Winter Park Library History

The History of the Winter Park Library:

The Beginning

The Winter Park Library began when nine women, all "well educated, capable, energetic, and affluent, came together on the morning of December 9, 1885, to affix the stamp of organization to the Winter Park Circulating Library Association." The nine women were: Mrs. Elizabeth Hooker, Miss Evaline Lamson, Mrs. W.O. Cady, Miss Mary McClure, Miss Alice Guild, Mrs. C.J. Ladd, Mrs. Clark, Mrs. Cook, and Miss Mary Brown. The Congregational Church parsonage was the site for the organizational meeting.

The porch and hall of the Lamson house was the first site of the newly-formed library. The house was located at 503 Interlachen Avenue, near the corner of Interlachen and Swoope Avenues.
The new library did not have a large inventory. Some of the titles available to members were; The Scarlet Letter, The Last Days of Pompeii, Jane Eyre, Ivanhoe, andThe Rise of Silas Lapham. There were also biographies such as Frederich the Great and religious titles such as Grace and Truth, The Blood of Jesus, Thoughts on Personal Religion and Scientific Theism.

According to the constitutional provisions of the Winter Park Circulating Library Association, any person could become a member by paying one dollar per year. Members could take out one book on Wednesday and Saturday and keep it for two weeks, with a one-week renewal. There was a ten cent fine for non-renewal. Those who were not library members could take out books if they paid a one dollar deposit plus ten cents for each week. The library only operated from January to May.

One year after the library's founding, the officers accepted an offer to move its operations from Miss Lamson's porch to a room in the building occupied by the Winter Park Company on the southwest corner of New England and Park Avenues.

Not much is known about all of the nine women who founded the library. Mary Brown and Mary McClure's biographies are the subject of a Web page within the Winter Park History and Archives collection, Mrs. C. J. Ladd was the wife of an early Winter Park merchant, Mrs. Clark was described in a newspaper article as a "wealthy lady from Minneapolis", Mrs. Cady and Mrs. Cook were from Bloomington, Illinois.

Elizabeth Robbins Hooker was born in Madure, India, in 1844 of missionary parents, Elizabeth's early years are not recorded. At some point she returned to her ancestral home, Middlebury, Vermont, and probably attended local schools and Middlebury College. In 1871 she married Rev. Edward Payson Hooker, a Congregational pastor, who would later become the first president of Rollins College. Elizabeth devoted herself to family (six children), church, and community. It was through Elizabeth's efforts that the first public circulating library was established. The organizational meeting was held in her home, the parsonage, on December 9, 1885, and she was elected President of the Winter Park Circulating Library Association. She died July 29, 1912.

Evaline Lamson was born in Jasper, New York in 1855. Evaline attended Alfred University and Oberlin College where she studied art. For health reasons she moved to Winter Park in 1885 with her mother and brother. They built a home on the Southwest corner of Swope and Interlachen Avenues, which they ran as a rooming house in the early days of Winter Park. It was Evaline who, at the first meeting in December of 1885 where the Winter Park Circulating Library was established, offered the porch and hall of her home as the site for the library. She served as Secretary/Treasurer in the early years and became a driving force behind the library until her death in 1925.

Alice Guild came to Winter Park from Boston with her father, Dr. William A. Guild, in December of 1883. In addition to being one of the nine women who founded the Winter Park Circulating Library, she also helped start the art department and taught art at Rollins College. Alice, along with her sister Clara, was involved in many civic and college organizations. Alice died June 28, 1949.

On January 31, 1900, Winter Park Circulating Library Association President, Eleanora Comstock, called a special meeting to consider a building and lot for the library. A building fund was started and the first fundraiser, a Valentines party at The Palms, home of the Brewers, was scheduled. Proceeds from that fundraiser amounted to $130.75 and the association moved forward with plans for a permanent library building. The Knowles estate donated property on Interlachen Avenue and the library moved into the 20th century.

The Early Years - The First Permanent Building

On January 31, 1900, Eleanora Comstock, president of the Winter Park Circulating Library Association, called a special meeting to consider a building and a lot for the library. The Association moved forward with a fund raising campaign. By February of 1901 a subscription list for the building fund showed that 24 individuals pledged $1,216 toward building a library. The building committee contracted to build a public library building, 24 by 50 feet in size, at a cost of $1,600.00. The property on Interlachen Avenue was donated by the Francis Knowles Estate. The building plans were drawn by Boston architect, George D. Rand, and the library was opened the last week of April, 1902.

