Local Lifestyle, News

Morgan County Library celebrates 100 years, 25 years at Johnson House

by Kate Evans

The Morgan County Public Library first opened its doors on May 23, 1924 — 100 years ago — in a single room called “The Reading Room” over the main spring in Berkeley Springs State Park.

In 1924, the Morgan County Public Library opened on a Saturday afternoon with around 200 books “and the promise of many more,” according to a library meeting brief that ran in The Morgan Messenger. Members and visitors were served refreshments of tea, dainty sandwiches and cake.

The effort was led by women working with the Village Improvement Society.

The library was originally open on Wednesday and Saturday afternoons from 2:30 p.m. until 5:30 p.m. and also on Saturday evening from 7:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.  The librarian in charge then was Anna Crosfield.

Community members were urged then to join to support the library.  Membership fees were $1.00 a year.  The membership committee was solicited members and the library pursued donations of money and books by going door to door throughout the town. People gave books of their own to help fill the empty shelves and get the library started.

In a library history article written by Jessie Hunter, she writes that the late Mrs. Harvey Beeler recalled helping to collect books for the library.

“As a girl she was one of several who went from door to door soliciting money and books from many interested individuals. Some books were dull and uninteresting but they filled the empty shelves,” Beeler related.

Members of the library committee included Mrs. Hugh Campbell, Mrs. R. J. Friant, Mrs. H.C.C. Willey, Mrs. Pearl Orebaugh Allen and Mrs. C.F. Carmen.

Prior to the opening of this library, the public could borrow books from the private library of Mr. and Mrs. Alexander McNeil, according to the late Jessie Hunter. The access to the McNeil library ended when the couple moved away from town in 1919, Hunter reported.

Once the new public library got underway, its growing operations required more funding. Hunter wrote that the county government intervened and got help from the West Virginia Legislature through a bill introduced by Delegate S.S. Buzzerd, which got funds in the amount of $300 annually, beginning in 1929.

“From the beginning until July 1947, when the Women’s Club took over the sponsorship of the library as a community improvement project, the library was kept in operation by the tireless efforts of such dedicated women as Mrs. Hammond Siler, Mrs. H.D. Allen with Mrs. Nettie Hunter and Mrs. Wm. Kuykendall as librarians,” Hunter wrote.

Kuykendall served as library until 1949, and then Mrs. Rockwell Martin was the appointed librarian until June 1960. Mrs. Clark Catlett followed as librarian and the Women’s Club endeavored to get more funds for the library, finally in 1964 securing $1,000 annually.

As the library continued to develop, officials from the regional library in Keyser assisted in recataloguing the entire library of 3,475 books to the Dewey Decimal System.

Contributions of money and books from local businesses and civic organizations grew the collection and funding, due to fundraising efforts by volunteers. Progress on the growth of the library became a “Library News” column in The Messenger, listing donors and supporters.

Other locations

The Morgan County Public Library next moved to rooms over the Roman Baths in Berkeley Springs State Park as its original space was too confined.

“Finally, after many meetings and various discussions, the Morgan County Library was created by court orders of the Morgan County Court November 28, 1967,” Hunter recorded.

With 3,500 books and a circulation of 400 books per month to patrons, the library was well used by the community.

Many improvements were made, and a children’s room was added. It was named a “model library” by the West Virginia Library Commission.

A decree from the State Fire Marshal that the library would need a firewall constructed next to a furnace in the space above the Roman Baths prompted library trustees to consider other locations.

Despite the effort and money required for another move, in 1974, the Morgan County Public Library moved to the “Miller building” that had recently been added to Court House Annex on Fairfax Street, next to the Morgan County Assessor’s office at that time. That location provided street access entrance and had a vault-type West Virginia room. A large picture window looked out over the Fairfax Green.

By 1976, the library boasted 10,450 books in the collection and 1,536 registered borrowers. The library was open 40 hours per week and had added three newspapers to their collection.

Space for additional library stacks and activities wasn’t available at the Fairfax Street location as public use of the library grew into the 1980s. Well-used but cramped, the Morgan County Public Library needed more room to grow.

Library on Fairfax Street

In the 1990s, the community rallied their support around efforts to create a new, larger library at the Johnson House.

On Saturday, January 16, 1999, the Morgan County Public Library was dedicated at the newly renovated and expanded Johnson House site, where it remains today.

