Since our region was full of librarians last week for the annual Ohio Library Conference, this would be a good time to learn about the history of libraries in Sandusky. There is a long history of libraries in the city, beginning in 1825 with the Portland Library. Sandusky’s first librarian was F.D. Parish, whose full-time job was that of an attorney; he managed this subscription library (patrons had to buy memberships) of about 300 books. While we do not know many details about this library, it appears to have operated until around 1840, when it was succeeded by the Sandusky Lyceum. Although the Lyceum kept a collection of books, it was different than a typical library because its primary purpose was as a study group, where members were expected to present lectures on literary and historical topics. The Lyceum became the Philomathesian Society in 1845 – a bigger name, but similar activities. (In case you are wondering, a Philomath is a lover of learning, or a scholar.)
In 1855, Sandusky once again had a library organization, rather than simply a literary study society that had a library. The Young Men’s Library Association effectively served as the public library in Sandusky for over a decade. By 1870, however, this library was nearly dormant, with most of the books left unused in a downtown office. It was then that a group of women met at the home of Mrs. L.B. Hubbard and decided to take charge in the organization of a new public library for Sandusky. From this meeting and subsequent actions, the Library Association of Sandusky was created.
In the early years, the organization was commonly known as the Ladies’ Library Association, in recognition of the women who made up the first boards of directors. These women dedicated the early years of the Library Association to establishing a solid financial and social foundation for the library, ultimately leading to the construction of a public library building. Much of their effort involved raising funds for the future building and for current operating costs. A separate Library Building Fund Association was established in 1886. Public concerts and plays were among some of the fundraising events held for the library in the late nineteenth century. It was not until 1901, after the famous library philanthropist, Andrew Carnegie, responded to a personal appeal from his friend, library board member Frances (Mrs. Jay) Moss, for aiding in the funding of construction, that a permanent library was built, at Adams Street and Columbus Avenue. Carnegie contributed $50,000 to the cost of the building, or more than a million dollars in today’s money.
Before the library building was constructed, the library was opened (still as a subscription library, with annual membership at $2 – equal to more than $50 today) in a room in the High School in May 1870; in March 1896, the library moved to larger space in the Masonic Temple. In 1895, the Library Association of Sandusky was incorporated, and it became the free library that we have today. On July 3, 1901, the new library building was dedicated to the public. Since then, the building has been modified and expanded several times, most notably in 2003-2004, when an addition was built and the old county jail was incorporated into the building, vastly expanding and improving the space in the library.
The Sandusky Library has undergone many changes in the past 118 years, with new additions, new ideas, new services, and new people, but it has always been our public library for all of the community. We hope it will serve for another 118 years, and many more.