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A Brief History of the East Orange Public Library
The first free public library on record in East Orange was a low-budget, grassroots effort by a group of citizens. Space for the library was provided at no charge by the Maple Avenue Baptist Church and the book collection built through donations.
This early library began with a “Book Reception” advertised in the June 7, 1883 edition of the East Orange Gazette. The public was invited, and each person attending was asked to contribute one or more books or one dollar. The Book Reception, held in the Lecture Room of the Maple Avenue Baptist Church, was apparently a great success, with 200 volumes contributed, $80.00 in cash subscribed, and “$10 realized from the sale of ice cream.”
The library was open four hours a week, and although voting membership was limited to those who made donations, any resident of the town “properly authenticated or known to the managers” was entitled to free use of the book collection.
In 1892, the Maple Avenue Baptist congregation sold their building to the Calvary Baptist congregation and built the church now known as the Church as the Crossroads. There are no records to indicate the location of the first East Orange Public Library after that point.
The East Orange Free Public Library, as we now know it, began in 1900 when the Mayor and City Council voted an appropriation of $3,000.00 for establishing a library and appointed a Board of Trustees.
At the first meeting of that Board, a letter from Andrew Carnegie was read offering $50,000.00 for the construction of a library building if the City would provide a site and maintenance of not less than $5,000.00 a year for the library. The land, at the corner of Munn Avenue and Freeway Drive East (then Main Street), was purchased at a cost of $22,182.00, and the building was designed by Kent, Jardine, and Kent in an unusual fan-shape to make maximum use of the corner lot.
The new building was opened on January 22, 1903, with 9,000 volumes ready for borrowing.
Four years later Andrew Carnegie presented the City with another $20,000.00 to be used in the building of two branch libraries. The Franklin Branch was completed in 1909 and the Elmwood Branch in 1912. Mr. Carnegie’s generosity was still not complete. In 1913, he gave an additional sum of $50,000.00 to the City to enlarge the Main Library. This construction was completed in 1915.
The Ampere Branch was the only library facility not built with Carnegie funds. In 1914, a deposit station was established in the Ampere section, but the present branch was not opened as a library until 1931, when the City built a new fire station on Springdale Avenue and renovated the old Ampere Fire Station to become a branch library. This unlikely renovation was done with great imagination and resulted in a charming and individual library for Ampere residents. Nine years later a substantial addition was made to the Franklin Branch.
Over the years, with a greatly increased population and demand for services, the original Main Library became insufficient to public need. The present Main Library, opened in August 1973, at the corner of Freeway Drive East and South Arlington Avenue, brought a new era of library service to East Orange residents.
The original East Orange Public Library, planned and organized by civic-minded residents, was open four hours a week. Today, library patrons in East Orange can use their library 64 hours, 6 days a week, borrowing books, audiobooks, e-books, and DVDs; accessing the Internet through the use of more than 70 public computers on site; and enjoying a variety of classes and cultural programs. Patrons have 24-hour access to the library’s Website from their personal computer and the library’s mobile app. Not only can patrons view upcoming events on the Website, but they can also view them on the library’s Facebook page.
Public library service in East Orange has, throughout its history of more than 110 years, been developed with the help and interest of the people of the City. From the original “Ice Cream Social and Book Reception” at Maple Avenue Baptist Church to today’s Friends of the Library organization, good library service has been a personal interest of many citizens.
Adapted from a paper prepared by Charlotte Perkins, October 1975.