York Town Square

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About York, Pa. 100 years ago: ‘Isn’t that the city that doesn’t have a public library?’

Former York countians living elsewhere and many current York County, Pa., residents who have not been into Martin Library since its most recent renovations might be delightfully surprised at its grand entrance, shown here in this York (Pa.) Daily Record/Sunday News photograph. This view shows Martin’s 55-foot atrium, part of a 2005 renovation. There’s a coffee shop accessible through the library, too. You can carry the coffee into the library, stand in the atrium and think the great thoughts that libraries inspire. That’s the new; for a file photo on a library service from the past, see below. The library is observing its 75th anniversary this year. Also of interest: Old Martin factory to become housing complex and York’s Martin Library’s old doors tell a story and York County libraries offer serendipity – and have done so for decades.

Stories about Martin Library have always have an interesting twist.
The library, celebrating its 75th birthday, opened in the middle of the Great Depression, as did many other York County community institutions.
It opened on Halloween, and some of its first patrons were dressed in costumes appropriate for the occasion.
Here’s how York County historian Georg Sheets, who does development work for the library, describes the scene:

Halloween fell on a Thursday that year, and a large crowd hustled to the new library to register for library cards and see first-hand the collection of 22,000 books, magazines, pamphlets, mounted pictures, audio records and other materials available for public use.
Many people were dressed in costumes, on route to Trick or Treat activities. Hundreds of young and old obtained library cards and browsed the shelves and displays. All who entered were eager to return another day when they could linger. Head librarian Katherine Shorey described the scene as “Bedlam.”

And even today, Milton D. Martin is telling a story. His old factory stands in West York, although parts are soon to come down to make way for housing and commercial interests. The manufacturing age indeed is passing into the information age.
So it comes as no surprise that a fascinating story about the original idea for Martin Library surfaced in material library officials prepared for its 75th.
This story again comes from Georg Sheets:

Early in the 1900s Milton D. Martin and his wife, the former Martha Jane Landes, were traveling by train to a vacation spot far from home. The couple made a perfect picture of refinement and accomplishment. Mr. Martin, now in his forties and at the peak of his career, wore a suit of the best cut and fabric. Mrs. Martin, a woman of natural grace and beauty, of perfect posture and easy charm, possessed a regal bearing that was not often challenged in formal or informal settings. The Martins were relaxing in one of the train’s elegant compartments, when another couple approached the door of their cabin.
“May we join you,” a well-dressed gentleman asked. He was accompanied by a lady wearing a distinctive hat, a fashionable coat and white gloves.
“Certainly,” M. D. Martin responded.
The couples introduced themselves to one another and then the four sojourners settled in to share the ride to their destinations. Eventually the question was posed, “Where do you live?”
“In York, Pennsylvania,” Mrs. Martin said smiling.
“Oh,” responded the lady who had asked the question. Looking Mrs. Martin up and down, she asked, “Isn’t that the city that doesn’t have a public library?”
The comment carried a powerful punch. The Martins returned home to their townhouse at 145 East Market Street and almost immediately made plans to meet with their lawyer. They would rethink their estate plans and draw up a will and last testament that would endow a public library for the city and county of York.

And the rest, as they say, is history.

Jeanette Woolsey reads to York County school children from the back of Martin Library’s bookmobile in this late-1950s Gazette and Daily photo.
Also of interest:
For a profile of Milton D. Martin, visit Georg Sheets’ piece: Recalling Martin Library’s founder on its 75th anniversary.
For a York Daily Record/Sunday News story on the 75th, visit: Martin Library in York celebrates 75 years.
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