A Brief History of the Library

The Helen Kate Furness Free Library was founded in October 1902 by a group of Nether Providence citizens as the Horace Howard Furness Free Library, named in honor of one of the founders, a renowned Shakespearean scholar whose estate, Lindenshade, was located in what is now Furness Park.

In the early years, the library was housed in a room of the newly built Wallingford elementary school.

Dr. Furness’ died in 1912, bequeathing $5,000 to the library on the condition that the Library’s name was changed to the Helen Kate Furness Free Library to honor Dr. Furness’ wife who was also a Shakespearean scholar.

In 1913, Dr. William Henry Furness III, a son of Dr. and Mrs. Furness, conveyed to the library an acre of land on which a native stone building was constructed in 1916.

In the early years, the library was only open in the evenings, staffed by volunteers and a part-time librarian. For several years during the late 1940’s, the Nether Providence School District rented the library during the day for use as a kindergarten classroom. The proceeds from the lease were the library’s only source of income. As late as 1954, the library was only open 8 hours a week.

By 1959, the population of the area had increased from fewer than 2,000 in 1916 to more than 10,000. The citizens of Nether Providence and Rose Valley initiated a capital campaign to build an addition to the original building.

A second addition, the Chadwick Wing, was added in 1974 with a gift from the estate of Judge E. Wallace Chadwick of Rose Valley, who died in 1969. A bequest from the estate of Mr. Chadwick’s wife, Alice Chadwick, provided additional funding to furnish the wing.

In 2000, a committee was formed to plan a second story expansion of the Library. A successful capital campaign was conducted and, in October of 2006, the project was completed.

The Helen Kate Furness Free Library is a member of the Delaware County Library System.

Helen Kate Rogers Furness, c 1880

Dr. Horace Howard Furness

Dr. Furness in his Library

Today a private home on Furness Lane, Dr. Furness’ private library at his estate, Lindenshade, was built of fireproof construction to house his extensive Shakespeare collection.

The portrait of Helen Kate hanging behind Dr. Furness was donated to the Library in 2012 by Helen Kate’s great-great-grandson, Page Stull. It now hangs above the reference desk.

Science Fiction Writer L. Sprague deCamp

By the late 1950s, the community had grown and the collection, as well as the demand for public space had grown, too. As soon as the ribbon was cut on the 1961 expansion, a full calendar of talks, workshops and (of course) fundraising events were scheduled. This Authors Tea for science fiction writer Sprague deCamp (left), who wrote the Conan books, was hosted in 1961.

1961 Expansion

Kate Furness Jayne (Helen Kate’s great granddaughter) cuts the ribbon on the expansion of the original library. Standing to her left, holding the ribbon, is Horace Howard Furness Jayne, Helen Kate’s grandson.

The capital campaign for the project raised approximately $65,000. In today’s dollars, the proceeds from that campaign would be worth about $375,000. The campaign committee went door-to-door, soliciting donations.