The beautiful stone building that houses the Gladwyne Free Library was erected in 1921, and was owned by the Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania. Known as Gladwyne Community Hall, the building has seen many uses over the years. It has been a post office, a community health center, a polling place (until 1960), a site for various club meetings, and a gymnasium. It hosted community suppers and Saturday night dances and is still a convenient and accessible meeting place for members of the community.
In 1931, Maud and Stuart Bell had the vision to establish a library in one room of Gladwyne Hall. The Library’s first books were donations from the community collected by Maud Bell, who served as librarian for fifteen years. Six months later, with a donation from Mr. Griscom Bettle and a $600 per year contribution from the Lower Merion Township Commissioners, the library was able to buy supplies and a few new books. When the library outgrew the front room in 1938, the Board of Trustees took over the building from the Episcopal Diocese, with the condition that it pay for all utilities and supplies. That year the Library conducted its first fund raising campaign to paint and buy shelving for the larger room. In 1951, the Episcopal Diocese conveyed the building’s title to the Gladwyne Free Library Corporation. Since then, the Library has undergone expansions and many improvements including the 2016 addition of an ADA compliant elevator serving all floors of the library, a new entryway to accommodate the elevator, and a designated Young Adult area. Funds for this effort were provided by the Township of Lower Merion, a Pennsylvania Keystone Grant, and the Lower Merion Library Foundation.
Collections have grown rapidly, and now include books, books-on-CD, music CDs, periodicals, DVDs and electronic resources. Local fund raising continues to play a significant role in our collections and the maintenance of the building.
Gladwyne Free Library houses the Pennsylvania Room Collection, which is located in a separate room on the second floor. Maud Bell also started this collection by gathering together books, magazine articles, clippings and photographs of local and state history. Over the years, titles important to the study of local and state history, architecture, biography, travel, industry, etc. have been added through donation or purchase, resulting in a present collection of over 1700 volumes. Some of the most well used resources in the collection are the nine Pennsylvania Railroad Atlases that chronicle land ownership from Overbrook to Paoli from 1886 to 1926. These atlases are also available on the LMLS website.