was the Board’s first president. His successors were: Frank Wister Thomas, M.D. (1920’s); David Edgar Crozier (1930’s); Joseph Adamson (1940’s); Frederick A. Heuer (1950’s); and William F. Delafield (1960’s).
The endowment fund permitted the engagement of the first paid librarian-in-chief: Mr. Robert C. Gavett, who served from 1888 to 1923. His successors were: Miss Elizabeth N. Cope (1924-1930); Miss Dorothy M. Evans (1930-1935); Miss Etchen L. Schuck (1935-1953); Mrs. Dorothy Fisher (1953-1955); Mrs. Ruth J. Ferguson (1955-1967); Miss Margery A. Murdock (1967-1976); Mr. John E. Verhaaren (1976-1982); Ms. Karen M. Crist (1982-1994); Ms. Carol Boardman (1994-1997); Ms. Eileen Levinson (1997-2007); Ms. Nani Manion (2007-2009); Ms. Lynn Ruthrauff (2009-2014); Ms. Veronica Britto (2014-2016); and Ms. Marsha Stender (2017- ).
Participation in the 1889 Paris Exposition…
An early highlight of the library was its participation in the United States Educational Exhibit of the 1889 Paris Exposition which celebrated the centennial of the French Revolution, Through the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Education, the “Memorial Free Library, Mount Airy, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania” submitted to the exposition’s Class 6 (Education of young children – Primary Instruction, Instruction of Adults) the following: “Annual Report and a catalogue; statistics and blanks of administration; four photographs.” Two surviving glass photographs of the period, one an interior which shows what appears to be the Aztec idol, and one an exterior, may be examples of that submission.
In 1891, the library had 4505 bound volumes, a circulation of above 10,000 books a year, an annual budget of $1821.58, and a new Reading Room. This rounded addition to the library, which now provides staff work space, was constructed by Hetzel from drawings made by Robert B. Cridland, and who attend drawing classes at the library. Cridland became a landscape architect, one of his designs being that portion of Cresheim Valley Drive between Germantown and Stenton Avenues.
The Library becomes Incorporated…
At the library’s Ninth Annual Meeting, March 23, 1894, the Managers voted to incorporate “to maintain and support a free public library in that part of the City of Philadelphia known as Mount Airy.” The incorporators of the Lovett Memorial Free Library were: Mrs. Bostwick, and Miss Louisa Lovett of Germantown Avenue; Reverend Hill, Elizabeth P. Miller, and William H. Thorne, of Gowen Avenue; Mrs. Potter and Dr. Thomas of Mount Airy Avenue; George B. Garrett of Gorgas Street; and John Marshall Gest, Esq., of City Line Avenue, Overbrook.
Gest, who contributed both the legal work for the incorporation and the formally engrossed Charter, was the son of president of Fidelity, John Baynard Gest. Remaining on the Lovett Board until 1902, Gest, an Orphans’ Court Judge after 1911, served as a trustee of the Free Library of Philadelphia from 1927 until his death in 1934.
When Gest left the Board, his place as member and counsel was taken by Robert Southall Bright, Esq. who had married Caroline deBeelen Lovett in 1895 in Grace Episcopal Church, with Reverend Hill presiding.
That is how close-knit the Board always was. Frank Thomas was best man for George Garrett. Garrett’s sister, Margaret Hall Garrett, Caroline Lovett Bright’s maid of honor, was married to David Edgar Crozier; the Garrett/Crozier home stood on the northwest corner of Germantown Avenue and Sedgwick Street, Joseph Adamson lived at 12 East Sedgwick Street and Frederick Heuer at 52 East Sedgwick Street; an Adamson daughter married a Heuer son. The Lovett Board comprised relatives, neighbors and friends.
By the time of Mrs. Bostwick’s death in 1899, the policy of the library was established, the open space of Lovett Park was set aside for the future expansion of the library and the endowment fund was growing. An interesting provision of Mrs. Bostwick’s trust deeds was that, should the library ever cease to function at the corner she had chosen, the property and trust fund would be gifted over to her other major charity, the Germantown Dispensary and Hospital (later the Germantown Hospital and Medical Center, subsequently purchased by Einstein Hospital), to which she had contributed $10,000 in 1888.
The library’s operations went on after the Founder’s death of their own momentum, despite President Hill’s death in 1912 and the lack of formal Board meetings from 1910 to 1921. Indeed, Mr. Gavett’s entire tenure as librarian, during which he used a unique cataloguing system of his own devising, was apparently quite smooth, despite the occasional need to remind the neighbors that Lovett was a lending library so borrowed books need to be returned, and despite occasional rowdiness outside the library and in the park area.
It was noted in 1905 that “the library is entirely free to the public, the only requirement being a permit signed by one of a committee appointed to see that fictitious addresses are not given as was the case on several occasions before this precaution was taken.”
