Washington Social Library Company
A Library for the Community
By Marcia Rouse, Education Coordinator
The Curator, April 2009
As residents of Centerville and Washington Township, we enjoy a broad range of services provided by the Washington–Centerville Public Library, which offers everything from an extensive collection to a variety of programs. Of course it took many years for our Library to become what it is today. In fact, today’s Library is the end result of efforts that began almost 200 years ago.
The first effort to provide the Township with library services began in 1810, when a joint stock company – the Washington Social Library Company -- was formed to establish a library. In that same year, the Ohio General Assembly issued a charter, and the Washington Township Library opened its doors. The Township Library began operations under the guidance of a Board of Directors that included Edmund Munger, Judge Benjamin Maltbie, and Jeremiah Hole.
Although there are no surviving Library records, the first Township Library apparently operated for some 30 years – until it was ended by the actions of a clever, unscrupulous businessman. In the “History of Montgomery Co.” (1882), Judge Maltbie’s son, Harrison, relates the story of the Library’s end, as follows: “About 1840 a stranger went through the township, bought the shares from stockholders, and kept everything secret until he had full control; then he came to my father to buy his two shares. My father said to him, ‘You want to establish a bank on this charter?’ The stranger acknowledged that this was true. My father told him when the charter was obtained, a pledge was given that it should not be so used. [The stranger] replied that he had the power already to control it, and he would use it, and, to avoid trouble, he would give my father $30 for his two shares. My father took it. This man moved the concern to Miamisburg and started the Washington Bank.” The Bank founded on the charter of the Township Library was unprofitable and short-lived.
Following the loss of the first Washington Township Library in 1840, the community was without library services until 1900, when the Centerville Library Club was formed. The Club had 37 Charter members. Club members paid dues of 50 cents per month. Club dues and money from fundraisers (i.e., carnivals, amateur productions, lyceum lectures, etc) were used to purchase books which could be circulated among Club members and their families. The first Club librarian received a salary of just $1 a year, but she was exempt from paying dues. She kept the Club’s “lending library” – which started with just 12 books – wrapped in butcher paper on top of her parlor organ.
The Library Club met on the second Tuesday evening of each month. The Club’s Entertainment Committee planned diverse activities for the monthly meetings. For example, the “Centreville Library Club Programme for 1918” reflects scheduled Readings, a Matron’s Play by Ladies of the Club, a Debate on Equal Suffrage, a Club Luncheon, and a Halloween Party.
The Centerville Library Club was active until 1930, when the Washington Township Public Library was chartered and approved to receive ¼ mill of state and county taxes as paid by Washington Township. At that time, “after 30 years of continuous work and service,” the Library Club donated its collection of nearly 1,400 books and its library fixtures to the new Library.
The Washington Township Public Library was first housed in just two rooms in a private home which once stood on W. Franklin Street. Although small, the new Library had a full-time Librarian who received $30 a month to operate the Library for a total of 20 hours a week. The Library was open every day but Sunday. The opening of the new Library was a momentous event for community residents of all ages: “We were so excited that we children could take out books,” recalls Mrs. Celia Elliott.
Since opening in 1930, the Washington Township Public Library has been in continuous operation. In 1991, the Library was re-named the Washington-Centerville Public Library.
Over the years, the Library has evolved to accommodate both a growing, changing collection and a growing, changing patron population. Recognized repeatedly for excellence in service, the Washington-Centerville Public Library is a cornerstone of our community. But it is more than that: It is a testament to the tireless efforts of visionaries dedicated to the continuing “intellectual improvement” of the community.
(References: “History of Montgomery Co.” and CWTHS files with selected narratives by Celia Elliott, Fran Holyoke, and Elinor Benedict)