LIBRARIES AND LITERARY SOCIETIES
THE first library in Moorestown of which I have any knowledge, was organized at a meeting held on May 9th, 1808 at the home of Samuel Haines to consider the forming of a Library Association. John Kaighn was elected Chairman of the meeting and Hugh Hollinshead, Secretary. The Moorestown Library Company was organized and a Constitution and By-Laws adopted at this meeting. The object of the Association was “to promote useful knowledge and Christian virtue” which they wisely decided could be accomplished in the most effective manner by the establishment of a library of carefully selected books for the use of the public. A careful perusal of the seventy-seven volumes first selected which are listed in the latter part of the printed copy of the Constitution and By-Laws now in the Public Library, would indicate that the Association made an earnest effort to carry out its purpose. Our library also has in its possession a book that was in this old library although not one of the original seventy-seven volumes. “An abridged edition of Mr. Locke’s Essay Concerning Humane Understanding” is the title of this ancient book which was published in 1734. I cannot state how long this library was in existence.
Our present Moorestown Free Library is the outgrowth of the Moorestown Library Association of Friends organized in 1853 by a group of Friends who met for the purpose in the Stone School House that stood between the two meeting houses where the school building now stands. I cannot state definitely whether this Association was the outgrowth of the Library Company organized in 1808. It may be that the earlier Library had ceased to function or possibly our conservative Quaker ancestors objected to the works of fiction to be found upon its shelves. Members of the Religious Society of Friends only were eligible to membership in the
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new Association. No novels, romances or works of immoral character were allowed in the Library. The annual dues were $1.00 and each member was allowed to take out two volumes which could be kept for two weeks after which a fine of one cent per day was imposed. At first non-members paid five cents for each book taken out but the By-Laws were changed in 1854 so that they could obtain books by paying $1.00 per year under the same conditions as members.
The new Library opened with one hundred and twenty-four volumes. Its first home was on the second floor of Haines’s and Buzby's store which was located on the north side of Main Street near the Burlington County Trust Company. John W. Buzby was the first custodian of books. In 1866 it was moved to Howard Leeds’ jewelry store but did not remain there very long as Mr. Leeds moved from Moorestown in the following year. Its next home was in the millinery shop of Angeline Adams who served as custodian of the books. The Library was transferred to Sarah Davis' millinery shop in 1871. Miss Davis was paid Twenty Dollars a year for her services as librarian which was an increase of Eight Dollars per year over her predecessor. Its next home was on the second floor of George Doughten’s store, now the William H. Matlack Company’s store, located at the northeast corner of Main Street and Chester Avenue.
In 1876 the Library having grown to four hundred and forty volumes, a committee was appointed to consider the advisability of securing larger and more permanent quarters. At first it was decided to build a Library building on the Meeting House grounds and although permission was granted by the Preparative Meeting the plan was not carried out. The old Stone School House was enlarged in 1878 by the addition of a brick building on the north side. This was a one story building and part of it was secured for the Library. This was its home until 1888 when the Library Association obtained permission from the Meeting to add a
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second story for its exclusive use. Twenty-one Hundred Dollars was raised by subscription for this purpose.
The Library then consisted of approximately nine hundred volumes. Many books were added about this time and William Kite of the Friends’ Free Library of Germantown was engaged to rearrange and classify the books. In 1895 the Constitution was revised and the name changed to the Moorestown Free Library Association of Friends. Article I, stated that the Library shall be known as the Moorestown Free Library and shall be under the care of the Religious Society of Friends. Annual dues were abolished and it was to be supported in the future by voluntary contribution. The Library was opened to all persons of good habits who were willing to comply with the regulations. It is interesting to note that novels and romances were not prohibited in the revised Constitution. The Library then contained about fifteen hundred volumes and a card index system was installed by a trained Librarian. The Association was incorporated in 1907.
