A storied existence

Library in Martinsburg celebrates 80th anniversary

Library in Martinsburg celebrates 80th anniversary

October 15, 2006|by MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.VA. - "There are six natural finish reading tables with six chairs for those who will read to the accompaniment of 'quiet please' signs in the big room. On those tables will be found a list of magazines that covers every conceivable field except the 'confession and shame' lot..."

The "big room" described in the Oct. 12, 1926, news account was the Martinsburg-Berkeley County Public Library's fledgling start in a space now being used as a Laundromat off South Maple Avenue.

Eighty years and two locations later, library officials this weekend not only are celebrating past accomplishments, but "opening a new chapter" with the launch of a $5 million capital campaign to erect two buildings for branch locations in Hedgesville, W.Va., and northern Berkeley County.

In addition to a banquet held Friday, library staff will host a public reception today from 2 to 4 p.m. - the anniversary of when the Martinsburg Woman's Club presented Mayor George Appleby and town residents with the "big room."


Though it opened with only 1,750 books catalogued, Martinsburg's third library venture proved more enduring than the first two attempts, records show.

The town's first library was incorporated in January 1826, only to close in 1844, according to historical accounts. The second was founded by Newton D. Baker in 1897, the father of a prominent attorney who went on to become President Woodrow Wilson's secretary of war. It closed in 1910, soon after relocating to the John Street School, which now is home to Berkeley County's magistrate court, records show.

Before the school, the library was in the Flick-Wiltshire building, a structure that stood at the corner of West King and South Queen streets, the site of the current library.

A mantel saved from the Flick-Wiltshire building now is on the second floor reading area of the current library, which opened in 1968.

A framed print of the Flick-Wiltshire building now hangs over the mantel.

Longtime library staff member Betty Gunnoe said she first went to the library when the collections were housed on the second floor of the old City Hall building at 124 W. King St.

The library moved from South Maple Avenue to the mission-style building in 1932, and remained there until the current building opened.

"It was made up of small rooms, not just one big room," said Gunnoe, who first accepted a temporary job there in September 1956. She now is in charge of acquisition and catalogs.

"Everybody's a little more specialized now," she said of the personnel changes that have happened over the years.

The library's current director, Pamela K. Coyle, now oversees branch operations at three other locations in the county.

Upon deciding to hold the 80th anniversary banquet on Friday at the Shenandoah Hotel building, Coyle said she learned the downtown landmark also opened about the same time as the library.

"We weren't exactly sure if it was 80 years old," Coyle said.

The hotel opened in February 1926, according to newspaper accounts.

Another downtown mainstay, Patterson's Pharmacy, last week celebrated 80 years of business - opening just five days before the library, records show.

The Chamber of Commerce of Martinsburg and Berkeley County will hold its 80th annual dinner Nov. 2, but it was not immediately clear whether the local Chamber, too, was begun in 1926.

The year, Coyle concluded, must have been the start of "good things," and the 80th anniversary celebration, she hopes, will remind the community of the library's value.

"As one of the politicians say, it's one of the last places where you can get free information about anything," Coyle said.

Individuals may contribute to the library's capital campaign through the Eastern West Virginia Community Foundation.

Library officials have set up a fund through the foundation's assistance titled Berkeley County Reads, Coyle said.

Money specifically designated for a particular project will be tracked by the foundation on behalf of the library, Coyle said.

Library officials are in the process of obtaining approval from the IRS and Secretary of State Betty Ireland's office to establish their own foundation, Coyle said.

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