top of page

Library History

The forerunner of the present Caldwell Public Library dates back to the post-Revolutionary War Era. The pioneers in the vicinity had limited funds but an unlimited interest in the written word. Consequently, they purchased books and founded a library in 1804. The number of books increased from relatively few to over five hundred volumes in the ensuing years.

Five Hundred Dollars was contributed by the founders for purchasing equipment and books. The first librarian was Matthias Canfield, followed by Stephen Grover and William G. Crane. The library was an inspiration and enjoyment to almost everybody in the area.

Calvin S. Crane established a preparatory school in 1823 known as the Caldwell Academy. As a result, interest in literary and educational endeavors increased. People were eager to purchase books for their own homes. This tendency prevailed from 1823 to 1830. During this time, many standard sets appeared in West Essex dwellings. As a result of personal or home ownership of book collections, the interest in the library waned, resulting in its dissolution in 1835. A pro rata dividend of the volumes was declared by the organizers and stockholders at this time.

On January 27, 1894, Caldwell High School held a faculty meeting to discuss reading material for the students. At that time, nothing was available except books owned by the residents in the community. A committee consisting of Professor Clarence E. Hedden (Principal of the High School), Miss H. Toland (Mrs. Ezra Harrison), Miss Elizabeth Canfield and Miss Anna Crane were appointed to ascertain the feasibility of a reading room for students.

After several meetings concerning this matter, the committee concluded that a library was needed for the public as well as for the students.

The first Board of Directors, representing all of the village’s interest, was chosen. The several board members were:

*Miss Elizabeth Canfield        *Mr. Lynn Lockward

*Miss Anna Crane                  *Mr. Thomas C. Provost

*Mr. Clarence E. Hedden       *Miss H. Toland (Mrs. Ezra Harrison)

*Mr. W.P. Lindsley


Miss Canfield and Mr. Lindsley were appointed to construct a constitution. Miss Crane, Miss Canfield and Professor Hedden comprised the book selection committee. Membership in the library was on a subscription basis with an annual fee of one dollar. Subscribers were requested to submit a list of ten books they would like to have in their library.

Interested people donated books, and after other materials were gathered, the first volumes were purchased on November 16th, 1894.

On December 4, 1894, the library was opened and the circulation for that first day was thirty-five books. The patron paid a very small fee to borrow books. For several years, this was the sole source of the library’s support.  Fortunately, there were no operational expenses, and all monies collected were used to purchase books.

Approximately one hundred volumes were purchased over the years. As time progressed, pupils began assisting Professor Hedden. The library was open on Mondays from 3:00 to 4:00 p.m.

The Borough Improvement Association offered the library one of the rooms in Association Hall, located on Academy Road. The Library accepted the invitation and used their facilities for nine years. Professor Hedden, library administrator, appointed Miss Emily Lewis (Mrs. Wayne Lyon) as the librarian. She recalls a library consisting of two walls of bookshelves filled with many novels, but a few reference books.

On October 1, 1906, at a regular meeting of the Borough Council, a communication was received from the Caldwell Borough Improvement Association, requesting the Borough to assume the responsibility of operating and supporting the Public Library.

The following year, 1907, Professor Hedden, Superintendent of Schools, requested the Caldwell Borough Council to submit to the voters a referendum to establish a Free Library under the State Library Act. The councilmen endorsed the necessary requirements and at the November elections, the Act was passed by the voters. The State Library Commission accepted and approved the proposed charter.

On June 8, 1908, a letter from the Carnegie Library Foundation offered a sum of Seven Thousand Five Hundred Dollars to construct a library. To meet the grant’s specifications, the town was required to provide an appropriate lot, plus Seven Hundred and Fifty Dollars or 10% of the grant annually to sustain the library.

For the next nine years, the library board was confronted with problems, which hindered the construction of a new edifice. Acquiring a suitable location was the principal issue. The board made unsuccessful efforts to attain a portion of the Monomanock Inn Property at the intersection of Bloomfield Avenue and Academy Road. Meanwhile, the citizens of the county were interested in establishing a permanent memorial to the memory of President Grover Cleveland. He was the only President born in New Jersey and he was born in Caldwell. Funds were raised for this campaign in conjunction with the plans for establishing a library adjacent to the memorial, on the corner of Arlington Avenue and Bloomfield Avenue. After the town acquired title to the land, the citizens reconsidered the feasibility of erecting a library at that location. They felt it would detract from the serene beauty of the Cleveland birthplace and add other inconveniences. Mr. George W. Canfield, of West Caldwell, generously donated $2,000 toward the purchase of a site for the library. With the contribution, and donations from other interested persons, a total of $3,000 was accumulated to purchase a new location.

Mr. Thomas C. Provost willingly agreed to sell a portion of the Provost estate fronting the Caldwell Common for $3,000 and pledged $500 for the new site. It was accepted and the transaction was completed.

Commissioner Lockward, the Architect, submitted his plans to the Borough Council and the Municipal Art Commission, and they were accepted. His plans were to construct a one-story brick structure of forty-eight feet and a depth of twenty feet, enhanced with terra cotta trimmings. It would have a tile roof and basement, containing the furnace room, coal bunkers, etc., and a conference room. The entrance to the library was to be located in the middle of the library, on the main floor. This would lead to a vestibule and then to a hall sixteen feet wide with a desk running across the hall. The librarian’s room would be located behind the desk. On both sides of this hall, two reading rooms, sixteen feet by twenty-eight feet, would be constructed with entrances to the hall as well as to the librarian’s room. The adult reading room was to have bookcases on three sides and tables and chairs. The other reading room was to be used by juveniles. The plans were drawn with the intention of making additions in the future. They were submitted to Mr. Betran of the Carnegie Foundation, who offered a few suggestions for alterations. These plans were accepted.

