Lower Merion Academy: A Legend in Learning

The Library

bookplate: Lower Merion Library Company No. 866
The library’s collection had books on controversial topics: Bookplate for the first edition of Charles Darwin’s “Journal” (1846). Lower Merion Literary Company Collection 866

Education expanded beyond the walls of the Academy into the community when, in 1842, the Trustees established the “Lower Merion Literary Company” which resided in the third floor Committee or Library Room.

This Township-wide library was established by individuals who donated their own books. To supplement this small collection, funds were raised by selling stock shares. The proceeds were used to purchase the entire Harpers’ Family Library and the Harpers’ Classical Library of 434 volumes at a cost of 50 cents per volume. Other series-type collections were added, for example, the Library of Useful Knowledge.

To this core Quaker collection, other book titles were selected to give the library an uncensored window on the world. Such thought-provoking authors as de Tocqueville, Dickens, Darwin and Harriet Beecher Stowe were liberal additions to the library holdings. To better reflect this broader coverage of topics, there was a change in name to the “Lower Merion Library Company” by 1849.

handwritten facing title page: 'A pack of lies that should be burnt being a disgrace to the library'
An unhappy library patron (and fierce patriot) expressed his views about “John Bull in America” by writing in his ‘review’ and defacing the title page.

Each book was carefully protected by a hand-stitched, brown bookbinder’s cloth cover with a distinctive book plate on the inside. The books were shelved by Accession Number and a Library Holdings Book was on display for the public to use. This book was an alphabetical list of the book titles with reference to the Accession Number. A Docket Book was also maintained by what book was borrowed and by what patron. This Docket Book is a Who’s Who of Lower Merion, with such family names as Bowman, Evans, Jones, Levering, Lodge, Price, Ott, Roberts and Sheets, to name a few.

Upon review of the library holdings, there is a traditional coverage of the classics, biographies, comparative religion, science, fiction, travel and self-improvement. Lower Merion was primarily a farming and mill community at this time, so we see “How To” titles on: diseases of the horse, a recipe book for manure, the art of farming, an introduction to geology, designs for cottages and farm houses, and a mill-wright’s guide.

By 1874, the collection had grown to over 1,400 volumes and the Academy was becoming overcrowded. In 1876, after the Union Sunday School had its own building to serve the community, the entire library collection was relocated to this new facility. Having larger quarters in the community center allowed the collection to grow and to remain an educational resource.

With the construction of the Cynwyd Elementary School in 1914, students were transferred from the Academy into their new building. The Union Sunday School was removed, which left the library without a home.

The “Academy Library Association of Lower Merion” was then formed with the intent to return the library to the Academy. But because of a new lease agreement between the Lower Merion School District and the Trustees, this was not possible.

To the rescue came the Bala-Cynwyd Women’s Club who took on the project of preserving the library for our community. In July 1915, the Bala-Cynwyd Library Association was founded. The older books in the collection were put in boxes and stored in the Academy where they are today.

Catalogue of the Lower Merion Library. Insituted January 1842.
Front page of the catalogue book of the Lower Merion Library, started in 1842. The initial collection boasted over 400 books, most purchased for 50 cents each.