Brief History – Bala Cynwyd Library
The Women’s Club of Bala Cynwyd founded the Bala Cynwyd Library in 1915. The original plan to house the library in the Academy Building of the School Board of Lower Merion never materialized. A room was secured at a nominal rent in the Union Fire House. The library opened to the public there in July 1915 with 1,078 donated books. In its early years volunteers staffed the Library. In 1922 Marie L. Thompson became the Library’s first paid employee and served as Head Librarian until 1929.
A need for more space prompted a fund raising campaign to construct a new library. Property on Levering Mill Road was purchased where a new facility was erected and dedicated to the memory of those who lost their lives in World War I as well as a tribute to all who had served in that war. The cornerstone was laid on Armistice Day, November 11, 1926 and the completed building, designed by William Cramp Scheetz, was dedicated in March 1927.
The years between 1927 and the 1960s were years of continuous growth and expansion. In 1929 the Library hired its first professional Head Librarian, Anna Carey, who served until her 1946 retirement. The Children’s Department began programming, and hosted guest authors such as Marguerite DeAngeli, Betty Cavanna, Susan Purdy, and Jean Horton Berg.
By the 1960s the library had again outgrown its quarters. At the same time, the Lower Merion School District was in need of a new elementary school building. The Bala School, built in 1888, was experiencing a space shortage. With two needs coinciding, the community felt it would not be able to bear the financial burden of building two new facilities, and this is how the library/school complex on the present Old Lancaster Road and North Highland Avenue location came to be. The 3-½ acre Faust property was purchased in 1969 by the Township that in turn sold the property in 1970 to the Lower Merion School District for the joint development of school and library needs. Groundbreaking on the new building occurred in January 1973, and construction was completed in the spring of 1974. The Library officially opened its doors to the public July 1, 1974. The new building was dedicated September 22, 1974 and received much attention nationally as a model public school/public library project.
In 1978 the Lower Merion School District decided to close four schools due to declining enrollment, including the Bala School. In July 1982 the Solomon Schechter Day School signed a lease-purchase agreement and occupied the other side of the library building until they sold to L’Ecole Francaise in July 1997. The French School took settlement on July 10, 1997 and began occupation of the school part of the building in August 1997.
The Bala Cynwyd Library serves as the Reference Resource Library on the eastern end of the Township and has a special emphasis on music. Since moving to Old Lancaster Road, the Library has expanded its circulation and offers a varied collection of materials and programs.