Manchester Township Library

Published In:
Community Observer, Summer 1998,
Summer 1998

Author: Grace Shackman

The state's oldest

Manchester has the oldest township library in continuous use in the state of Michigan. Established in 1838, just two years after the township was organized, it has been located for the last sixty-four years in an 1860s-era house on the village square.

During the first years of the library, township clerk Marcus Carter Jr. kept the collection at his house. On Saturdays, from 2 to 4 p.m., people could borrow books stored in a case that sat on a black walnut table. (The library still has the table, now used as a computer stand.) The library continued under the care of succeeding township clerks for the rest of the century.

Manchester thrived as a commercial center in the nineteenth century, assuring a living standard that gave women time to organize literary societies. By the turn of the century, they included the History, Saturday, Shakespeare, and 20th Century clubs. (The last two still meet.) The club ladies—whom Manchester historian Howard Parr describes as "a combo of high caliber, literary, educated-minded people"—decided Manchester should have an independent library with a trained librarian; they began organizing to make it happen.

In 1906 the first librarian was hired: a Miss B. M. Brighton. In 1909 the library moved to the second floor of the Conklin building, near the comer of M-52 and Main Street. It later moved downstairs in the same building, and then to the Mahrle building (now the Whistle Stop restaurant), on Adrian Street. "I remember that library," recalls ninety-one-year-old Glenn Lehr. "I'd read every book in it by the time I was fourteen. It was a long building and dark inside. There was a pot-bellied stove in the back."

When the rent on the Mahrle building was raised in 1934, the ladies of the literary societies decided it was time to buy permanent quarters. They bought the Lynch house, a handsome cube-style Italianate in a perfect location on the town square. It had been built around 1867 for James Lynch, doctor and druggist, by his father-in-law Junius Short. Descendants of the family sold the house for the reasonable price of $1,200 because they believed the library was a worthwhile project. The $15 monthly mortgage payments were less than the rent the library had been paying.

The whole community pitched in to clean, paint, build shelves, and put in a chimney so central heat could be added. The federal Works Progress Administration paid for some of the materials and labor, the Boy Scouts moved the books to the new location, and local churches put on a benefit play.

Shortly after the move, Jane Palmer, who had been librarian from 1909 to 1918, returned to her old job. She stayed on until she retired in 1958 at the age of seventy-eight. "She was gingham as well as satin," says Parr. "She was a farm woman, helped with the threshing, but was practical and erudite." Palmer converted the upstairs of the library into an apartment and moved in. Many of the perennial flowers she planted on the grounds still bloom today.

When the library opened, only the west side of the downstairs was used. Today the whole building is filled with the library's 14,000 books, plus magazines and videos. Palmer's old kitchen upstairs is now the office of the library director, Dorothy Davies. "It's reached the point," says Davies, "that every time we get something new, we have to get rid of something." Eventually, citizens will have to decide whether to add onto the building or erect a new one.


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