The Library was the creation of a dedicated trio of ladies from the Northumberland Junior Woman’s Club. They took on the project because they saw the need for a public library in the county. Chris Cogsdale, Kay Shirley and Patsy Basye started the process in January 1969. It was not an easy road to begin with but the Club never gave up their enthusiasm and plowed through all the tasks to bring their dream to reality.
In July of 1969 the Articles of Incorporation for the Northumberland Memorial Library (the name chosen for the Library) were drawn up by Larry Traylor, a local attorney. On September 8th a twelve member Board of Directors was elected and in October a call for book donations appeared in the Northumberland Echo. The response was overwhelming. Mr. G. Randolph Palmer, of Fairview Park, Ohio, donated shelving in memory of his mother who had been instrumental in starting the library at Reedville High School. A considerable number of volunteers came to the two rented rooms on the second floor of the Dameron Building in Heathsville to select, process and shelve books. On November 7 a letter was received from Mr. John F. Kenneally in Petersburg, Virginia who had read about the new Library in the Richmond Times Dispatch. He was a retired career serviceman who was a very heavy reader and often found himself with more than one copy of a given title and offered to send his books to Heathsville. He continued the practice for several years.
An Open House was held on 22 February 1970 to coincide with George Washington’s birthday. (Annual teas were held on that date for several years to mark the beginning of the Library.) The Library was open for business on March 9, 1970. By April the Library was open 21 hours a week and it was staffed entirely by volunteers. There were 3400 books on the shelves including some 400 children’s books donated by the Department of Libraries in Arlington County, Virginia. Throughout its early years the Library was supported solely by private donations. As a result of a Comprehensive Employment and Training Act (CETA) grant Mrs. Jean Ball became the first paid librarian on October 1, 1975. On July 16, 1978, the Library moved from its second story location in Heathsville to the Claughton Building in Lottsburg. This move proved beneficial because it provided ground floor access to many patrons who were unable to climb to the second floor in the Dameron Building.
To offset the added costs of the new building, the Board of Supervisors donated $2500.00 to the Library for the 1978 budget year. In December 1979 the Board of Supervisors were asked to provide $.35 per capita and for the Library to become an annual budgetary item. A donation of $3500.00 was approved but the board declined to make the Library a fixed item in the annual budget.
The Library continued to provide an increasing level of service to the community, including school group tours, monthly exhibits by civic and community groups, and securing large print books and books on tape for the blind. A summer reading program was initiated by the Junior Woman’s Club in 1980 and on June 16 our very own Betty Dunaway became librarian of the Northumberland Memorial Library. The first fund drive was conducted in October 1981 as the result of CETA, which had been paying the librarian’s salary since October 1975, ended its support on April 30.
The Library moved once again to the School Board Building in Lottsburg in July 1982.
In 1984 the Library Board granted employee benefits to include two weeks paid vacation, up to two weeks paid accrued sick leave and paid holidays. Procedures were begun in September 1984 to change the name of the Library to Northumberland Public Library, Inc. and that was accomplished on March 12, 1985. Discussions began on April 3rd to replacing the volunteers with a formal organization and the Friends of the Library were created. As the years passed the activities of the Library became more diversified and reached a greater and greater portion of the community. In January 1986 under the guidance of Dr. Porter Kier, former director of the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History, A Halley’s Comet Watch was held in the field behind the Library. Nearly 200 watchers of all ages enjoyed the event.
A literacy program was begun for adult education and in 1987 the program known as Northumberland Adult Basic Education, Inc. supported 25 students that received basic reading instruction or GED preparation. The Library provided 15 tutors and a pilot program for below-grade-level readers in the middle and high school was initiated. The Woman’s Club of Northumberland supported the literacy project and is still very much involved today.
In 1988 the Library Board met with the Board of the Lancaster Public Library, at their request, and a representative from the State Library to discuss and consider the establishment of a regional library system. When nothing came of this proposal, the Northumberland Board decided to pursue bringing the Library into the State Library System. The Board of Supervisors approved the recommendation and appropriated $15,000.00, the amount required by the State. Upon completion of all requirements, the Library was officially brought into the State Library system as of July 1, 1989. The Library then became eligible to receive State and Federal funds to expand services and the collections and to upgrade equipment and furnishings to meet State requirements. The willingness of the Supervisors and County Administrator John Burton to find those funds when public budget constraints were so numerous was a major step in the continued success of the Library.
The Library’s first endowment was established in 1988 with a generous bequest of $5000.00 from the will of the late Howard R. Straughan. This decision hastened not only State Aid but major Library development and growth in the future. This bold step forward was made possible at the wise behest of Mr. Straughan and his family.
1990 brought the Library’s 20th Anniversary Party on April 19th. The date was chosen because the Federation of Junior Woman’s Clubs had designated April as the month for special recognition to Clubs which establish and support libraries. It was also the year that the BIG DREAM of a land grant in Heathsville to be the site of a new Library building. The Lottsburg location had been outgrown and a new Library needed to be located at the County Seat along with other major public buildings, where it would be centrally situated and easily identifiable. That dream came true when Howard Straugham, Jr. and his sister Cora Straughan Simpson, continuing their family’s strong support for the Library over the years, made land available on State Route 201 near the intersection of U.S. Route 360. Ben R. Humphreys graciously donated an adjoining piece of property. The new Library site was assured when the Northumberland Board of Supervisors deeded some County land for the Library near the offices of the Cooperative Extension Service and the Registrar of Voters. Heathsville architect Rocco Tricarico developed an imaginative plan for the unique site. The Library facility was designed to complement and enhance the cultural and architectural ambiance of the Heathsville setting.
The effort was successful through the efforts of many people including County Administrator John Burton, surveyor Warren Keyser, Heathsville resident Leslie Kilduff and Library Board member Ann Stansbury. The Dedication of the Northumberland Public Library in its new permanent home was on June 23, 1996. Ann Brown, President of the Library Board opened the ceremony and welcomed the many guests. Speakers included Daniel Pritchard, Chairman , Northumberland County Board of Supervisors; Amy Wilson, President of the Friends of the Library; special recognition of Robert Butler, Mike Harwood and Ann Stansbury; and the closing by Dr. Porter Kier. The ribbon cutting was accomplished most appropriately by Betty Dunaway. The result of those who went before can be seen today and appreciation of their tireless efforts are enjoyed by all the citizens of Northumberland County.
This History was compiled from information in library files by Bill Estell, President of the Library Board, 2007.