After a somewhat nomadic existence of seventy-five years, the Library was moved to its present home in our beautiful Community House which was presented to the people of Moorestown in 1926 by Eldridge Reeves Johnson. Prior to this time, although open to the public, it had been supported entirely by contribution. In 1927 the By-Laws were changed so that other than Friends could serve on the Board of Directors and it is now controlled by a board of nine members. The Library Association asked for an annual appropriation of Three Thousand Dollars which thus far has been approved by the voters. About one-third of the cost of maintenance is still raised by private subscription. Each subscriber becomes a member of the Association and at the annual meeting three new directors are chosen to take the place of the three whose terms expire annually. The Library now contains seven thousand five hundred volumes and is constantly growing in size and usefulness. It now has an average daily circulation of two hundred books including those obtained from the County Library at Mount Holly. Miss Hannah Severns is now Librarian and Miss Helen E. Wilmot and Miss Genevieve M. Earling are assistant Librarians. Most of us have forgotten or perhaps never heard of the Moorestown Literary Association which for many years contributed so largely to the intellectual life of the community. This Association was organized in 1854 by a group of influential and public spirited citizens. The organizers were Israel Heulings, Rev. H. Hastings Weld, Rector of the Episcopal Church, Dr. N. Newlin Stokes, Rev. E. D. Fen dali, Pastor of the Baptist Church, Dr. Jonathan J. Spencer, John W. Buzby and Edward Harris, Jr. Mr. Heulings was elected President
and Dr. Stokes, Secretary.There was no public hall in Moorestown at that time andthe Society rented the third floor of A. H. Burr’s store,which was located next to the Burlington County TrustCompany and fitted it up for a lecture room. A regularcourse of lectures was given in this room for three winterswhen it was found to be too small to hold all who desired to attend. The Association was incorporated in 1859 andan agreement made with the Township Committee underwhich the Association agreed to enlarge the “Townhouse” for the purpose of holding lectures arid other entertainments.The Township Committee reserved the right to use theHail when needed for Township purposes or to hold politicalmeetings. Two hundred shares of stock at $5.00 per sharewere offered to. the public and quickly subscribed. A thirty-two foot extension was added to the rear of the Hall and alecture platform erected across the lower end. The firstcourse of lectures was held during the winter of 1859-60,Daniel Dougherty, the “Silver Tongued Orator” being oneof the lecturers. The Association was active until 1888 when the Township Committee made an agreement withthe Women's Christian Temperance Union for the improve-
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ment of the Hall to which the Association officially consented.
THE MOORESTOWN LYCEUM—This Association was organized in 1878 and met regularly in the Town Hall during the following six or eight years. This was also a community organization and their entertainments as a rule consisted of lectures by outside speakers although occasionally home talent meetings were held. Dr. Pusey Wilson and Gilbert Aitken of Moorestown were among the charter members and the former was probably the first President. Mr. Aitken has a programme dated April 18th, 1879, showing that the entertainment for the evening consisted of “Readings and Recitations by Ama Burnette.” An admission fee of ten cents was usually charged to cover the cost of the outside entertainers.
FRIENDS’ LITERARY SOCIETIES—The Reading Circle and the Parlor Literary Society now as extinct as the Mastodon that once roamed through the forests of Burlington County, although not exclusively Quaker institutions, have always flourished on Quaker soil. They contributed largely to the intellectual development as well as to the social enjoyment of the passing generations. I cannot in this brief sketch mention all of these Societies but believe that it will be of interest to many to review those which were perhaps the most active.
The Hicksite Friends seem to have been the first to occupy the literary field. The Moorestown Reading Circle organized on Eleventh month 19th, 1859, at the home of Isaac Collins, is the oldest of which I have any knowledge. Its first officers were Clayton Conrow, President, John S. Collins, Vice President, and Martha C. Lippincott, Secretary and Editor of “The Youth’s Gazette” which was published semi-monthly. The object of the Association, as stated in its Constitution, was “the improvement and enjoyment of all connected with Win debating, social advancement and general literature.” The entertainments were all home talent and consisted of readings, recitations,
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essays and debates. Such questions as “Is Childhood the Happiest Period of Human Life?” and “Have Men of Thought been more Beneficial to the World than Men of Action?” were seriously and doubtless at times humorously debated at these meetings. The Society met at the homes of its members at six forty-five o’'clock.
THE CRESCENT LITERARY SOCIETY‑This Society was organized at the home of Samuel Holmes in Fellowship in 1879. Samuel C. Roberts was elected President and Anna R. Holmes, Secretary. The meetings were held at the homes of its members and the entertainments were all home talent and doubtless somewhat similar in nature to those given by the Moorestown Reading Circle. The minute book of this Association has apparently been lost or mislaid and consequently I have not been able to learn as much about its activities as I have of the other Literary Societies. The surviving members hold an annual picnic and a Thanksgiving Day dinner at which happy memories of the “good old days” are revived.
