History of the Library

Benson Memorial Library, 1905.

Soon after oil began to boom in Titusville, citizens realized the need for a public reading room with educational materials. On March 3, 1877, a group of 28 men met and invested $100 per person into a new group they would call the Titusville Library Association. The group incorporated in 1880. From 1888 to 1902, the library found a home on the second floor of City Hall. Twenty-five men served on the board of directors under the leadership of co-founder and president, Byron David Benson. The first librarian of the newly-formed association was William Joel Carpenter.

Titusville Library Association

  • 28 stockholders invested $100 per person (today would be $2,400 per person) to create the association. They were: J. Dorsey Angier, John D. Archibold, Dr. George W. Barr, Byron D. Benson, A.P. Bennett, A.H. Bronson, Henry Byrom, George A. Chase, E.O. Emerson, David Emery, R.D. Fletcher, R.E. Hopkins, Robert L. Kernochan, David McKelvey, John L. McKinney, George O. Moody, Joseph A. McNeill, Hugh O’Hare, A.N. Perrin, H.T. Pickering, A.S. Ralston, W.B. Roberts, Roger Sherman, Lewis B. Silliman, J.D. Sterrett, W.B. Sterrett, Joseph Stettheimer, Delos O. Wickham.
  • Board of Directors 1877-1902: J. Dorsey Angier, Dr. George W. Barr, Byron D. Benson, Henry Byrom, Col. John J. Carter, E.O. Emerson, David Emery, R.D. Fletcher, R.E. Hopkins, Robert L. Kernochan, David McKelvey, John L. McKinney, George O. Moody, Joseph A. McNeill, A.N. Perrin, H.T. Pickering, M.W. Quick, A.S. Ralston, E.T. Roberts, John Satterfield, Joseph Seep, W.B. Sterrett, Roger Sherman, Lewis B. Silliman, Delos O. Wickham.

Source: Titusville Herald 2/3/1984, Janet Stuckey

Benson Memorial Library

Byron D. Benson died in 1888. He was the founder and president of the Tidewater Pipe Company and pioneered the creation of a six-inch pipe that could transport oil the greatest distances to date.

The Children

On January 6, 1902, Byron’s children, Robert D. Benson, William S. Benson, and Bessie Benson Emerson proposed the building of a formal library in memory of both their father and their mother, Minerva. The conditions of their gift to the people of Titusville was that the library be called Benson Memorial Library, that the care of the building and grounds be in the hands of seven trustees, and that the City of Titusville appropriate no less than $2,000 to the library each year. The cost of the building and books was to be no less than $25,000, but the Benson children ended up spending $35,000 on the structure.

The Vote

Before the library could be built, the citizens of Titusville had to vote on whether or not to accept such a gift. Titusville women publicly led the charge to accept it and held debates regarding its importance to the education of the children of Titusville. The leading women insisted that fiction be included in the new library, as the former library association only contained biography, travel, and history. In a time before women were allowed to vote, they championed the library in hopes that one day, they would be afforded the same type of representation as their husbands.

The Opening

The library vote took place on June 30, 1902 and was accepted 865-234. After two years of construction, Benson Memorial Library opened on February 6, 1904 with an “enthusiastic gathering.” Thousands of people poured into the small structure and celebrated their new public library.

The Builders

The Bensons hired the best in the business to create Benson Memorial Library. The building was designed by architects Jackson & Rosencrans of New York with James A. Nixon of Titusville as the lead contractor. The decorating and frescoing was done by Olmstead Art & Decorative Company. All stonework was completed by W.J. Patterson and woodwork by Daniel F. Reuting.

The building was constructed with vitrified brick and the original doors (now on the right-hand side of the vestibule) were of cast bronze mouldings, electroplated, and covered with copper. The vestibule floor is of gray Knoxville and Italian marble with the ten-foot walls also in Italian marble.

Expansion Timeline

From the outside, Benson Memorial Library today looks much the same as it did in 1904, but many things have internally improved. In 1964, the library began receiving state aid which helped it to increase reach. Under Director Hilda Cotton, the library became part of the Erie-Crawford District Library System. In 1978, the library also joined the newly-formed Crawford County Federated Library System (CCFLS), both of which we are still part of today.

Cotton, along with Carolyn V. Smith, James J. Harvey, John K. Henne, and Dr. Harry Kanhofer, also pioneered the expansion of Benson Memorial Library. The expansion project began in October 1975 when 15,000 books were moved next door to the (former) Women’s Club and 20,000 books were moved downstairs into storage. The library almost doubled in size, and the new space was dedicated on March 6, 1977. After reopening, the library shut down for 14 days (along with all other Titusville services) due to extreme cold. When it reopened, 1,100 materials were
checked out in only 6 hours!

Source: Titusville Herald, 2/10/1984

1977 Expansion Major Players

  • Contractors: Craven & Co. (West Middlesex).
  • Architects: W.G. Eckles Co. (New Castle) & Pascoe Engineering Consultants (New Castle).
  • Electric: Etheridge Electric Co. (Meadville).
  • Excavating: Hasbrouck Sand & Gravel (Hydetown) & Titusville Supply Co.
  • Plaques: Lake Shore Markers (Erie).
  • Furnishings: Beco Interiors (Erie).

Continuing Improvements

Since the expansion, many improvements have been continuously made to Benson Memorial Library. The children’s storytime room was renovated in 2018, the community meeting room was renovated in early 2020, all the windows in the building were replaced in summer 2020 with more historic-looking, energy-efficient custom models, and the front entry doors were replaced in late fall 2020 with a more historic and energy-saving set. More projects are always on the horizon to keep the historic building in great shape for the future.

History of Library Directors

  1. Lucy D. Waterman, 1903-1910
  2. Lucy C. Grumbine, 1911-1916
  3. Viola Hively, 1917-1921
  4. Jean G. Thompson, 1921-1922 (from Cardiff, Wales)
  5. Jessie Dunn, 1923-1936 (total of 33 years service in various roles)
  6. Jean G. Thompson, 1936-1942
  7. Dr. Edith Rowley, 1943-1951 (prev. Director of Allegheny College library for 50 years)
  8. Ruth Doty Smith, 1951-1955 (got PhD in medical psychology & became cancer researcher)
  9. Hilda Cotton, 1955-1975
  10. Constance L. Swanson, 1975-1976
  11. Janet Perkins Stuckey, 1976-1983
  12. Carole K. Collins, May 1983 – October 1983
  13. Edith Tyson, November 1984 – April 1985
  14. Barbara Auchter, September 1985 – June 1988
  15. Gail Myer, June 1988 – March 2013
  16. Tara Bartley, April 2013 – April 2015
  17. Justin Hoenke, June 2015 – September 2019
  18. Jessica Hilburn, November 2019 – Present

Current Staff (order of hire):

  • Mary Harper Whitehill, 1979
  • Lisa Davidson Kellogg, 1991
  • Jessica Hilburn, 2015
  • Rebecca Stahl, 2016
  • Timothy Wolfe, 2018
  • Melissa Rodgers, 2020
  • Megin Sewak, 2020

Created by Jessica Hilburn – 6/10/17
Updated by Jessica Hilburn – 1/4/21