It has been one hundred years since Mahwah’s Eleanor Bugg made her private book collection public. Though she only lent books to certain individuals in the community at first, the marks 1912 as its beginning.
Visitors to the nearly 30,000 square-foot facility on Ridge Road today may not realize that it all started with a relatively small personal collection. During the 1920’s, Bugg’s collection was taken over by The Women’s Club in Mahwah, who maintained it at a storefront on Miller Rd.
The Mahwah Public Library Association officially formed in 1929.
In the 1940’s, thanks to a donation from Mahwah's Winters family, the growing collection was moved to a building on Franklin Turnipke, where it stayed until the 1990’s. The library’s multiplying collection outgrew the 3,000 square foot building. The Franklin Tpke. location was equipped to handle 1,500 books. By the time plans for a new building formed in 1993, the library’s collection had topped 80,000.
The Mahwah Board of Education donated the land at 100 Ridge Road to build a new library in 1993. After five years, the new space opened to the public. The new facility had the capacity to house over 115,000 books, which grew when the renovation of the library’s lower level was .
According to figures from the library, in 2011 nearly 350,000 items were loaned to residents, and about 22,800 people attended library events – quite a far cry from one resident loaning her books to a small circle of personal friends.
According to Denise Laude, the library’s programming director, events to commemorate the past 100 years of the institution’s history, and to focus on what life was like when the library was started, will take place throughout the year. “In February I have [a] discussion of James Weldon Johnson's ‘Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man.’ It was first published anonymously in 1912 and is a classic of African American literature. In March, Carol Greene (author and town historian) will discuss Mahwah in 1912,” she said. Laude is also planning an event on the Titanic, which sunk the same year that the library began.
The library will also be “handing out questionnaires to find out who the public want to invite back in the fall,” to commemorate the anniversary, she said.
Editor’s Note: Library’s historical information provided by current Library Director Kurt Hadeler.