THE CRYSTAL LITERARY SOCIETY—The Crystal which followed the Crescent was organized in Eleventh month, 1884, at the home of Jesse Lippincott. William C. Coles was elected President and S. Lucy Middleton, Secretary. Although it was not distinctly a Temperance Association, all members during the early years at least were asked to sign the pledge. The organization of this Society as well as of the Women’s Christian Temperance Association followed a visit to Moorestown by Major and Mrs. E. J. Scott, who gave a series of temperance lectures in Moorestown at that time. The Association met at the homes of its members and the entertainments were similar in nature to those given by the Crescent.
THE MINERVA LITARARY SOCIETY—This Society, organized at the home of J. Wilmer Lundy at Centreton on Sixth month 4th, 1887, was apparently the largest and most active of those already mentioned. J. Wilmer Lundy, was elected President and Emily Atkinson, Secretary. It is
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interesting to note that a four-fifths vote was required to elect new members, and that all new members when initiated were required to shake hands with those present. The initiation fee was fifteen cents and the annual dues fifteen cents. The entertainments were all home talent and similar in nature to those given by the Crystal and Crescent Societies. Each meeting was opened by singing a hymn and as our Quaker ancestors did not encourage music, either instrumental or vocal, I assume that discords were not infrequent. The Minerva, like the Crescent, holds annual picnics and Thanksgiving dinners which doubtless are delightful occasions to all who attend.
THE RAMBLERS—The Ramblers, which is still an active Association, was organized in the Fall of 1889 by a small group of Friends who were not altogether satisfied with the entertainments given by its predecessor, the Moorestown Literary Union. The Union was organized in December, 1888, and met regularly in Grange Hall until the summer of 1891. Its entertainments were mostly home talent. I regret that I cannot give the names of its organizers and first officers. The most active members of the group which organized the Ramblers were Robert F. Engle, Walter J. Buzby, Henry W. and Sarah Roberts Leeds, Sarah Matlack Bell, Georgianna Buzby and Edward S. Harmer. During the first few years the Ramblers was a very small and informal society which met at the homes of its members Its entertainments in the early days were home talent. A member would be asked to give a talk on some foreign country or interesting section of our own country or perhaps tell of an interesting trip taken during the previous summer, hence the name, Ramblers. These lectures were frequently illustrated by lantern views.
Its members, however, had dreams of greater things and in the Fall of 1894 the Society decided to hold its meetings in Grange Hall or the Friends' Academy and invite prominent lecturers to address the meetings after the manner of the Friends' Lyceum of Philadelphia. Edward. S. Harmer
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was elected President and should be remembered as the first President of the modern Ramblers. For several years, however, the Society clung to its traditions and at least one home talent meeting was held during the winter. Many of us will recall with great pleasure the Tea Meetings which for many years were an annual event. Supper was served to the members and their guests, after which a social hour was enjoyed before the lecture. The Society grew rapidly and not infrequently it was found necessary to hold the meetings in the Town Hall.
In 1917 the Society decided to hold all meetings in the Public School Auditorium or the Criterion Theatre and to invite all who were interested to attend the lectures and entertainments. Fewer but higher class entertainments are now being given. The public is invited to contribute to the budget but all are welcomed to the entertainments. Prior to 1917, when the Society was under the control of the Friends, invitations were freely sent to those specially interested but the meetings were not publicly advertised or the public invited as at present. The Ramblers is now a community institution and though some of us regret the passing of the social features of the former meetings, it cannot be denied that the Association is now rendering a greater service to the community. World famous men and women have lectured before recent Rambler audiences and the best musical talent brought to town for our enjoyment.
THE EVERON LITERARY SOCIETY—This Society was organized by a younger group of Friends than the Ramblers at the home of Joseph Evans near Marlton in 1892. It met at the homes of its members, many of whom were farmers’ Sons and daughters and its entertainments were largely home talent. It had an active and successful career until comparatively recent years. It is interesting to note in passing that each succeeding Literary Society was organized by the younger brothers and sisters who had literary aspirations of their own but who were not quite old enough to be welcomed in the parent organization. Oftentimes there
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was a good natured rivalry between the older and more active association and the new society.
The passing of these parlor meetings with their social as well as intellectual pleasures which we of the older generation so greatly enjoyed, is undoubtedly a loss to the community. Uncles and Aunts, Grandfathers and Grandmothers were invited when the Crescent or the Ramblers met at "our house" and perhaps the greatest value of these meetings was the mingling of the old and young in social enjoyment.