Historical information for the Morgan County Public Library brochure was take from Jessie Hunter’s “The Early Years of the Morgan County Library.”

Success story

Connie Perry, retired realtor and then West Virginia School Building Authority member, was designated as chairperson of the Morgan County Public Library’s building fund. Perry, who is president of the library’s Board of Trustees, said that the library “is one of the very good success stories about our little town.”

The total cost that they had to raise for the renovations and addition was around $1.4 million, said Perry in a phone interview with The Morgan Messenger. They acquired a 30-year $500,000 loan from Farmer’s Home Administration that they paid off in 10 years, Perry said.  The rest they raised through donations and fundraisers.

The first fundraiser request they held for the library building fund was a mailing of 16,000 letters asking for monetary donations.  Perry said they received a lot of donations from the mailing.  A lot of people helped in town.

“It’s amazing how supportive everyone was,” Perry said.

Other fundraisers

The Friends of the Library group also held fundraisers as the library began renovations and construction work at the Johnson House, the Morgan County Public Library’s new home.

Fundraisers for the renovations and building fund included book sales including the Apple Butter Book Sale, the winter book and bake sales, the annual bake sale that coincided with the Humane Society Pansy Fest, benefit luncheons, author luncheons, Rag Shop sales, celebrity auctions and silent auctions. Artists donated their art works for raffles that benefited the library fund.

Besides raising money, volunteers worked diligently to build book shelves, moved books from the old library location to the Johnson House, cataloged books and more.

Gardens, architect

Library gardens were created by the Morgan County Master Gardeners to honor Bob Douglas, former library Board of Trustees president, who had the vision of a new and bigger library to be located in a historic town building. She died in 1996.  Perry said that Douglas raised around $80,000 for the building fund drive before Perry took over.

Matt Grove was the architect and had worked on historic houses.  He did a wonderful job tying the two buildings together, Perry said of the Johnson House and the library addition that was built.

Directors, current staff

Modern library directors were Larry Springer. Karen Ebert, Scott Valentine, and Donna Crocker.  Assistant library directors included Linda Cole and Abbie Brown.

Current library director is Sarah Drennan.  Amy Bryan-Chapman is assistant director.  Jenny Ellis was just hired as the new children’s librarian.

Perry said that Drennan is wonderful. They have a lot of great employees and volunteers.  People donate to the library and those in charge write grants.

“They’re doing a great job,” Perry said of staff.


Perry said that the next major building project that the library needs will be a new roof.  There are no leaks, but the roof is 25 years old now.  A new roof will be very costly. The gutters also need replaced.

They’ve had to raise funds over the years to keep the building up, she noted.  The grout was disintegrating between the bricks and they had to raise $15,000 to re-do it.

The board also had to fund the parking lot when it was sinking and washing away, which cost over $50,000.  A lot of the cost was for engineering, Perry said.  Senator Jay Rockefeller was able to get the Army Corps of Engineers to help.  Perry hired Randy Kyne to do the work.

Community support

Perry said the community really came forward to support the library fundraisers.  She credits former library director Larry Springer with his fundraisers and for giving himself a pay cut as director, which helped their finances.

Businesses in town sponsored a day for the Morgan County Public Library where they donated a certain percentage of sales to the library.

Tari’s Restaurant sponsored a Titanic benefit fundraiser for the library that offered the exact foods that were served on the last night of the Titanic, Perry said.

The Country Inn held a big celebrity auction where one item was a baseball from former Baltimore Orioles baseball player Cal Ripkin, Jr.

Perry said she went and talked to everyone that would listen to raise money for the library.  They raised the funds and finished the library in two years.  “It was fantastic,” she said.

Perry said the library has always been used every day by so many people.  They also get a lot of visitors to look through the Morgan County Historical Society archives.

Perry said it’s unusual for a town to have such a large, beautiful building as a library.   Perry is proud of the beautiful Morgan County Public Library and of the community coming together with its support to make it happen.

Anniversary celebrations

This year marks the 25th anniversary of when the Morgan County Public Library completed the addition to the historic Johnson House, its current location at 105 Congress Street in Berkeley Springs.  The library moved there in 1995 and almost immediately started work on an addition, which was finished in 1998.

The library is planning a tea to commemorate both anniversaries, but no date has been set yet.

Kate Shunney contributed to this article.