Mrs. Eleanora K. Comstock came to Winter Park with her husband, William C. Comstock, in the early 1880's. She was very active in the early history of the Winter Park Library Association, serving as its president from 1897 until her death in 1901. In 1902, Mr. Comstock donated $200 to the library for a children's corner as a memorial to Mrs. Comstock.

The new library was one room, heated by open fireplaces located at each end of the room. The library's books now numbering around 1300 were moved in. The head librarian was Miss Evaline Lamson.

In 1902 a new Association president was elected. Dr. William F. Blackman, who in April 1903 was installed as the new president of Rollins College, became the next Association president. He would hold that office for the next 16 years.

The fortunes of the Association began to rebound under the leadership of Dr. Blackman and Charles Hosmer Morse, who took over the duties of the town's primary property owner. Morse bought the remainder of the Knowles Estate's properties and invested money in revitalizing the town. Prosperity was beginning to reappear and in 1914 the town council agreed to provide free electricity to the library building. Mr. Morse donated $500.00 to add a kitchen wing to the library in 1914, and the city council was also asked to supply water to the kitchen and grounds.

In 1924 two new wings and a lavatory were added to the building, which in effect doubled the size. By 1927 two librarians worked on a year-round basis, with summer vacation, at salaries of $50 per month.

In 1928 the Florida land boom faded and the citrus industry was hit with an infestation of the Mediterranian fruit fly. The Great Depression hit the country in 1929. Money worries plagued the library. The town council, which had agreed to give the library $1,000 a year, had to cut that amount in half, and the bank that held the Library's accounts failed. An appeal for funds was sent out to members of the Library's Executive Committee, who were at their summer homes in the north. The appeals were answered and the Library was on its way to financial prosperity by 1932. The librarians reported that they were gifted with new books, circulation was up and the head librarian's salary was raised to $65 per month.

One of the biggest changes took place from the late 1930's through the World War II years. The Library went from being more or less a private club to being a public library. During the war years, a large community of military servicemen and their families used the library. After the war, many of the servicemen returned to Winter Park to build homes and settle here with their families. In August of 1945 the Winter Park Herald noted that there was so much building during the month of July, that the $134,000 spent on building permits was a record for any month since March 1930.

The Library was now opened for limited hours six days a week and had a collection numbering 12,269 and a circulation of 33,214. Popular titles at that time were Forever Amber,Gentlemen's Agreement, The Egg and I, Why They Behave Like Russians, The Great Rehearsal, A Light in the Window, and Always Murder a Friend.

The Hannibal Square Library was in operation at this time. It was founded by Dr. Edwin O. Grover of Rollins College in memory of his wife who had been an activist in the cause of education for the black community. This library, a vital part of the community for many years, closed in 1979 when the current library building was opened.

Charlotte Moughton Brunoehler was appointed head librarian in 1948. She quickly went to work to try and reduce over-crowded conditions in the library. She spent the entire summer of 1949 reorganizing areas within the building to accommodate the increasing numbers of patrons as well as maintaining all regular services and the Vacation Reading Club for Children. She also made many other improvements to the library in the form of a new coat of paint, repairs to the roof and a new sign. She served as the head librarian for over 30 years and provided the leadership and foresight that established high quality of library service for the City of Winter Park.

The Vacation Reading Club was under the personal supervision of the Children's Librarian, Helen Foley Fuller. Each year she came up with a different theme. In 1950 the theme was Treasure Island, 1951 was a Circus Club and in 1952 it was a Rodeo. In the picture on the right, you can see a mannequin supplied by the Toggery clothing store, dressed as a cowboy and pictures of horses and other rodeo themes decorating the the Children's Room.

With growth and demand for services, the library had outgrown its home. A new library was needed or at the very least an addition to the existing building. A fundraising letter was sent out and by January of 1956, the board first viewed plans for the Children's Room. It was to be constructed of concrete block with aluminum windows. On November 1, 1956, the public was invited to the library for an open house to see the newly completed Children's Room. Then in 1957 work began on a central section, built in front of the old library, facing Interlachen. The completion of the new library building was celebrated on March 20, 1959. The new section was fully air-conditioned, had mint-green walls, terrazo floors and a walled garden established by the Winter Park Garden Club. This library building served Winter Park well into the 1960's and early 1970's when space, both inside and outside the library, became a major issue again.

