Dr. C. Frederick Kurtz, President
Catherine Stopen, Vice President
Wendy Greco, Treasurer
Doris Jones, Secretary
History of the Gowanda Free Library
(Portions of a paper written by M.D. Hubbard for the Monday Evening Literary Club in 1973. Re-researched and edited by J. Beers in 2011. Last updated, 9/21/2012.)
The Gowanda Free Library started out as an idea that took nearly thirty years to come to life. In 1873 the Ladies Social Society (what would later become the Monday Evening Literary Club) was formed in Gowanda. This group of local women would meet for tea, quilting and other social functions. During these social gatherings they would discuss what books they were reading and lend them back and forth amongst the group (there were not many books readily available at this time and therefor the same books were re-read many times). This unofficial book club must have given birth to the idea of the library as the Ladies Social Society would become the Ladies Library Association in 1877.
The goal of the Ladies Library Association would be to raise enough funds to open a library in the town of Gowanda. Funds were raised with oyster suppers, strawberry festivals, and dime socials, one oyster supper even raised $29.99 which was a substantial amount for the time. Somewhere between 1884 and 1896 The Ladies library Association along with new members became the Monday Evening Literary Club.
The ladies of the Monday Evening Literary Club petitioned for a library charter with New York state in 1900 and received a trial charter for 5 years. The library was housed above the Millan T. Hose Company for those provisional years and in 1905 –after being granted a permanent charter– Mr. Jared Sydney Torrance, of Pasadena California, generously purchased a building on West Main Street in Gowanda to be used as the library board felt appropriate. In 1936 the original building was sold and moved to Torrance place, where it still stands today, and the first half of our current building was built. The new building was opened to the public for inspection on September 11th and 12th in 1936 and remained relatively unchanged for the next 50 years. In 1947 the Gowanda Free Library joined the Buffalo and Erie County Library System, and would remain a member for 50 years. The library continued to grow over the next several decades until it needed an addition which was constructed in 1987 and the library became the building it is today.
The Gowanda Free Library joined the Chautauqua-Cattaraugus Library System in 1997 and is still currently a member. In 2005 The library celebrated its centennial, and is looking forward to serving the community for the next 100 years.
A Brief Timeline of the Gowanda Free Library
(Original author(s) unknown. Last edited in 2011 by J. Hovey.)
June 18, 1827: Lodi Library Association legally organized with H.M. Parker, Norton Davison, SOlon Spencer, Ira C. TItus, J. Hill, Constant B. Allen, and Solomon Dunham as trustees. No other evidence exists of the instutition. The Mary Spencer Library was founded in 1886. It comprised 1,500 volumes and has a home in the basement of the First Presbyterian Church. (From 1893 Co. History)
April 1873: Gowanda Ladies Social Society was formed; met every other Friday to quilt, knit, sew, socialize, and talk about books they had read. Evolved into an informal book exchange.
November 27, 1875: Ladies hired a librarian for $10 a year; no record of where library was; possibly in the home of the librarian.
March 2, 1877: Ladies Library Association founded, officers elected.
May, 1888: Joseph Hudson Plumb, donor of land for Pine Hill Cemetery, offers $5,000 as an endowment fund, the interest thereon to be used for purchasing books. He challenged the public to raise enough money to provide a suitable repository for the books. A few years earlier an effort was made to raise $2,500 for this purpose, but it fell $300 short in pledges and the plan was dropped. Mr. Plumb suggested that if sufficient money is pledged to purchase the office and lot formerly used as a law office by the late Cyrenius C. Torrance on East Main Street adjoining the Presbyterian Church, he would honor his $5,000 pledge. The amount to purchase the Torrance property was $1,500. If purchased, funds from other sources would be made available for repairs and conversion to a public library. Other donors would provide at least 1,000 volumes to start. (Apparently this effort did not succeed either.)
1893: Monday Evening Literary Club was founded from the previous organization.
1900: MELC decided to apply for a NYS charter and start the Gowanda Free Library. They had $300 on hand, the State would contribute $200, and Franklin Locke of Buffalo, a Gowanda native, would donate the remaining $200 needed for the charter.
June 25, 1900: A five-year provisional charter was granted, with five MELC members as trustees.
