Efforts to establish a reading room or library in Hackettstown actually predate the establishment of the Hackettstown Free Public Library as we know it today. In the years following the Civil War, Hackettstown’s citizens made strides for self-improvement. The Hackettstown Y.M.C.A. was organized in 1868 and located its reading room in the new Cramer building the following year. That was probably in the Ephraim Cramer Carriage Factory on Mechanic Street (now Mountain Avenue). It is not known how long this first reading room operated.
In 1884 the Hackettstown Lyceum and Free Reading Room opened its doors, once again offering the residents of Hackettstown a facility. Though heavily used at first, patronage dwindled and in 1893 the facility closed its doors.
On January 14, 1913 the Town Improvement Society was formed with their main objective being to open a free library in Hackettstown. In July, the Society was able to rent rooms in the Jehiel T. Hildebrant home on Main Street, where buildings 170 thru 174A Main Street now stand. The Town Improvement Society became the Woman’s Club of Hackettstown and is still active today. The Hackettstown Free Public Library remained in the Hildebrant home until 1918 when the need for larger quarters brought about a move to a small building on Grand Avenue behind the People’s National Bank.
Once again, in need of larger quarters, the library was moved to 200/204 Main Street in the mid-1920s. It remained at this location until September, 1937 when it was moved to Church Street. The present library was dedicated on September 29, 1937.
For many years the people of Hackettstown had wanted a separate building for their public library. In 1930 Mr. and Mrs. J. Miller Welsh presented to the town in memory of his parents, Matthias T. and Mary E. Welsh, land for a new building. The building was erected with federal funds made available through the Works Progress Administration. Construction began in September of 1936 and the dedication exercises were held on September 28, 1937. Furnishings and gifts were received from T. G. Plate, Mrs. Mary Hoover Bailey, Miss Margaret Hoover, Mr. and Mrs. James Karr, and Mrs. Harold Barker.
In 1969 the basement was converted to a children’s room where activities are held regularly. A growing population and expanding services required an addition to the original building. Construction began in 1976 and the addition was dedicated in 1977. After a remodeling in 2010, and under the guidance of former Director Patricia Sherman, the library offers not only books but also movies, music CDs and ebooks as well as in-house access to the world wide web.
In 2016, former Library Director Dave Krolak facilitated the transition of the Hackettstown Free Public Library into the Main Library Alliance, a nonprofit network of 49 public libraries located in Hunterdon, Morris, Somerset and Warren Counties. This brought a new level of service to the residents of Hackettstown that had not been available previously. This move helped the library meet the changing world of the early 21st century, and ensures the library will remain a fixture in the community of Hackettstown for many years to come.
by Ray LeMasters, Town Historian
Hackettstown Historical Society