David A. Howe (1848-1925)
David Abiram Howe, son of George and Abigail Howe, was born in West Almond, Allegany County, New York, on July 26, 1848. He moved with his family to Wellsville when he was about five years old. His father became the editor of the “Wellsville Times” and David was one of the first newsboys in town. After attending Dickinson Seminary of Williamsport, Pennsylvania, he returned to Wellsville to work for his uncle, Alfred S. Brown, owner of a general dry goods store. He married Nancy A. Reaser of Wellsville in 1870.
Mr. and Mrs. Howe lived in the Williamsport area where he was involved in the lumber business and with various corporations, public utilities, financial institutions and the newspaper field. The couple often found time to visit Wellsville. They had no children.
The generosity of a Wellsville boy who became successful in the business world, and the constancy and inspiration of a visionary Wellsville woman gave life to one of the country’s finest small libraries.
The Early Years
A public library in Wellsville had its earliest origins in 1856. Individual subscriptions were collected to purchase books. In 1867 when an amateur theatrical club put on a series of plays, additional funds for the library were raised. Other lectures, concerts and entertainments were offered to increase revenue. Despite these efforts, the books were withdrawn, stored in Madison Street rooms and loaned to the Y.M.C.A. In 1870, the Wellsville Circulating Library Association was formed and seventy-eight shares of stock at fifty cents a share were sold. These efforts purchased books and brought lecturers such as Henry Ward Beecher to town. Gradually a collection of 1400 volumes was amassed.
In 1893, a group of thirteen women interested in literature formed a group called the Monday Club. With a goal to establish a library, they took over the collection of books, raised funds to buy new ones, obtained a traveling library from the state, and opened a library in a room in the high school. Later that year, they moved the library to rooms in the new City Hall and hired a librarian. The New York State Board of Regents granted a provisional library charter on June 3, 1894. Almost three years later a permanent charter and two hundred dollars in matching funds were awarded by the State. The Monday Club met in unused schoolrooms, added to the collection, studied library techniques and nurtured the dream of a real library building.
Mrs. Alfred (Louise) Brown was chairman of the Library Board as well as president of the Monday Club at this time. She was one of those who worked most tirelessly for the library. A frequent visitor at the Brown home was Mr. Brown’s nephew, David A. Howe of Williamsport, PA.
During one visit to the home of his uncle, Alfred S. Brown, Mr. Howe watched Mrs. Brown’s activities collecting newspapers and old rubber for recycling as part of her efforts to raise funds for the library. When Mrs. Brown asked her nephew for advice on how to approach the Carnegie Foundation for money, his reply was, “Why a Carnegie Library? Why not a David A Howe Public Library.” With Mr. Howe’s gift of $17,600 for the building, the purchase of the site by individual donations and the Monday Club’s contribution of $3000 for the shelving, the first David A. Howe Library became a reality. On July 26, 1910, the library (which is now the municipal building) opened to the public with a collection of over 9,000 books. The seven-member Library Board of Trustees chose Fannie Crittenden to serve as librarian.
The Current Building
As the years passed, Mr. Howe inquired of his aunt about the welfare of her “library child.” “Growing, but she needs shoes and proper clothing,” replied Mrs. Brown. His response was advice to “be patient. Your child shall some day be sumptuously attired.”
Upon his death in 1925, his will brought to life his prophecy. With the income accumulated over a period of ten years from his bequest, a new building, bearing his name, was constructed. The income from the $1,250,000 endowment was to be used for the maintenance of the building. The David A. Howe Public Library was dedicated on May 13, 1937.
For over 70 years, the David A. Howe Public Library has been a cultural and social center in Wellsville. The library has been the site of performances by local and traveling actors and musicians, film festivals, politicians’ speeches, and informational meetings. Over the years, area residents have used the rooms in the building and the grounds as the setting for volunteer activities during World War II, a bowling rally, boating safety classes, automobile shows, Miss Allegany County judging, author talks, investing clubs, antique appraisal, clogging exhibitions and much more.
Through all this time, the collection has continued to grow and diversify. From less than 9,000 items in 1937 to over 110,300 items today, the library has expanded from books to include magazines, video and DVD, audio, and electronic resources. In 1998, the catalog and circulation system were upgraded to an automated system shared with the Southern Tier Library System. In 2001, the library posted its first web site and became available over the Internet, allowing broader community access to the catalog, local information, and databases of health, news and business resources. The library continues to expand access through online services, social media, and downloadable and streaming media.