November 3, 1900: Gowanda Free Library opened its doors in rooms above the Millen T. Hill Hose Co. building on Jamestown Street, now Capozzi’s Pizzeria. Mrs. Clara Vosburg was hired as librarian, a position she held for 28 years (note by J. Hovey: a plaque on a old circulation desk replaced in 2010 states ‘Presented by the Monday Evening Literary Club in Memory of Clara J. Vosburg Librarian 33 Years’)
June 28, 1905: Permanent charter granted to Gowanda Free Library. Jared Sidney Torrance of Pasadena, California, a Gowanda native who had lived in the Glazier home on Zoar Road, purchased and donated the John Potter residence on West Main Street, “to be used as the trustees felt best, with no stipulations or conditions attached.”
Notes on Potter home: Presumably built by Sidney Imus, prior to 1890. Ran a rooming house there. August 1, 1899: Dr. Ira Livermore began a medical practice at that location, followed by the Alfred T. Groat family, then a dentist named Dr. Franklin. Last tenants before it was given to the library were the family of Doris Muir, whose maiden name was Becker.
Doris Muir anecdote: She recalled moving in and being upset by finding blood spattered around in one room – presumably where Dr. Franklin extracted teeth.
1905-1936: Building served as public library, but it was becoming apparent that it was outgrowing its confines.
1936: Using funds on hand and interest on bequests, the library association hires architect Oliver Johnson of Jamestown to design a new library building, and Bob Knowles was contracted to build it at 56 West Main Street. The former building was sold for $150 a moved to 75 Torrance Place. During construction the library operated out of the Lootens Building on South Water Street, which was also known as the Gowanda Gardens, later the Creekside Inn and Tiffany Room.
Sept. 11-12, 1936: Open house at the new library for public inspection. Mrs. William Smallwood was the library board president, Doris Muir was the treasurer of the building fund, and Mary Powell Titus was the librarian.
1947: Though the efforts of Collins Supervisor Walter Cain, and Library President Doris Muir, the Gowanda Free Library became a contracting library in the Erie County library system. Mr. Cain’s college roommate years earlier was Tom McKaig of Hamburg, who was the first president of the Erie County Library System. This affiliation afforded Gowanda the privilege to use any facility of the main library in Buffalo and the county paid the salaries of Gowanda’s seven employees. The county system also allowed Gowanda to select and purchase its own books so long as we could obtain the services of a qualified librarian locally.
Some statistics from 1973: Gowanda library had a total of 13,121 books, with a circulation count of 37,562. There were 11 trustees on the Board, and this number has almost always included a member of the Monday Evening Literary Club.
Some gleanings from past MELC meeting minutes: In 1873 the constitution of the club stated, “A plain tea shall be provided by the hostess at which but one kind of cake shall be served and either coffee or tea– but not both.”
Activities over the years included programs on geography and travel and drama, including performance of one-act plays. The MELC Men’s Auxiliary harmonized some original songs between plays.
1907: A woman came from Buffalo to speak on Women’s Suffrage.
1918-1921: The MELC had a “Village Improvement Committee”, and for several years the Club entertained the School Board and faculty.
1922: South Dayton Study Club was formed using the MELC as a model. Some ladies from that village visited a meeting in Gowanda to acquire some ideas, assisted by two young ladies named Adnah Bardwell (Carpenter) and Doris Becker (Muir). Later on, members of the MELC returned the visit, making the trip to South Dayton and back by train.
1927: A paper was given on “Women in the Professions”, giving special mention to several local women including Dr. Isabella Borden, Miss Laura Moench, Elsie Gulley, Rachel Torrance, Ada Anckner and Mabel Moss.
2012: During the May 21st meeting, the Monday Evening Literary Club voted to dissolve.
Special people of note:
Jared Sidney Torrance, for his gift of the building.
Clara Vosburg, for her long service as librarian (despite her gruff manner that scared away many a child)
Mrs. George Swift, whose financial help made the building possible
Mrs. William Smallwood, for her long years of interest and support
Mrs. Tom Mills, for a generous bequest to the Library in the early 1970s
The Weyand Family, for their participation and generous support of the library throughout the years
Teresa Samuelson, for her long support and dedication to the library
Ann Eichenberger, for her generous donation of new kitchen appliances after the 2009 flood
Doris Becker Muir, who served in many a capacity for the benefit of the library for more than 50 years.
And a probably incomplete list of those who have served as librarian throughout the years (up to 1973): Josephine Gilmore Mentley, Mary Powell Titus, Alma Gannon, Lydia (Lannie) Sever Eckel, Elinor Wratny, and Elaine Hager Prince.
Finally, to quote from Mary Dorothy Hubbard’s remarks: “With so much heritage and tradition, with so many interested and devoted people, and with the ever present need of the writeen word, may we, as Monday Clubbers, not fail to keep our constitution – written those long years ago: To promote the interests of the Gowanda Free Library.”