I wanted to share the article I wrote for the Upper Bucks Free Press (the newspaper I write for) for the May 2014 issue! The online version was just published. To see the online version of the newspaper, click HERE (okay the online version isn’t up yet (the paper version is out) but as soon as it is, I will update the link 😉 ).
I hope you like it!
My Visit To The Historic Newtown Library Company
The Newtown Library Company is close by in the historic community of Newtown, Bucks County. The library, founded in 1760, is the oldest library in Bucks county and reported to be the third oldest in Pennsylvania. It was originally housed in different people’s houses as a collection of the townspeople’s books. The library moved from house to house with different families taking responsibility for the collection every few years. In 1813 the library moved to Newtown’s courthouse building when the Bucks county seat moved from Newtown to Doylestown. In 1912, after two more moves, the library finally ended up at its present location.
I was fortunate to be given a guided tour of the library by Anne McKernan (check out her Itsy Bitsy Mom blog HERE), library volunteer, school tour guide, and leader of Story Time at the library. I learned from Mrs. McKernan that since its beginning, The Newtown Library Company has always been a “subscription library,” meaning it is not part of the public library system. To borrow books from the library, you have to be a member. Originally, membership to the library cost $1.00 or a donated book (remember this is back in the days where most families did not have any books and if they did, it was usually the Holy Bible). To this day, the library charges a subscription fee (annually: $20.00 for an individual, $25.00 for a family, and $10.00 for a student or a senior) plus $1.00 for your first year, to keep tradition with its original rules of membership. Anyone is welcome to come in and browse through the books or use the library’s resources, but to check a book out, you have to be a member.
Today, the library offers all of the tools you’d find in modern libraries, (new releases, programs, computers, internet, reading rooms, etc.) but there at this library, there is art and history wrapped around all the books! Ms. McKernan showed me some of the great artwork in the library. They have a great collection of paintings, sketches, maps, furniture and other artifacts. One of the interesting pieces I saw was a sign for the library company that was painted in 1825 by famed Pennsylvania artist Edward Hicks. Mrs. McKernan told me that Hicks painted the sign for the library and charged $1.00, the fee he needed to be a member! Another great item was a dining room chair from William Penn’s estate. The library owns three of the chairs but has lent two of them out to other museums.
I was impressed with the artwork in the library and that was even before I got to see the historical book collection! The library houses a large collection of historical books from or about Bucks County and a collection of books by Benjamin Franklin Press. Mrs. McKernan pulled a book printed by Benjamin Franklin (Votes and Proceedings of the House of Representatives of the Province of Pennsylvania) off the shelf for me to look at. For a bookworm/history buff like me, that was a tremendous experience. I got to touch a book that Benjamin Franklin printed on his printing press. Very cool!
Don’t think that the museum is all history and artwork! It also has a fun children’s area that is packed with great books for kids to enjoy. Mrs. McKernan runs story and craft times every Wednesday for children ages 0-3 and 3-6.
In addition to its children’s programs, the library runs great events all year long. The Bards of Bucks County meet every third Friday of the month. Currently, the library is planning trips to Winterthur (Wilmington, DE) to see “The Costumes of Downtown Abbey.” Winterthur is the only place in the USA to see this exhibit.
I asked Mrs. McKernan what she thought was the most amazing thing about The Newtown Library Company. She said “I think the most amazing thing here is that since 1760, this library has been open and functioning, almost completely with volunteers. We only have one part-time paid position.”
I also think that that is amazing. It is a credit to the library and the community of Newtown.
For more information on The Newtown Library Company, visit newtownlibrarycompany.org
To learn more about Anne McKernan’s story times, visit itsybitsymom.wordpress.com
While you are visiting the library, check out all the other very cool things to do in Newtown including a self-guided heritage walk. For more information visit, Newtownhistoric.org
For more on books and reading visit ThisKidReviewsBooks.com
Categories: Newspaper Columns