“Sardis Birchard has conveyed
real estate and other property to the value of
$50,000 in trust to establish in Fremont a Library…for
the free use and benefit to the people of Sandusky
County.” With these words, Rutherford B.
Hayes announced his uncle’s generous
bequest to the City Council in July of 1873.
President Hayes not only gave the money,
but also supervised the founding of the library
and served as chairman of the Board of Trustees
until his death.
On June 3, 1874, Birchard Library
opened its doors to the public in a building on
Front Street. Containing 1,683 volumes of the 5,000
books ordered by Hayes, patrons could borrow books
only if they were 14 years or older and deposited
a bond or $3.00. Only librarians could remove books
from the shelves.
In 1878 a library building
was erected at a cost of $6,369.31 on
the site of Fort Stephenson, a stipulation
of the original bequest. By the early 1900’s,
thanks to a $2,500 gift of from Mrs. Elizabeth
Kelly, the Kelly Reading Room was added
to the structure.
Several notable people served
the library during the first fifty years. Mrs.
Harriet A. Gast served as library director from
1879 to 1915 for a salary ranging from $350 to
$500 per year. Funding was a major obstacle during
this time but Mrs. Gast kept the library open,
even taking a $100 pay cut at one point.
In the early days the library
was funded by the Birchard bequest with assistance
from the town. In 1904 a crisis arose when the
Fremont city council threatened to cut off the
heat in an economy move. When library trustees,
led by Colonel William E. Haynes, visited City
Council to protest, they returned with a gift of
$1500 and the promise of a half mill tax levy.
This became the first move toward placing the library
on a public support basis.
Another notable person in the
development of the library was Lucy Keeler, cousin
of President Hayes, who became Secretary of the
Board of Trustees in 1915. Although she never held
a paid position, she succeeded in making many changes.
Under her leadership the library changed from being
privately endowed to being partially supported
by local taxes. Internally, she initiated the adoption
of new library methods, and then she carried on
an extensive publicity campaign to bring the library
to the people.
Although Miss Keeler resigned
in 1922, from 1923 to 1944 there were a number
of significant changes. In 1935 a stable source
of funding was found in the intangibles property
tax. Birchard Library began to extend its services
throughout the county with branches in Gibsonburg
(1936) and Woodville (1937). Mrs. R.D. McAllister
was hired in 1936 to provide county extension service.
Her husband drove her to the stops in their station
wagon until 1938 when the library purchased a panel
truck for the purpose of transporting books. In
1940 an addition was made to the library.
In 1944 Mrs. Hallie M. Grimes
was hired and she presided over a period of rapid
growth and development. She was a tireless advocate
for the library and its role in the cultural and
educational life of the community. She particularly
championed services to children and library extension
services throughout the county. Highly visible
and active in the community, for many patrons,
Mrs. Grimes was the library.
Under her leadership the
first bookmobile was purchased in 1949
to provide service to school and county stops.
In 1950 the lower floor of the library was
remodeled to provide space for extension
work and book processing, and in 1956 a bookmobile
garage was added. In 1965 she achieved the
long time dream of previous librarians by
adding a children’s
room and an additional room above the bookmobile
garage. The library changed its status
from association library to county district
library in 1968 and, finally, in 1969 Green
Springs Memorial Library became a branch
of Birchard when the Clyde and Green Springs
school districts merged.
Since 1971, Birchard Library
has been served by library directors Richard Gooch
(1972-1982), Mary Anne Culbertson (1982 -2009)
and Pam Hoesman (2009 to the present). These years
have seen major changes in the library and its
array of services.
By the early 1980’s
it was apparent that the collection had
outgrown the building. After significant
weeding and an inventory of the collection,
work was begun on a building plan. Plans
were developed to double the size of the
main library building, restore some of the
architectural elements that had been lost
in previous renovations, and remodel the
existing structure to make it suitable for
the wiring requirements of computers. The
current building is an elegant design which
clearly delineates the original building
while providing additions in keeping with
the original style and showcasing a traditional
but functional interior.
To fund this expansion, provide
improvements for the branches and purchase an automated
circulation system, the trustees placed a successful
$3,600,000 bond issue on the ballot in May of 1987.
In early 1988 the main library moved to temporary
quarters in a former car dealership as work commenced.
At the same time, the Green Springs and Woodville
branch buildings were renovated and the debt was
paid on the Gibsonburg building. The community
was justifiably proud of its beautifully remodeled
main library facility dedicated in October of 1989.
Years later this building still draws compliments
The public responded to
the new facility and improved services by
increasing their use of the library. From
1982 to 1990 circulation doubled. Fortunately,
in 1986 funding for the library changed from
the intangibles tax to a dedicated portion
of the state income tax which allowed the
library to increase services. In the early
the children’s department began offering
programs that enhanced the school curriculum, and
the children’s department grew to three
full time staff. In 1986 the library joined
with Vanguard Vocational Center and other
libraries to form Project Read which offers
literacy training to the community.
In 1991 the library discontinued
bookmobile service as school libraries
had improved. Instead, the library Outreach
Department began to offer extensive library
services to nursing homes and nursery schools.
In 1992 the library joined the information
age when the card catalog was automated.
Suddenly, all county citizens had access
to the entire collection and could even search
the catalog from home. In 1994 Gibsonburg
branch library was expanded to include a
wing, thanks to a $300,000 bequest
by Elizabeth Scherger. In 2002 the Green
Springs branch library building was demolished
and rebuilt thanks to funding by the library
system, Don Miller, Jeanne Reed, the Birchard
Library Association Foundation, and the Claude
In the closing years of the century,
computers and Internet access created a major technological
shift in libraries. In 1996 the Ohio Legislature
created and funded the Ohio Public Library Information
Network to provide free Internet access at the
public library for all Ohio citizens. Information
from all over the world has become accessible to
our citizens through computers available at each
of our four library locations.
Since January 1, 2000, library
participation in the Clevnet library system has
given patrons access to over 3 million titles and
increased online services. In 2002 the Green Springs
branch library building was rebuilt when the original
building became structurally unsound. Now all 3
branch buildings are ready for another century
of service. The library website was completely
redesigned in 2006 and, with new services being
added every year, has become a virtual library
branch of the system. In 2007 funding for Ohio
public libraries was changed to 2.2% of state general
We have come a long way from
requiring a deposit and handing books to patrons;
Birchard Library now freely provides information
from around the world in a variety of formats in
person at each facility and online to everyone.
President Hayes and Sardis Birchard would be astonished
at the fulfillment of their dream.