Around 1892, a Mr. Mayfield was appointed assistant librarian, serving until his death in 1895. Mr. Frank B. Heckman served as assistant for several months that year, and was succeeded by a Mr. J. W. Bennett in January, 1896. Upon Bennett’s death in 1907, Gavett again worked as sole librarian, with a salary of $600 per year and library hours of 3. p.m. to 10 p.m.
Minor upheaval was caused by World War I: in 1917, the Board spent $19.50 to plant a War Garden in Lovett Park, realizing only $10.00 from the sale of corn grown there; and, on January 15, 1918, the janitor was discharged and the library closed temporarily due to the widespread shortage of fuel.
With the end of the war, a new era was about to begin for Mount Airy’s library.
A New Era for the Library…
Dr. Frank Wister Thomas, whose patients recall that they “felt better when he walked into the house,” reinvigorated the Board in the 1920s. Physician, neighborhood historian, and community leader, Dr. Thomas was a member of the family in whose lumberyard the library began. Son of Robert Thomas, property owner, conveyancer, and historian of Germantown Methodism, Dr. Thomas’s home and office, 27 East Mount Airy Avenue, was encapsulated within the Northwest Mental Health Center.
The Board undertook to erect the World War I monument in honor of the thirty-four men and one woman from Mount Airy who lost their lives from combat or disease during that conflict. Dedicated on May 25, 1924, the monument consisted of freshly planted trees, flag holders, and a massive stone from Valley Forge to which was affixed a bronze tablet bearing those thirty-five names. The tablet was stolen in the 1970s.
The park and its monument became the location of interwar ceremonies, notably one on Saturday, May 30, 1936. On that Memorial Day, with the participation of the Henry H. Houston, 2nd, and B. Franklin Pepper American Legion Posts, a committee made a formal presentation to Lovett of a book listing the “Soldiers and Sailors from the Mount Airy Section of Philadelphia in the World War.” This was accepted by Board President Crozier as a solemn trust to be forever preserved at the library, where it can be seen today.
A Cooperation with the Mount Airy School Association…
The Board cooperated with the Mount Airy School Association to encourage community support for the successful effort to arrange a replacement for the Mount Airy School, which dated from the 1870s; this replacement was the Henry Howard Houston School, dedicated on December 2, 1927. A highlight of this neighborhood campaign was a reception the Library Board and the School Association held at Lovett on its birthday, March 12, 1923.
There being no room at the old Mount Airy School for a kindergarten, the two groups were successful in convincing the Board of Public Education to “rent from the authorities of the Lovett Memorial Library, southeast corner Germantown Avenue and Sedgwick Street, a room on the first floor of said library building, at an annual rental at the rate of $600 per annum, including light, heat and janitorial services, dating from February 1, 1923” for a kindergarten.
Opening on that date with forty-four students between four and six years of age, the kindergarten, located in the Cridland wing, was taught by Evelyn B. Ashbey and remained at Lovett 1923-27, after which it was relocated to the completed Houston School.
Financial Pressures Mount…
But the Board faced severe financial pressures. One that could be solved involved real estate taxes: while the library was tax exempt, the city levied taxes on Lovett Park which, by 1920, amounted to $285.00 annually. Fortunately, a member of the Board was Philadelphia City Councilman William W. Roper, who resided at 7201 Lincoln Drive. A lawyer, a relative of Robert Bright, and the renowned head football coach at Princeton University, Roper arranged a councilmanic ordinance, signed by Mayor J. Hampton Moore on June 24, 1921, whereby the city leased the Park, relieving the Board of the tax liability. As the library later paid real estate taxes, this apparently was only a temporary arrangement.
However, Mr. Gavett being ill, the endowment funds proceeds being insufficient for proper administration of the library, and community support being too weak despite a plea from Dr. Thomas that took the form of a history of the library published in the August, 1923, issue of the Germantown magazine, The Beehive, the Board had little choice but to surrender Lovett’s independence to ensure its very survival.
Lovett Memorial Free Library Becomes a Part of the Free Library of Philadelphia…
Therefore, on October 18, 1924, Frank W. Thomas, President of the Lovett Memorial Free Library, and Simon Gratz, President of the Free Library of Philadelphia, signed the agreement making Lovett a branch of the Free Library system, then under the leadership of Librarian John Ashhurst.
The buildings, grounds, and endowment fund remained under the control of the Trustee, Fidelity, and the Board purchased the books and supervised the physical plant while passing on a stated sum of the trust’s proceeds to Ashhurst and his successor, Franklin H. Price. In return, the Free Library staffed and administered the branch.
