The Story of York Public Library
The York Public Library Association (YPLA) was incorporated on May 29, 1922, a move that enabled the Association to begin construction of the town’s first library. The YPLA was many years in the making, and it all began with a reading room in a club for young adults….
The York Neighborhood Club
In 1900, the York Neighborhood Club formed in the new Realty Building for the indoor recreation of the town’s young people. The club occupied two rooms on the second floor and a space on the top floor. On the second floor, one room was used for a game room, and the other a library.
The Realty Building early 1900s. From “Images of America : Old York” by John D. Bardwell and used with permission of the Bardwell family.
Mrs. Effie Cox in period costume at an early 1900s event on the Old Gaol lawn. Photo: Old York Historical Society.
Effie Cox saves the books!
The Neighborhood Club, while popular at its founding, eventually dissolved due to waning interest and lack of volunteers to manage the club. In 1910, the Realty building was sold to Ernest F. Hobson. When Mrs. Effie Cox, an active member of the community, heard that the books might be destroyed, she offered to sort through the collection and salvage books in good enough condition for potential use in a community lending library. Her husband, Mr. Myron Cox, was editor and publisher of the weekly newspaper, which was also housed in the Realty building and printed on the ground floor. The rescued books were stored temporarily in the printing office.
Looking down York Street in 1912, with the York Cooperative Store on the left. This building is located where Ellis Insurance now stands. From “Images of America : Old York” by John D. Bardwell and used with permission of the Bardwell family.
The Grange Sponsors a Library
Meanwhile, the Grange formed a new chapter in York Village, the Gorgeana Grange #494. Effie Cox, a member of the Grange, suggested to other members that they sponsor a Library – and they agreed. The Grange rented rooms above the York Cooperative store, and a small library, complete with a reading room, was created.
Mrs. Newton Perkins, who knew Effie through the Old York Improvement Society, suggested York Summer residents be approached for book donations to add to the fledgling library, an endeavor that proved fruitful.
The Association Forms
Unfortunately, just a couple years later, the Gorgeana Grange gave up its charter due to dwindling membership. The Grange relinquished any claim they had to the books, but where would they go? How could a town Library be supported?
Mrs. Elizabeth Emma Moulton, a friend of Effie Cox, prevailed upon her employer, Charles L. Grant, to host a meeting in his home to establish an association of paying members who could support such a library. On November 13, 1914, the York Public Library Association met for the first time, electing local pharmacist Ralph W. Hawkes as its first president, Mrs. Howard Junkins as Vice President, J.J. Sullivan as Treasurer, and Effie Cox as Secretary and (volunteer) Librarian.
They rented a storefront in the newly constructed Austin Block, stocking it with volumes left by the Grange. Members of the Association supported the library with paying memberships: one dollar gave members a life membership and a vote at the Association’s annual meeting for the election of officers.
In 1915, the York Public Library Association petitioned for, and received, an appropriation from the Town for the first time, and the Library grew. In 1917, Effie Cox resigned as volunteer librarian (though she would remain involved with the Library for her entire life) and the Association elected Myrtie Banks as the Library’s first paid secretary and librarian. Myrtie Banks would hold her post until her death in 1951.
Meeting minutes from the Association’s first meeting, dated November 22, 1914, and the Austin Block as it is today.
Dr. Frank Smith served as the President of the YPLA Board of Trustees beginning in 1917. He was with the organization until his death in 1947.
Mr. and Mrs. E.C. Moody donated the fieldstone for the library on York Street. Photo from Mr. Moody’s book, Handbook history of the town of York : from early times to the present.
A Permanent Home
The Association considered lots on which a library building could be built. At the same time, G. Frank Austin, the owner of the Austin Block, wished to open a store in the space occupied by the Library. After reviewing a few land options, the Association entered into an agreement with the First Parish Congregational Church to construct a library on the so-called “Allen Lot” which could be leased to the Association indefinitely by the church.
Before building began, the Trustees filed a petition to incorporate under the name York Public Library Association, so that individual Trustees would not have to assume the financial responsibility of building a new library. The Library was incorporated on May 29, 1922. The Board of Trustees at that time were: Frank W. Smith, President; Emma Moulton, Vice President; Myrtie Banks, Secretary and Librarian; Kate L. Marshall, Treasurer; Edward E Nowell; Edward C Moody; Addie Donnell; Mary Truesdell; G.B. Cornish; and Charles L. Grant.
York Public Library in its first home on York Street c. 1941. Photo by Philip A Gordon. York Public Library Archives
A Library at Last!
Shortly thereafter, Building and Finance Committees were established, and E. Everett Goodwin drew plans for the new building. Ground was broken on July 25 of that year for the Library, and while construction was ongoing, the books were moved to the vestry of the First Parish Church.
Thanks to the fundraising efforts of the building committee, significant in-kind donations from various community members, and multiple financial contributions from the Town, the Library was completed in 1926.
The Library would serve the town of York in that building until 2001.
The Library was dedicated in 1925, as described in this article in the Portsmouth Herald.
Cox, Myron. “York Public Library.” The York Weekly, December 20, 1956, p. 13.
Ernst, George. New England Miniature. Freeport, Maine, The Bond Wheelwright Company, 1961.
“New Library at York Dedicated” The Portsmouth Herald, March 5, 1925, p. 5.
Spiller, Virginia S., Editor. 350 Years as York: Focusing on the Twentieth Century. York, Maine, Town of York 350th Anniversary Committee, November 2001.
“Minutes of the York Public Library Association.” York Public Library, November 1914 – 1975. York, Maine.