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Langhorne Library


Langhorne Library, Borough of Langhorne, Bucks County, PA
Photo: Langhorne Library, 106 West Maple Avenue, Langhorne, PA, photo © The Gombach Group, 2005.

The Langhorne Library (located at 106 West Maple Avenue, Langhorne, PA 19047) was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1985. Portions of the text below [1] were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. Adaptation copyright © 2009, The Gombach Group.

The Langhorne Library building is a significant architect-designed building in a community otherwise dominated by conservative, vernacular homes and businesses.

In 1888, following a bequest made in the 1886 will of Anne Mary Williamson, the Langhorne Library was constructed. In this benevolent action Anne Mary Williamson was following in the footsteps of her philanthropic uncle Isaiah VanSant Williamson, who in 1875, donated money for the establishment of a library in the village of Fallsington.

The Langhorne Library had its roots in the seventeenth century when the Middletown Friends Meeting established a library. By 1718 three hundred books were circulating among the members of the meeting. In 1799 villagers signed a petition for the charter of a library. Three years later Governor McKean issued a charter to the Attleborough Library Company. The library was housed in different locations throughout the nineteenth century. When the borough name was changed from Attleborough to Langhorne in 1876, the library became the Langhorne Library. During this period the library was kept in a small house near the Richardson House at the center of the village. On May 5, 1888 Mary Richardson sold the library trustees a small tract of land nearby at the corner of Maple and Hill Avenues.

The trustees of the library chose Culver and Rogers, of Philadelphia, as the architects for the new library. Newton B. Culver and T. Mellon Rogers were partners for only about two years when they received the commission. The choice of Culver and Rogers undoubtedly stemmed from the fact that the firm had designed the Langhorne Improvement Company's large Langhorne Manor Hotel a year earlier. The hotel, since razed, and the library are the only two buildings attributable to Culver and Rogers in Bucks County. According to the Biographical Dictionary of Philadelphia Architects, the firm was short lived, having dissolved by mutual consent on September 28, 1888, well before the completion of the library. Newton H. Culver continued in operation independently at the firm's offices for several months until December, 1888. At that time he closed the business and became the secretary of the Untied Adamant Plaster Company of Baltimore, Maryland. T. Mellon Rogers had a more distinguished career. After his association with Culver ended in 1888 he joined the firm of Constable Brothers. He only remained with that firm until 1890. Thereafter, Rogers worked independently in Philadelphia through 1907. In his letter days Rogers specialized in the restoration of colonial buildings including Independence Ball, Old St. David's Church in Wayne, PA and Mt. Vernon.

The Langhorne Library is unique in being the only remaining documented structure designed by Culver and Rogers, architects, in Bucks County. As the original blueprints remain in possession of the Historic Langhorne Association (present tenants) it is especially interesting. The blueprints show changes in the design and roof configuration and show plans for a balcony with a dramatic staircase. While the changes were followed, the balcony and staircase were not built, due possibly to either the lack of funds remaining for the construction, or due to the fact that the architectural firm had dissolved before the building was completed.

As a building designed by architects, the Langhorne Library exhibits some traits more than likely not found by a structure designed by a builder using vernacular, domestic construction techniques. Most impressive is the extensive truss system found in the attic. The trusses are a truncated triangle of heavy timber with bar iron cross braces similar to the Hoe Truss system. This system is very elaborate, and possibly excessive, given the size of the building and the spans and loads involved. The basement, too, exhibits a very substantial and attractive support system. A brick wall built as a series of brick arches runs the entire 60 foot length of the central structure supporting floor joists spanning the basement outer walls. Arches are also used where the wings intersect the main foundation. The proportionally related overall dimensions of 30 feet wide by 60 feet deep is also characteristic of a thought-out plan and not standard domestic dimensions.

Other undomestic features which subtly distinguish the Library from the substantial, yet conservative Federal and Victorian homes along West Maple Avenue are the cruciform plan, the two-story windows and oversized entrance door, lack of porches and extensive use of molded brick and terra-cotta. While not strongly associated with one particular Victorian style the Langhorne Library is designed in the spirit of the Romanesque Revival in its display of monochromatic brick patterns, particularly the corbelling and terra-cotta molded panels, and in the use of the semi-circular stone arches over the entrance door and focal point windows. Eclectic Victorian features include the steep pyramid roof and steep cross gables, tall, corbelled brick chimney and Queen Anne type windows with a perimeter of small panes in the upper sash and a solid pane in the lower. The freedom of fenestration in the Victorian period results, in this case, with the window arrangement reflecting the use of space on the interior tall windows for the main hall and small upper story windows for the balcony.

Brick buildings of this particular design and detail are not common in Bucks County, where Classical and Georgian influences prevailed even during the Victorian era. A contemporary building of similar design is the Melinda Cox Library in Doylestown Borough, originally built as a bank. It features decorative and corbeled brickwork but adheres to a rectangular plan and wood carved pedimented entrance. Most Victorian homes in the county are frame or detailed in frame, not brick.