The Free Library was represented officially on the Lovett Board, initially by Mr. Ashhurst, then by Miss Emma Hellings, and later by Mr. William Pepper, Jr. The Board accumulated some funds of its own out of surplus revenue, and met to perform its legal duties, including occasionally expending monies from that surplus, but there was no longer a direct supervisory relationship with the staff.
However, until her death in 1941, Louisa D. Lovett, who resided at 46 East Sedgwick Street, never ceased being interested in, and concerned about, “her library.” Indeed, after her sister, Caroline Bright, died in 1933, whereupon trust funds set up for her by Mrs. Bostwick reverted to the library, Louisa asked Board counsel J. Gowen Roper, William’s brother, to investigate severing the relationship with the Free Library. Things were smoothed over, for, on May 15, 1936, Lovett President David E. Crozier, and Free Library President Cyrus Adler signed a second agreement, which permitted income from what had been Caroline’s trust, to be expended by the Free Library for repairs to the library’s building and grounds.
Louisa and Caroline’s nephew, Norman Francis Lovett of New York City, carried on the family’s participation on the Board until his death in 1953. Upon the death of Norman’s sister, Eleanor Huntington Lovett of New London, New Hampshire, in 1969, the last of Mrs. Bostwick’s family trusts reverted to the library, which then received $16,625.55.
Growth in Circulation and Use by the Community…
Through the years of the Free Library’s administration, the book stock grew and the circulation fluctuated. The collection, which stood at 15,033 in 1930, grew to 23,604 by 1950. Circulation, 58,697 in 1928, peaked at 121,419 in 1932, dropped under 100,000 for most years of the 1930’s and 1940’s, and rose to 114,466 by 1950.
Interestingly, Lovett, which was begun to serve the young, appears to have been an institution most heavily utilized by adult readers.
The kindergarten period, of course, was one of strong emphasis on the very young. And children of that time can recall attending Lovett after school to hear stories told by elocutionist Mrs. Tod Eberle, who visited particularly for occasions such as Washington’s Birthday.
There are memories, too, of how Lovett was such a lovely, cool place to visit in the summer, and of Children’s Librarians such as Pearl Kerr, Elizabeth Morris Henckle, and Dorothy Fisher.
But it is noteworthy that by 1950 the bookstock at Lovett Library was only about one-quarter children’s books. Some of the earliest records of the library indicate a heavy emphasis on adult literature, history, and biography, and this trend continued through the decades, enhanced by the advantageous position regarding book purchases Lovett enjoyed by virtue of Mrs. Bostwick’s endowment.
Indeed, from just a shelving space perspective, Lovett had become overstocked by World War II.
Consideration of Library Expansion…
As early as March, 1945, Franklin Price foresaw the necessity for the construction of the library addition for which Mrs. Bostwick had provided the ground so many years before. Price hoped for possible federal assistance soon after the then current war, but the Free Library did not undertake the project until well into the administration of his successor, Emerson Greenaway.
The need was great. By 1950, Miss Shuck and her staff of three spent significant time going down to the basement of the Cridland wing for books stored there due to the lack of space on the library’s bookshelves. And the demand was increasing. The children of the post-war baby boom became readers and, with the encouragement of Children’s Librarian Jennie Mansky, became library users. By 1958, Children’s circulation topped 50,000 for the first time, rising to a high of 77,000 in 1964.
So, in the late 1940’s and the 1950’s, the chief topic on the Board’s agenda was planning for physical expansion. In 1953, the Free Library took over from the Board the funding of book purchases, and the Board committed its total income to the building fund. Soon, all concerned knew that the fund could not be amassed quickly enough. Construction money would have to be provided by the Free Library.
However, Philadelphia capital funds can be expended only on City-owned property. Accordingly, a third agreement was signed on January 7, 1959, by Frederick A. Heuer, President of the Lovett Memorial Free Library, James A. Montgomery, Jr., President of the Free Library of Philadelphia, and C.D. Barta, Vice-President of the Fidelity-Philadelphia Trust Company, and ratified by a councilmanic ordinance signed on December 24, 1959, by Mayor Richardson Dilworth.
By this agreement, Fidelity transferred the building and grounds to the City for the Free Library and the Free Library agreed to construct the addition, maintain Lovett Memorial Library perpetually, and transfer the unused portion of the park to the Department of Recreation. The Board survived with the duty of passing the endowment income to the Free Library and the power of ensuring that the Free Library fulfilled its commitments.
The Free Library engaged architect Robert F. Bishop, who also designed the Schuylkill Valley Nature Center, to design the branch addition and the renovations to the existing structure.
The New Library Building is Dedicated…
On September 25, 1961, in Lovett Park, with the participation of Mayor Dilworth, Councilman Alfred L. Luongo, Free Library President Montgomery and Director Greenaway, the new Lovett Library was formally dedicated. With a bookstock at opening of 37,853 volumes, the library circulated 147,835 books that year. And the roof of the new building leaked.
