You’re Invited: The Falls of Schuylkill Library celebrates its 110th birthday
On Saturday, November 18, the Friends of the Library are hosting a fun-filled event for all ages to celebrate the 110th birthday of the Falls of Schuylkill Library!
Stop by from 11AM to 2PM and enjoy cake, popcorn, and other treats. Lots of fun stuff to do, too!
For the Kiddos: 🧒🎨
- Fun story sessions at 11:30, 12:30, and 1:30.
- A giant jigsaw puzzle of the Falls Library exterior.
- Hands-on fun with crafts! Make bookmarks, birthday cards, and more.
For the Grown-Ups: 🧐🎶
- Take a trip back in time with vintage maps of East Falls (including one from 1890!) and captivating old-timey neighborhood photos. (Courtesy of the Central Library’s Map Collection and the Print and Pictures Collection.)
- Challenge yourself with a jigsaw puzzle of the library’s 1913 interior.
- Discover the world of 1912-13 through displays that include world events, best sellers, and noteworthy births. There will also be a live performance of popular songs from the era.
- Witness various phases of the library’s construction through a historical slideshow.
- Relive and share your library memories on a scroll or audio file.
Thanks to the “110 Committee” (Beth Hymel, Ann Wiley, Martha Fuller, Carla Bednar, and Wendy Moody) and the Friends of the Falls of Schuylkill Library for making this event possible. To volunteer or get more info, contact the Friends at email@example.com or 215-840-4213.
Library History and Features
The first library in East Falls opened on June 1, 1901, as a Deposit Station on the second floor of the Old Academy, the first community center in Philadelphia. In April 1911, the Library Board secured a donation of land from the estate of William G. Warden and William H. Merrick.
Built in the English Collegiate style and funded by Andrew Carnegie as part of an endowment to Philadelphia, the library opened on November 18, 1913. (It was built for $40,864, equivalent to about $1,270,000 today.) The renowned architectural firm Rankin, Kellogg, and Crane designed the structure, and it was constructed using “Wissahickon Schist” stone excavated from the site upon which it was built.
Schist was the quintessential building material for local designers from the 18th through the 20th centuries. They used the durable, easily mined, and ubiquitous “pelitic schist” to create masterpieces in all styles: Italian Villa, Gothic Revival, Georgian, Colonial Revival, and Second Empire throughout northwest Philly. Although the stone was beautiful to look at, with its multi-tones of gray, blue, tan, brown, and black, the real draw for builders were its unique qualities – it was soft enough when quarried to carve with a hatchet or saw, but when exposed to air it quickly oxidized and became as hard as steel.
The library is a one-story structure that is banked so that from the southwest side, it appears as two stories. While the steeply graded site presented challenges in the design and construction of the structure, in the end, it allowed for an easily accessible entryway into the basement-level lecture hall. On the ground floor, the library’s many windows and soaring vaulted ceiling created a sunny, expansive space that’s served generations (and is still a joy to read in today).
Atop the building, there is a catfish weathervane, referencing the catfish that teemed in the Schuylkill River centuries ago when East Falls was known as Fort St. Davids. Historian John F. Watson, a man often given to stretching the truth, told of huge hauls back in the fishing heyday of East Falls. In his Annals of Philadelphia, first published in 1830, Watson told the age-old stories of Godfrey Shrunk, a well-known fisherman for the Fishing Company of St. David. Shrunk told of catching 3,000 fish a night using only a dip-net! Catfish were numerous too, with Shrunk cooking nearly 500 of the bewhiskered fish at a time.
According to another historian, Charles V. Hagner, there was nothing really extraordinary about these colossal catches, stating that a person could catch enough shad in fishing season, lasting only three months, to support his entire family for a whole year. At the Falls Hotel, catfish were paired with waffles to form the classic Wissahickon Supper, later served at all the local resorts. The fisheries of East Falls are ancient history but the memory still remains if you know where to look (now you do!).
Lots more interesting local stories to discover — plus great staff and friendly neighbors to meet — at the Falls library’s 110th birthday party, please come out and be a part of the next chapter of this beloved old building’s history. All welcome!