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Thomas Beaver Free Library


The Thomas Beaver Free Library and Danville YMCA Building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1987. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [1] Adaptation copyright © 2009, The Gombach Group. [Note: the Library Building located at 205 Ferry Street no longer houses the YMCA.]

The Thomas Beaver Free Library and Danville YMCA Building consist of two attached 2-1/2 story sandstone buildings with slate roofs constructed in 1886. Located at the northwest corner of East Market Street and Ferry Street in Danville, Pennsylvania, the buildings are functionally independent but are otherwise closely related in construction, style and composition. Reflecting a combination of Second Empire and Queen Anne architecture the somewhat more ornate Library faces East Market Street, with a secondary elevation on Ferry Street, while the YMCA faced Ferry Street at the rear of the Library. The buildings are located in a Victorian residential neighborhood one block east of Mill Street, Danville's principal commercial street. The residential character of the library and picturesque character of both buildings relate them to their surroundings. Both buildings are in excellent condition and retain a high degree of integrity. The nominated resource consists of two contributing buildings.

The picturesque character of the Library and YMCA buildings depends heavily on the varied profiles presented in the buildings' rooflines and planes of elevation. The Library building includes a compounded hip roof over the front section of the Library intersected with truncated pavilion roofs and a hipped roof tower. Two corbelled stone chimneys flank sides of the main hip roof. Metal cresting, a metal finial on the tower and terra cotta trim add ornament to the slate roof surfaces. Eaves are detailed with dentiled cornices.

To the rear of the front section of the Library the building drops to two stories above a polygonal book room. This section of the building is crowned with an octagonal, lighted cupola topped with a finial. Beneath the cupola, at the extreme rear of the Library an intersecting gable joins the Library to the roof of the YMCA building.

Reflecting the composition of the Library, the YMCA building has a hip roof over its front section. The front plane of this roof is penetrated by a hipped roof tower. Tall molded chimneys pierce flanking sides of the main hip and a truncated hip roof appears over a meeting room bay to the left of the YMCA entrance. The roof has terra cotta ornament. Eaves have bracketed wooden cornices with pendant and wooden fan ornament accenting the eaves of the meeting room bay. The roof of the gymnasium section of the building is a flat or gently sloping roof concealed by a parapet.

The intersecting rooflines of these buildings correspond to the varied plans and elevations of the two buildings. The main elevation of the Library, facing East Market Street, is composed of a central 3-story entrance tower, which is narrower in width and recessed slightly from flanking 24-story pavilions. Masonry walls are cut stone, broken course with hammered faces and chiseled edges. The tops of the walls have stone cornices with carved stone brackets. Windows are paired on the tower and are tripled on the pavilions with hood molds and sills of cut, smooth-surfaced stone. Slender columns of pink granite separate sections of these doubled or tripled windows. First and second story windows have 1/1 sash with leaded transoms. The third story tower windows have 1/1 sash and are flanked by round-headed 1/1 sash windows of the pavilions.

The Library entrance at the base of the tower is reached by a stone stair with gracefully curving banisters and stocky stone newel posts topped with pink granite spheres. The entrance has two paneled oak doors surmounted by a transom. Flanking the entrance, two granite columns with composite capitals support the stone entablature bearing the name of the Library.

The Ferry Street facades of the Library and YMCA buildings reflect the varied shapes and sizes of the internal spaces of the two buildings. At the end of these facades nearest East Market Street, the Library's reading room section is distinguished by a projected pavilion matching those on the East Market Street facade. To the right (rear of the reading room section), the book room section of the Library drops to a two-story height. Unlike the front section of the Library windows here are paired vertically although retaining 1/1 sash.

Differentiation of spaces continues to the rear of the book room section where the Library and YMCA meet. Although the Library and YMCA are connected at the second story (externally) and roofline, an open breezeway separates the buildings on the ground floor. Simple stone stairs lead from the street level to an arched breezeway entrance. To the right of the breezeway corridor, the meeting room portion of the YMCA is expressed with a polygonal bay, 2-1/2 stories in height. Windows of the bay are single 1/1 sash openings with shaped lintels. A triple set of rounded headed windows appears at the attic level under a shared arched lintel with keystones. To the right of the meeting room section the main or entrance section of the YMCA reflects the symmetrical division of the Library facade into central tower and flanking pavilions. Windows are horizontally paired on the pavilions and tripled on the entrance tower. They contain 1/1 sash complemented by transoms at the second story level. Detail on this facade, and on the YMCA in general, is more limited than on the Library's main elevation.