As the Free Library actually had complete control of, and responsibility for, the library, Board President William F. Delafield and Library Director Greenaway determined that melding the Board into the Free Library was the best course. On October 30, 1967, after having assumed the office of President of the Lovett Memorial Free Library, Emerson Greenaway signed the fourth and final agreement with Free Library President Montgomery. By this, the 1924 and 1936 agreements were superseded, the 1959 agreement was re-affirmed, and the Board agreed to “transfer to the Free Library all securities, bank deposits and cash in its possession,” and to “pay over to the Free Library all income hereafter received by it.” The Free Library agreed to apply those assets “in its discretion, to the operation, maintenance, repair of the Lovett Memorial Library, and the purchase of books, magazines, furnishing and other library materials and equipment for use therein.”
The Lovett Corporation, chartered in 1894, retains existence, with a self-perpetuating membership of, and Board of, three Trustees of the Free Library, whose sole duty is to approve transfer to the Free Library of the income from the endowment still held at Fidelity Bank, which endowment currently possesses a principal of over $830,000.
The library, too, entered a new age with the new building. Circulation was at record levels, topping out in 1964 at 182,323 (104,977 adult and 77,345 children’s books). The two-level design, with the children’s area on the balcony, gave space for a more equitable distribution of the bookstock, with a growth in its proportion of children’s books. By 1984, there would be 20,869 adult and 19,589 children’s books. The library of the early 1960’s was in service six days and three evenings a week. There were three professional librarians: Adult, Young Adult, and Children’s. The Tourison wing, now the meeting room, was used for community meetings, lectures, films, and exhibits.
Too Good to Last…
It was all too good to last. In the two decades after 1964, circulation dropped steadily. Despite efforts of Children’s Librarians such as Caroline Heilman, Diane Goldman, and Diane Yedenock, children’s circulation declined by 1984 to 23,985, the lowest since 1945. This has been attributed partly to the growth of school libraries. Adult circulation bottomed out at 37,253 in 1981, the lowest since 1928. Total circulation dropped under 100,000 in 1976 after the library went on a five day schedule; the library had been over 100,000 since 1947, and its 1984 total of 66,826 was the lowest circulation since 1928. Some of the circulation decline has been attributed to the opening of the Northwest Regional Library in Germantown in 1978.
Too, there has been an increase in the neighborhood’s crime rate and fear levels. In April, 1970, for example, the library was burglarized and looted three times. The library remains less than burglarproof and more than occasionally vandalized by graffiti.
And Lovett could not escape the economic crunch. City budget restrictions resulted in deferred maintenance and staff reductions; the position of Young Adult Librarian was lost in 1979. Having cost $36,655 to operate in 1958 ($28,534 for salaries, $6,465 for books, $1,656 for other operating costs), the library cost $187,047 in 1984 ($139,373 for salaries, $39,311 for books, $8,363 for other operating costs) of which $30,320 was provided by the endowment income.
Through all of this, the staff maintained as well as possible the library’s tradition of responding to an increasingly heavy demand for reference information. Film showings, children’s classes and reading clubs, book discussions, and other programs continued, but at a more hectic pace than ever considering the staff reductions.
Clearly, by the 1980s, Lovett and the system of which it was a branch were undergoing severe challenges.
The “Friends of Lovett Memorial Library” Begin to Form…
On March 13, 1982, a new neighborhood response to the challenges confronting Mount Airy’s library was forthcoming when Naomi Pryluck convened in the historic meeting room the first session of the Friends of Lovett Memorial Library. With encouragement and donations from the East and West Mount Airy Neighbors, a core of library users started another in the growing list of Friends of Free Library branches.
By enlisting dues-paying members and conducting book sales, Lovett’s Friends raised funds to provide assistance to the library. The Friends’ funds have been used to: install a supplementary telephone line to improve community access to information; support the Vacation Reading Club by providing books as prizes for completion of the Club program and by providing entertainment and refreshments at the Club’s annual parent/student party; sponsor Black History Month programs such as the 1984 project which brought one hundred neighbors to the opening session concentrating on the fine and performing arts; and make special purchases for the book collection.
By-laws were formally adopted by the Friends during their June 1983 annual meeting at which Free Library Director Keith Doms was guest speaker. The guest speaker for 1984’s second annual meeting was Chris van de Velde, President of the Friends of the Free Library.
By June 13, 1984, when Lovett became another of the branches hooked into the Free Library’s computer system for keeping track of where books are located, for checking them in and out, and for improving security against book theft, new technology was heralding yet another era for Mount Airy and its library.
For Lovett Memorial Library, as it embarks upon its second century of service to the Mount Airy neighborhood, the mission remains, the work expands, the commitment persists, and the dream endures.