The Bridgeton Free Public Library seeks to be a community center that provides its citizens with materials and services to enrich their diverse personal, educational and professional lives. The library has a special mission to provide programs for the youth of the community that will encourage and foster a love of reading and life-long learning.
The Bridgeton Free Public Library was formed on January 1, 1923, when it became a service of the Bridgeton city government. But Bridgeton has a history of library services dating back to 1811.
Organized in 1811, the Bridgeton Library Company was the first recorded history of a public library in the city. General Ebenezer Elmer was president of the company and the library was set up on the second floor of his offices at the corner of East Commerce and Orange Streets. The company was formed when 37 stockholders spent $8.00 per share to buy 480 shares in the venture. The public offering raised $3,840 to create the library.
In 1854 the Bridgeton Library Company transferred the collection of books over to the West Jersey Academy, a local boys school.
This was the year the YMCA was organized and developed a library and reading room on the second floor of the Theis & Price Department Store located in the middle of the block on East Commerce Street between Pearl and Laurel Streets. The YMCA later moved the library around the corner to the Robbins Building on North Laurel Street and then moved it again up a few doors to the Johnson Building.
The YMCA Ladies Auxiliary was formed to help out with the library operation and the women took full control of the operation in 1894.
The ladies joined forces with a community group calling themselves the “Friends” to form the Bridgeton Library Association. The new group purchased the former Cumberland National Bank building (built in 1816) on East Commerce Street for $500 and opened it as a library.
On January 1, 1923, the Bridgeton Library Association dissolved after the Bridgeton government took control of it. In 1922, the residents of Bridgeton had approved a ballot referendum for the city government to take over the library and operate it as the Bridgeton Free Public Library. With the association dissolved and all property and assets given over to the city, Mayor Samuel Johnson appointed a 5-member board of trustees to operate it. The original trustees were: Mrs. Sydney E. Bowen, Miss Mary Streets, Mrs. Oscar F. Anderson, Mrs. Harry Leach and Mr. Mark Brenner.
An annex was approved in 1942 and opened the next year as the Children’s Room. It was later renamed as the Dallas Lore Sharp room after a local naturalist, teacher and preacher.
At a cost of $260,000, a new wing was constructed that extended the library all the way to the corner of East Commerce and Orange Streets, covering the land where Gen. Ebenezer Elmer had his offices where the very first library was set up in 1811. The original bank building was retained to house offices, work rooms and a delivery area. The main entrance was relocated to the new wing, which added 9,970 square feet of floor space.
Currently our 1816 Bank Building is undergoing renovations to improve the appearance, but mostly to restore the building’s visual and structural integrity. Over time, weathering and decay causes voids in the joints between masonry units, allowing the undesirable entrance of water. Save the Library! and their partners have raised the funds to repoint the bricks and make this project possible.