The History of William Jeanes Memorial Library

The original home of the library was a single room in the William Ambler House in Plymouth Meeting. In 1926 Mary Jeanes Miller donated $75,000 as seed money to finance a new library in memory of her first husband William Jeanes. It took awhile but in 1935 the library was finally relocated to a new building on the grounds of the Friends Meeting House in Plymouth Meeting. A Friends of the Library group was formed in 1950 to help with sustainable funding of the library.  The library continued to grow and soon outgrew its second location.

Recognizing that a larger space was necessary, a building-fund drive was undertaken. Funds were raised from community supporters and a state grant was procured. A new library was opened in 1971 at the present location, 4051 Joshua Road.

After many years of constant use, the addition of collections beyond books, an increased number of program offerings, and additional public access technology, the library needed more space. A building committee was formed, consultants hired, and fund raising began in earnest.

Nicholas and Athena Karabots and the Karabots Foundation stepped forward as major donors. With enough proceeds secured and guaranteed, plans became reality. This time instead of moving, a 7,000 square foot addition was added to the existing library and the existing 11,000 square feet was renovated. Naturally the library was closed to the public during the building process.

So as not to disappoint the community and leave them without a library, a temporary library was opened on Harts Lane. It was tight quarters but the staff continued to offer popular programs and resources.

A ribbon cutting was held on May 23, 2012 and the library once again was open to the public on Joshua Road.


Sometime after 1960, a library staff worker sat down and compiled a handwritten history of the Library to date.

Here is Page 1, describing the origins of the Library in a 1926 meeting: “A Year of Beginnings”

January 20, 2018:

When the Library opened in 1933, it was insured by Hopkins & Company, Inc., which was based in the Liberty Trust Building at Broad and Arch Streets in Center City. (Read more about their historic building here: https://philly.curbed.com/2017/8/21/16163150/aloft-philadelphia-downtown-hotel-liberty-title-building-photos)

The letter accompanying the policy was signed by the president of the company, and included coverage for the building and its contents:

We’ve come a long way, adding more value to the Library every year–in 2017 we spent over $47,000 on books alone!

April 26, 2018:

The Library held an Open House to celebrate our 85th Anniversary. We displayed photos and drawings from our archive, gave tours, and served cake and sparkling juice to all attendees!

April 1933, the Librarian’s diary:

“Opening of the Wm. Jeanes Memorial Library in one room of the Wm. Ambler house on Germantown Pike, Plymouth Meeting–with Miss Inez Crandle, who had come from Evansville, Indiana to be Librarian. 958 books were available on the shelves–almost all donations.”


December 15, 1935, the Librarian’s diary:

“Dedication and opening of the new library building (still standing) on the grounds of the Friends Meeting House in Plymouth Meeting, took place. 10,114 books were now on the shelves. There was a separate children’s room and there were 1894 registered borrowers. The collection of books from a small library established a few years before by the Whitemarsh Women’s Club in the Hiltner residence in Barren Hill was also given to the library.”

Even in 1935, we had a separate Children’s area. Now they have the whole lower level to themselves!


From the Librarian’s diary, on April 26th, 1943, the Library’s 10th Anniversary, the Library had the following statistics:

7,611 books on the shelves



34 magazines

“and an active membership of 1931 borrowers–965 members had joined since 1939.”


From the Librarian’s report in 1951:

An alarm of the proposed Blue Route was sounded, reading thusly:

“Wm. Jeanes Mem. Lib. which is the only library in Plymouth Meeting and Whitemarsh Township, is in the projected path of the new Butler Pike. The Library has 4,000 regular borrowers–and about 600 visitors each week.* The schools use the library. And there will be no land available for moving the library.” 

A “Call to Action” committee was formed, presumably to investigate alternatives. Read more about the colorful history of the Blue Route here: http://philadelphiaencyclopedia.org/archive/blue-route/

*For comparison, the Library currently has almost 7,000 active cardholders, and in 2017 was visited over 120,000 times.

From the Librarian’s Report:

“Sometime between 1950 and 1952”: “Mrs. Sawyer suffered a broken hip. Mary Knowles was temporarily engaged and ultimately appointed to permanent position as head Librarian, when Mrs. Sawyer was unable to return to her post.”

“From 1952 until October 9th, 1954”: “Activities continued to develop and mutiply as the community grew. As now, new books flowed in–a local supermarket (Lerner’s) redeemed sales tapes, as now Genuardi’s and Clemens do–bringing in a nice amount of money.”

October 28, 1950:

“Committee meeting of the newly formed ‘Friends of the Library’ with Mr. Jack Fleming at Acting Secretary.”

2020 will mark the 70th Anniversary of the formation of our Friends group!

January 1, 1951 report by Mrs. Sawyer:

“The most outstanding achievement for progress and publicity was the organizing locally of the ‘Friends of the Library’–an auxili

ary for help and inspiration of the local library.

“The idea and plan was started by the American Library Association, and has been successful in libraries all over the country. At the close of this year (1950), there are 103 members representing all the communities from which our borrowers come.

“An executive committee was appointed, headed by Mrs. C— Chiby, who will plan the activities of the association. Cards have nee distributed to the new residents by the various committees, and many new members have been added to the library in response to these cards.

“Such an organization has long been needed here, situated as we are at the cross-roads, not having the backing of towns like Norristown, Conshohocken, and Ambler.”


1951 report includes mentions of our first Book Sale:

“The first tentative attempts at what has become the annual Book Sale began: ‘A few books’ removed from the shelves and no longer

up to standard, or worn out, were put on a side table and sold for a small amount (10¢ I’ve been told)–duplicates of ours kept on the

shelves were sold ‘at a fair price’ realizing $42.92, duly handed over to the treasurer for the ‘book budget’–it all seemed so promising that it was repeated.”


1956 Librarian’s Diary:

“A first iteration of the a fundraising letter (appeared), so obviously the need for money was growing.”

Winter 1957:

“Circulation now was 26,500 books for the year (up 5,000 over the previous year [1956])

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