February 17, 1970, the Library expanded again with the dedication of the Mary Brownlee Wattles Wing. The new wing contained a meeting room, an expanded reference area and a storage room. This did little to alleviate the crowded conditions and there was an additional problem with parking. There were only 13 parking spaces, which at one time may have been more than enough but now was less than adequate.

In March 1974, Library Board President, Rachel Murrah, presented the idea of building a new library at another location, and with the help of a lot of dedicated people, the present site at 460 East New England Avenue was purchased by the city.

1979 - Location on New England Avenue

In May 1975, Library Board president, Rachel Murrah, presented the idea of building an entirely new facility at another location. In September of 1976, the city purchased property at 460 East New England Avenue for a new library building. In July 1977, the Library recieved a grant for construction of a new building.

Sunday, December 4, 1977 was groundbreaking day for the Library. Pictured left-to-right are: President of the Winter Park Library Association, Rachel Murrah; Librarian, Charlotte Brunoehler; Winter Park Mayor, James Driver; and Architect, Guy Butler. The construction of the new Library took 14 months. In February 1979 the move was made to the new Library which had nearly twice the square footage of the Interlachen building and 65 parking places instead of 13. The formal dedication was held April 20, 1979, and in June the old building was sold to All Saints Church.

Sadly, in October 1978, Charlotte Moughton Brunoehler died. She had overseen the growth of the library for 30 years. A reference room in the new library was established in Charlotte's memory.

Wendy Robuck Breeden became the director of the Library in 1978. She graduated from Florida State University with a Master's degree in Library Science. She began her career with the Library in 1976 as an assistant cataloger. Her first major task as new director was planning and supervising the move from the old building on Interlachen to the new building. During her nine years as the Library's director she faced many challenges, including long-range goals, objectives and plans for celebrating the Library's 1985 centennial. Wendy Robuck Breeden was also elected to the position of Secretary of the Florida Library Association in 1985. She is currently Director of the Lake County Library System.

Mrs. Wattles was recognized for her loyal support and service to the library at the dedication ceremony, April 20, 1979. Mary Brownlee Wattles came to Winter Park with her husband, Dr. Willard Wattles, in 1927. Dr. Wattles, a nationally recognized poet, taught English and journalism at Rollins College until his death in 1950. As a college professor's wife, Mrs. Wattles entertained often, enjoyed running her household, and worked in her garden. "But Willard encouraged me to move beyond our own lives. He asked me to get involved in civic affairs and to offer my services for the welfare of our town." said Mrs. Wattles in an interview for The Orlando Sentinel in April 1971. And serve she did, for over thirty years she served the library in many roles including President of the Library Association and board member, and worked tirelessly to raise money for the library's expansion. She even organized a door-to-door fundraising drive with the Jaycees to raise much needed funds for the library. Mary Brownlee Wattles died March 10, 1989.

The fundraising efforts of the Trustees and Friends of the Library, particularily Association President Rachel D. Murrah, were honored by The Florida Library Association. In 1979, Rachel received its Trustees and Friends Library Award for her efforts in bringing the project to fruition.

Rachel Murrah, a resident of Winter Park since 1962, left a legacy of leadership and community involvement when she passed away June 23, 2000. That community involvement encompassed preservation, history and significant projects as well as the library. She served on the city's Planning and Zoning Commission from 1984 to 1989, served as City Commissioner since 1989 and was selected to serve as Vice Mayor of the city for three years. Rachel Murrah was always abreast of the issues and her contributions to the community were far reaching.

In July 1987, Robert G. Melanson became the 15th Director of the Winter Park Library. Mr. Melanson was born in Schenectady, New York. He received a Bachelor of Science in Business from Rider College, Lawrenceville, New Jersey; a Master's degree in Library Science from the State University of New York at Albany; and a Master's degree in Humanities from Old Dominion University, Norfolk, Virginia. He worked in libraries in Virginia and Texas before coming to Winter Park.

Though the brand new building was serving the public very well, it became apparent that expansion was necessary. A 1.5 million dollar project to add a third floor and renovate the first two floors was begun in 1994.