Of the eight different construction companies offering bids, the lowest was $9,360. The foundation was approached again for an additional grant of $2,500, making a total of $10,000. This amount was given with the stipulation that the town of Caldwell would increase its annual appropriation to $1,000 (10%) for operational expenditures. This was accepted, and construction of the library building became a reality.

The Trustees received and additional $500 for the grading and beautification of the grounds surrounding the building.

On October 12, 1917, the Caldwell Library was formally dedicated during appropriate exercises. Mayor Peck, who was President of the Library Trustees, was in charge of the ceremonies. The invocation was given by Reverend Nelson B. Chester. Commissioner William N. Hasler, a member of the board, delivered the key to the building to Mayor Peck, who accepted it on behalf of the Borough. The principal address of the evening was given by Miss Sara B. Askew of the New Jersey Public Library Association. Commissioner Clarence E. Hedden, father of the library, reviewed the history of the development of the library, paying special tribute to Mr. Canfield for his generous offer to the fund for securing a site. After the benediction by Reverend Gorrell Quick, an inspection of the building ensued. According to reports, it was enthusiastically accepted.

During the First World War, the Council of National Defense made an appeal for magazines and books for the soldiers on transport ships. Miss Hasler designated the library as a collection center for books from this area. The public responded enthusiastically by donating more than five hundred volumes.

On Armistice Day, November 12, 1919, two bronze tablets, installed on each side of the front entrance of the Caldwell Library, were dedicated and unveiled during auspicious ceremonies. The inscription reads as follows:

“In honor of the men of Caldwell who at the call of their country entered the service to fight in the war for world-wide liberty, 1917-1919. These tablets are erected by the people of Caldwell.”

On Memorial Day and Veterans Day, the James Caldwell Post 185 of the American Legion, and various local Veterans Organizations, conduct joint exercises at this memorial.

In the past, the library has played an extremely important role in supplying the reading material for the children of Caldwell and West Caldwell. Lincoln School had a library due to the efforts of its principal. All other schools lacked school libraries. As of 1959, there are six Public Schools and two Catholic Schools functioning with their own libraries.

Caldwell also has to its credit, a few prominent authors: Paul Christopher Perrotta, C.P. of Caldwell College for Women; Reverend Edward J. O’Toole of Caldwell; Benjamin Robert Norwood; Lynn G. Lockward; Miss Josephine Z. Rine, an authority on dogs; Henry Reed; Ruth Champenois; and Norman F. Brydon.

Unfortunately, the library never recorded the names of its former librarians and staff members. Among those persons who have served in the past to develop and extend library services in Caldwell who are remembered by patrons are the following:

Mrs. Wayne Lyon the former Miss Emily Lewis

Mrs. Helen Hasler Geib

Mrs. Lillian Riker, Director

Mrs. Charles Stavelle, the former Miss Virginia Thompson

Miss Theresa Hasler, Children’s Librarian

Mrs. Mabel Hapward, Acting Director

Mrs. Constance West

Mrs. Donna McMillan

Mrs. Theresa Petti

Miss Judy Ma, Children’s Librarian, now Mrs. Gordon

Miss Phoebe Fletcher, Children’s Librarian

At the time this History was written, the Caldwell Library had a staff of five under the direction of Mr. Roland Cardin.  He was the first qualified male director in the history of the Caldwell Library. The staff members were: Miss Cheryl Metoyer, Children’s Librarian; Mrs. Harry Houskeeper, who was acting Library Director for the first half of 1969; Mrs. George Hinrichs; Mrs. Katherine Bateman; Miss Maureen O’Neill; and Miss Joan Garrison.

The Board of Trustees consisted of: Mr. Donald Lockward, Chairman; Mrs. David L. Hack, Vice Chairman; Miss Armella S. Kent, Secretary; Miss Helen Galloway; Mrs. R.A. Hinkel; Mr. H. William Lindeman; and Mr. Joseph A. Marshall.

Recognition must also be given to all the High School and College girls who served as pages throughout the years. They have been of invaluable assistance.

The library is fortunate to have conscientious volunteers, who very generously give their time and service in assisting the staff. They are: Mr. Benjamin Berger, Mr. and Mrs. Peter Mueller, and Miss Nancy Waldron. Grammar school students also volunteer their time and work very enthusiastically in the children’s room. Margaret Fox, Elizabeth Koenig, and Leonora Little joined the ranks of children volunteers.

Recently, a group of interested people formed an organization, “Friends of the Library,” to help promote the goals of Caldwell Library. The six initiating members are:

Mr. Paul Van Dunk

Miss Margaret Gaven

Mrs. Robert Hinkel

Mr. And Mrs. Peter Mueller

Mrs. Alex Robertson

The purpose and aim of Caldwell Library is to meet the cultural and intellectual needs of the people of the area.  It is with this goal in mind that the Library hopes to continue and expand its services to the community.

By Joan Garrison

For Roland Cardin, Director

bottom of page