The YMCA has an exposed basement. The Ferry Street entrance is fronted by a utilitarian concrete stoop with metal handrail. An aluminum and glass door has replaced the original YMCA door in modern times.

The side and rear elevations of the YMCA are stuccoed above a rubble stone foundation. An outer shell of the wall clearly defines vertical bays containing the fenestration. Third story windows are paired 1/1 sash with transoms and rounded lintels; first story windows are similar in form but lacking transoms. Some windows including basement windows have been covered or otherwise filled in.

The side and rear elevations of the Library correspond in construction and detailing of its Ferry Street facade.

A shallow lawn enclosed by a short arcaded stone fence adjoins the Ferry Street side of the Library. A matching fence on East Market Street also protects lawn on the west side of the Library.

The Library has an Eastlake interior, remarkable for its fine oak woodwork and its astounding state of preservation. Minton tile flooring graces the vestibule and hallway; the hallway has carved beams on the ceiling and is flanked by reading rooms, which are reached by carved double doors with large glass panels with gilt lettering. Each of the four reading rooms (two on each floor) has an ornate oak mantlepiece with different tile designs in the fireplace surrounds. The plaster ceilings are molded, and full paneled wainscotings adorn the lower walls. The oak paneled stairway is at the left rear of the front block and features a massive carved newel post; a stained glass window portraying a full-length figure of a Muse graces the stair landing. Opposite the stairs on the right is the librarian's office, again with an oak door, large glass and gilt lettering.

A broad entrance leads to the 24-story book room. Its dome-like ceiling is supported by massive carved timbers and is topped by an octagonal stained glass skylight. A mezzanine circles the room at second-floor level. The bookcases and circulation desk are heavily carved oak, and such fixtures as gas lamps, marble drinking fountains and gas-powered fans are still in place, although electric lights have been installed. A beautifully tiled floor is another feature of this remarkable space.

Though largely original, the interior of the YMCA is comparatively simple. A single large room is located just inside the door; a stair with carved newel is at the left rear, and a terra-cotta mantelpiece with Classical decorations is in the middle of the right-hand wall. This room had been later paneled. On the upper floor are exercise rooms; their walls are plaster and the windows have oak surrounds. To the rear is the gym, with its tiny basketball court and upper viewing area. It is substantially original. The meeting rooms, which are to the left, separated from the main area by tiny offices, are quite ornate. The window surrounds are carved with Eastlake detailing, and each meeting room (one on each floor) has a handsome stone mantelpiece with incised decoration.

The Beaver Library complex has been fortunate in escaping serious alterations. One large room in the YMCA wing has been paneled and the entrance replaced by a modern glass and aluminum doorway. The library wing is substantially original, even retaining some gas light fixtures. Some of the electric lights are inappropriate and much of the furniture has been replaced, although the original chairs and other pieces are stored in the cellar, along with the gas machine for the lights, still connected to its piping. The softness of the stone has caused some spalling problems, especially at the alley/Ferry Street corner, but the building is otherwise in excellent condition.

Significance

The Thomas Beaver Free Library and Danville YMCA Building were finished in 1886 and have functioned as Danville's town library and recreation center. The buildings are excellent representatives of both the architecture of the period and the ideals of their founder and patron, Thomas Beaver. Designed by Danville architect Charles Wetzel, who left a powerful impression on the face of Danville and maintained a wide practice in the region, they are finely detailed examples of Victorian Eclectic architecture influenced by Second Empire and Queen Anne design. The Beaver Library in particular uses the finest building materials both inside and outside; next to the monumental Beaux Arts Style James Brown Library (1915) in Williamsport, it is the grandest library in the area. Thomas Beaver was Danville's leading industrialist/philanthropist, and example of that fine Victorian tradition which yoked great commercial success with a Christian sense of duty to improve the common good. His contribution to the Library included the land, building, furnishings and books, along with a $100,000 endowment; an additional $50,000 was provided for the YMCA.

Thomas Beaver (1814-1891) was born in Perry County, the son of a minister. At work by the age of thirteen, he never acquired formal schooling. After some years working in stores in Lewisburg and New Berlin, Thomas Beaver moved to Danville in 1857, managing the failing Montour Iron Works for its creditors. Beaver and his partner I.S. Waterman purchased the works in 1859, and Beaver was involved in the now profitable operation until 1876. By 1883, he owned the Danville Stove and Manufacturing Co.; this concern is remembered for its cast-iron letter boxes, which bore the likeness of a beaver and could be found on city streets nationwide.

