|The Uniontown Public Library|
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History of The Uniontown Public Library
For a Printable Version Please Go HERE
by Walter "Buzz" Storey
Public Library was officially
launched under that name in 1928, but
its small beginning actually dates
back to 1912, when the Women's Civic
League opened a reading room with the
stated purpose of getting young boys
off the streets.
The reading room was located in a small one-story building, measuring about 18 by 20 feet, at the corner of South Street and Beeson Avenue, owned by the school board.
It was equipped with one table, two chairs, some dominoes and checkers and 27 books! (Compare that to the 80,000 volumes in the library today.)
The reading room was operated entirely on a volunteer basis. Elizabeth Leonard took charge in 1914 and served for some 12 years thereafter. The number of books slowly increased under the impetus of an annual Book Donation Day.
When the small building was sold, the reading room moved temporarily to the YMCA at Main and Gallatin. Meanwhile, the book inventory had grown to 4,000.
Upon completion of the Central (Ella Peach ) School in 1916, the board offered use of a large room there. By 1927 , a number of factors combined to persuade the Civic League that it could no longer shoulder the responsibility alone. Miss Leonard's health made it impossible for her to continue in charge; the University of Pittsburgh wanted the schoolroom for its undergraduate center. In the meantime, some years previously, the city had declined the offer of a free Carnegie Library.
The Civic League invited representatives of other organizations to a meeting on June 2, 1927, at which the nonprofit Uniontown Library Association was formed. Uniontown businessman and historian McClellan Leonard (Elizabeth Leonard's brother) was elected chairman of the board.
The first, temporary board was composed of G. Shell Harah, Mrs. W.C. Hood, J. Fred Shean, I. Friedberg, Kathleen Howell, Margaret McHugh and Mrs. Frank Snider.
Chosen as the site of the first library was a vacant church building at the corner of Church and Beeson, near the school. This building was erected in 1894 as the First Methodist Protestant Church. After that congregation (now Christ Methodist) moved to Beeson and Fayette in 1925, the old building became for a time the Hungarian Reformed Church. (This is the present site of the Pittsburgh National Bank drive-in.)
Leonard had acquired the property and he offered it to the association for what it had cost him, $35,000. The money was raised through a fund drive and a mortgage loan, and the city allocated the proceeds from half-mill of the real estate tax to the library.
The interior of the church was renovated and the new library was opened to the public on Dec. 15, 1928. There were 14,000 books on the shelves, between 8,000 and 9,000 of them donated by the Civic League.
Miss Ocie Anderson was named as the first of six paid librarians who have had the Uniontown Public Library in their charge.
The first formal meeting of the Library Association was held on Jan. 1, 1930, and Mr. Leonard was continued in office, a position that he held until his death in the mid-30's.
As the years went by, various improvements were made, including a memorial book program. By 1938, the book inventory had risen to 30,000.
As early as the 1940's it was becoming obvious that the library had outgrown its quarters and the association was considering the possibility of acquiring a new and larger building.
Uniontown's first postwar urban renewal project was launched in 1955 by the Fayette County Redevelopment Authority. Aimed at removing blight, it included the Jefferson-Iowa-East Church Street area. The library eventually found its new home there, at the lower end of Jefferson Street and extending back to Iowa Street.
The Redevelopment Authority sold the 66,791.02 square foot plot to the library association on Sept. 21, 1965, for $17,500. The association sold the library's building and assets to the city on Sept. 6, 1966 and a board of directors appointed by the mayor and council took over operation and maintenance. The nonprofit volunteer community support continued with a new auxiliary, The Friends of the Uniontown Public Library.
Bids for construction of the new library building were opened in March 1968. Michael Molnar was the architect and Uniontown Construction Co. was the general contractor.
The two-story red brick building had the reading room and adult book stacks on the first floor, and the children's department and meeting rooms on the second. It covered 17,000 square feet, about twice as big as the old library. The building also became the depository for numerous works of nationally known artist.
The total cost was $567,030.86 of which $397,446 came from state and federal sources, the remainder from local contributions.
The new library opened on May 16, 1970.
The steady growth of the library has continued in the past two decades until at present there are about 80,000 books and 5,000 other items (magazines, audiovisual materials, microfilm, etc.). and patrons can order from other libraries through the District Library at Monessen.
The Uniontown library has been completely computerized in the past few years.
The only municipality which contributes to the upkeep of the library is the city of Uniontown, through allocation of 1.58 mills of the real estate tax. State library aid is received on a regular basis, and there are occasional county allocations. For this reason, residents of the city can borrow books free: those from townships pay a fee to check books out. The reference books and reading rooms are free to everyone.
Even while the library was struggling with economic problems starting in the early 1980s (hours had to be cut and personnel reduced), the board had the foresight to plan for additional expansion and renovation.
In 1994, the Eberly Foundation presented a $1.5 million grant to the library for this work.
A large two-story semicircular addition was built on the south side of the library, connecting the two wings of the previous building, in the place where a courtyard was formerly located. A new two-story tower surmounts the main entrance on the north.
The most noticeable result is enlargement of the Pennsylvania Room (the local history department) on the second floor, where the meeting rooms had previously been located. Its reading room will be directly above the general reading room on the first floor.
The book stacks have been moved to the front of the first floor, and the meeting rooms now occupy the former Pennsylvania Room section on the second floor.
The circulation desk and offices on the first floor have been remodeled, and the children's department on the second floor has been modernized. The renovation will provide additional storage space.
Architects Dale Drost and Ernest Walters designed the project and Stockton Construction Company was general contractor.
The Uniontown Public Library has had six head librarians since its inception in 1928 - Ocie Anderson, 1929-32; Mrs H.D. Hutchinson, 1932-47; Mabel E. Zearley, 1947-67; Joanne Coble Hess, 1967-79; Barry Blaine, 1979-94; and Christy Fusco, the present librarian.
The library has had the advantage of board members who have given selflessly of their time, resources and expertise to the advancement of the library - people like McClellan Leonard, the real "father" of the old library; longtime City Councilman Benjamin Williams, Peter Gentilcore, Mrs. Samuel Feigus, Edna Mae Godard and many others.
Members of the present board of directors are W. Lawrence Bush, President; Ralph Warman, Vice-President; Katharine M. Carr, Secretary; Edward Hyjurick, Treasurer; Mary Cluss, Henrietta Semans and James Balling.