 1995 - 3rd Floor Addition and Renovation

The building on East New England Avenue was serving the public well but it became apparent that expansion was necessary. A 1.5 million dollar project to add a third floor and renovate the first two floors was begun in 1994. This project would add approximately 11,000 square feet to the existing building and would provide opportunities for expanded services, particularly to Winter Park youth between the ages of 12 and 18.

In July of 1994, the Library received a grant for the construction of the third floor addition. The picture on the right shows City Commissioners Rachel Murrah and Joe Terranova; State Representative, Allen Travillion; Mayor Gary Brewer; Secretary of State, Sandra Mortham; Library Director, Robert G. Melanson; and City Manager Jim Williams receiving the check for $240,000. This check was part of a State of Florida construction grant that was approved by the legislature and Governor Lawton Chiles.

October 15, 1995, a ribbon cutting and official dedication ceremony for the addition of the third floor and renovation of the first two floors was celebrated. It was a weekend of festivities, and about 250 patrons attended the event, toured the facility and enjoyed refreshments. Some of the events included a performance by the Florida Youth Orchestra Brass Quintet, a Silent Auction and a puppet show put on by the Youth Services Department of the Library. Pictured in the ribbon cutting ceremony on the left are from left to right: City Commissioners Terry Hotard and Joe Terranova; Library Board President, Susan Blexrud; Mayor Gary Brewer; and Vice Mayor, Rachel Murrah.

Under Library Director Robert Melanson's leadership the library successfully entered the electronic age while still maintaining that personal touch. In the early 1990's, planning for technology began with a consultant hired for advising the Library on technology issues. In 1995 the Library's electronic catalog came on-line; in 1997 Internet access for patrons became available; in 1998 the Library's Web home page was established with information resources put on-line; and in 2000 digital scanning equipment was used to provide historical documents and images to patrons via a Winter Park History Web page and the Library's catalog.

In 1997 an Internet link was established and computer terminals were made available to Library patrons. In 1999, a $110,000 grant from the Elizabeth Morse Genius Foundation provided upgrades to hardware and software and created a computer classroom for our patrons to learn more about all aspects of computer use. These classes are called "Cyberschool." Shown in the picture to the right are the Library's Internet terminals located on the first floor in the Reference area.

The New Leaf Bookstore was opened in October, 1995, and offers used books, magazines, and records for sale at very reasonable prices. Sponsored by The Friends of the Library and operated entirely by volunteers, the Bookstore's proceeds benefit the Library. Items for sale have been donated by patrons and friends from all over Central Florida. The New Leaf Bookstore replaces twice-yearly book sales, popular since 1978. The bookstore is located on the main floor of the Library.

2000 - Today

In 2013, the retirement of Mr. Melanson marked a pivotal moment in the history of the Winter Park Library, ushering in the leadership of Shawn Shaffer as the new Director. During Shaffer's tenure, a multi-year campaign was initiated, aimed at the creation of a cutting-edge library facility.

In 2016, a successful bond referendum paved the way for the commencement of planning for this state-of-the-art facility. Following Ms. Shaffer's departure in 2018, Cynthia Wood was appointed as Interim Director by the Library's Board. In 2019, Sabrina Bernat assumed the role of Executive Director, a position she held until 2022.

On December 13, 2021, a momentous milestone was achieved as the Library's new facility opened its doors. Designed by world-renowned architect Sir David Adjaye, the library now stands prominently at the intersection of Morse Boulevard and Harper Street.

In April 2022, following an extensive nationwide search for a new Executive Director, the Board unanimously selected Melissa Schneider for the role. Melissa's extensive knowledge and nearly a decade of leadership within the organization made her an exemplary choice for Executive Director.

The transition to our new facility brought about a surge in growth that our library adeptly managed. Our new location is now more aligned than ever with the evolving needs of Winter Park's dynamic community. Advanced technologies, personalized assistance, educational programs, and large-scale events are now more accessible than ever before, and our staff is enthusiastic about the opportunities that lie ahead.

Over a century ago, a group of determined women established this library, and today, we continue in much the same spirit. The Winter Park Library remains steadfast in its mission to guide learning, connect people, and strengthen the community.

~Original article written by former archivist Barbara White~

~Article updated by Rachel Simmons, Winter Park Library archivist~