Though his various interests employed thousands and earned Beaver a fortune, he is best remembered for his generosity, especially toward his adopted hometown. Beaver is said to have spent half his fortune on charitable, educational and religious projects. He donated a $30,000 scholarship to Dickinson College for the aid of poor students, bought a clock tower for St. Joseph's Catholic Church in Danville and paid for improvements in his own beloved Mahoning Presbyterian Church. But his most generous projects took place in the late 1880's when he built the Thomas Beaver Free Library and Danville YMCA Building and the Beaver Memorial Church in Lewisburg.

When Reverend Stewart, who was pastor of Mahoning Presbyterian, proposed an addition to the church to house reading rooms for the young men of Danville, Beaver immediately became involved. The simple plan evolved in Beaver's hands into an entire library. Charles Wetzel prepared a design for a brick building with meeting rooms on the third floor for the young men. At the cornerstone ceremonies, James A. Beaver, Thomas's nephew, convinced the older man that attic rooms for the young men might be less than satisfactory. Wetzel's plan was expanded to include a connecting YMCA building and brick gave way to ornate stone work for the facades. The complex was built at a cost to Thomas Beaver of between one and two hundred thousand dollars and was dedicated in August of 1886. Beaver endowed both institutions with extensive trust funds ($100,000 for the Library, $50,000 for the YMCA), insuring their financial health for the foreseeable future.

Danville architect Charles Wetzel (1922-1898) designed the Beaver Free Library and Danville YMCA Building near the end of his career. His early buildings of note include the Italianate Montour County Courthouse (1871) and the now demolished Danville Opera House, which was also Italianate. His Northumberland County Jail (1876) in Sunbury displays traditional Gothic Revival styling. Wetzel's design for the W.F. Reynolds Bank Building (1887) in Bellefonte is a brick Victorian Eclectic building with corner turret which bears comparison to the Beaver Free Library and YMCA. Reynold's Bellefonte residence (1884-85), a large Second Empire-Queen Anne building with complex massing and ornate interior woodwork appears even more closely related and can be safely attributed to Wetzel.

Among Wetzel 's Danville commissions the Danville National Bank (1882) on Mill Street, which stands a block away from the Beaver Library, could be regarded as the Library's prototype. It utilizes the same gray sandstone and similar decoration. The cornice treatment is virtually identical, but the small building, which has been expanded at least twice since, displays none of the confident handling of complicated massing that is one mark of the Library and the YMCA Building. Also, the original interior is long gone.

The decorative treatment explored by Wetzel in the Danville National Bank blossoms in the Library, enhanced by the fluid massing. The highly polished pink granite columns, the massive library entrance with its larger granite columns supporting a heavy carved pediment and the handsome stonework all add distinction to the building. Its interior done in oak, is both grand and amazingly well preserved; the finely detailed fireplaces in oak and marble, the ornate newel post of the Library stair and especially the commanding space and ornately carved woodwork of the book room reflect the work of the finest local craftsmen.

Apart from the Danville National Bank the Beaver Library and the Danville YMCA Building have only one cousin among the many ornate buildings in Danville. The Peter Baldy House (c.1880) in the National Register Historic District on West Market Street may be the work of Wetzel, but no evidence tying him to the building has been discovered. The Baldy House is a plastered brick structure which has many likenesses to the Beaver Library, including a similarly massive carved stone doorway and an Eastlake-inspired interior in oak. Most of the town's other large houses are earlier Second Empire types or later Colonial Revival houses, although several display similarly fine multi-colored stonework.

With the demolition of Thomas Beaver's hilltop mansion, the Free Library and YMCA are the remaining buildings most closely associated with the man and his ideals. It is appropriate that his name is maintained in the public memory by this example of Beaver's religious and civic pride. The Beaver Library and YMCA Building have served generations of Danville residents by broadening their minds and strengthening their bodies.

References

Battle, S.H., Editor. History of Columbia and Montour Counties, Pennsylvania (Chicago: A.Warner and Company, 1887), pp.114-115.

Brewer, D.H.B. Danville, Montour County, Pennsylvania (Harrisburg: Lane S. Hart, 1881), pp.200-201.

Foulke, Arthur Toye. My Danville (N. Quincy, Mass.: The Christopher Publishing House, 1969) pp.84, 117, 145, 190-197.

Withey, Henry and Elsie. Biographical Dictionary of American Architects (Los Angeles: New Age Publishing, 1956), p.648.

History and Biographical Annals of Columbia and Montour Counties, Pennsylvania (Chicago: J.H. Beers and Company, 1915), pp.362, 364, 384, 406.

  1. McMinn, Douglas, Thomas R. Deans Associates and Ramsey, Greg, Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, Thomas Beaver Free Library, nomination document, 1987, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.

Thomas Beaver Free Library Map

Street Names
Ferry Street

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