The Langhorne Library remained a private subscription agency until 1960 when the boroughs of Langhorne, Langhorne Manor, Penndel, and Hulmeville joined with Middletown Township to support it as the Langhorne-Middletown Public Library. Following this action, in 1962, the only structural change to the library occurred. A small balcony was constructed to add 551 feet to the original 1,500 square feet. As the population in the region continued to grow, so did the demands on the library. In 1971 the Langhorne-Middletown Library merged with the Bucks County Free Library System. As part of the merger agreement a new, larger library was given a high priority.

After several years a new library was erected in Langhorne. After the construction of the new library, the old library building was no longer needed as part of the county library system. In order to comply with Anne Mary Williamson's will that the building be used as a library for the people of Langhorne, the Langhorne Library Company reclaimed its original books and reverted into a private library. In addition to housing the library books, the building became the center for another community activity: the Historic Langhorne Association. In 1965 the Historical Committee of Langhorne Sorosis formed the Historic Langhorne Association whose purpose included the researching and recording of local history, the encouragement of interest in the history of Langhorne and its environs, and the preservation of artifacts and documents of local historical importance. For nearly a century the library building has been important within the community, first and foremost as a library; and more recently as the headquarters of the Historic Langhorne's most important links to its past. It now serves as a museum, library and community meeting room.

Designed by architects Newton H. Culver and T. Mellon Rogers, the Langhorne Library is a finely detailed eclectic Victorian building in an area dominated by conservative vernacular homes and businesses.

The Langhorne Library is situated on a large well landscaped lot bordered fence at the corner of West Maple and Hill Avenues in a residential section of Borough. Its form and overall architectural presentation is visually enhanced set-back from both streets. Built in 1888 this Victorian-Romanesque Revival brick library was designed by architects Newton Culver and T. Mellon Rogers in a cruciform plan. The overall dimensions are 30' wide by 60' deep with the 18' wide cross bays projecting 6' on each side. It is an oversized 1-3/4 story steep hipped roofed building with a narrow cross gable over the front entrance bay and smaller gables built out of the hipped roofs over the side projections. The roofs are slate with a band of patterned slate.

The building is set on a rough ashlar stone foundation and is primarily measured brick with mortar joints. The brickwork is corbelled towards the cornice line with the cornice itself of molded brick. Flat corner pilasters of Corinthian influenced molded terra-cotta capitals are located at the front (north) corners and the corners of the cross bays. Molded terra-cotta panels in a similar leaf pattern are located in negative window spaces on the sidewalls before the cross bays. Diamond pointed diaper work of brick fills the spandrels on the front cross gable above the multi-paned arched window. This window, and the corresponding transom arch over the entrance door below and the large 2-story arched window in the cross bays are topped with full segmental arches of cut stone with neatly fashioned keystone and voussoirs. Tall 2-story windows light the large reading room and corresponding room (now kitchen) in the rear. The front half the building has smaller windows in the Queen Anne pattern of small panes on the perimeter of a large' pane. The location of these windows in a 2 story arrangement was apparently to relate to an interior balcony which is shown in original blueprints but was not constructed until the 1960's.

The general exterior appearance is formal yet cozy, blending well while remaining distinct from the surrounding houses. The brickwork is the primary exterior surface decoration and the integrity, excepting some deterioration of the brick, is very good. The only major change is the regulation metal front door installed when the building became a public library.

The interior exhibits close to 90% of its original appearance with grained woodwork and doors, interior shutters and two back-to-back fireplaces faced with smooth glazed Pompeian brick with granite lintels. Throughout the library are custom oak-grained glass enclosed bookcases with cabinets below used to hold books and artifacts.

The entry and vestibule are under the austere 1960's balcony. The staircase for the balcony is also within the front section allowing the main hall to be a free, open space roughly 30' x 15'. The hall is primarily lit by the large arched windows in the cross bays and has as a focal point the fireplace flanked by angled doors into the rear rooms. The fireplace, being recessed into the rear wing has a "nook"-like quality.

The rear reading room is commodious with a broad corner fireplace and custom bookcases. The remaining two rooms house a small powder room (original) and kitchen facilities. Staircases occur between the rear rooms to the attic and basement. The attic space consists primarily of a sophisticated heavy truss system for the roof and to support the hall ceiling. The basement has a fascinating system of brick arches in intermediate support walls.

In general the library is well maintained by the Historic Langhorne Association and the furniture and appointments are all "in-keeping" with the late 19th century period.

  1. Auerbach, Kathryn Ann and Marshall, Jeffrey L., Langhorne Library, 1985, nomination document, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, DC

School District: Neshaminy

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Street Names: Maple Avenue West

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