Long overdue

THE BALTIMORE SUN

GRANTSVILLE - The small-town librarian has to be a combination historian, genealogist, literary mentor, baby sitter, town guide, shopping aide, chief checkout clerk - even a puzzle master when a patron hands you a note asking for the book Catch Her in the Rye.

Maxine Beachy Broadwater performed all those functions with admirable gusto for about 31 years at the Grantsville branch of Garrett County's Ruth Enlow Library. Now she's taking on another one: fund-raiser for a new library building.

When Broadwater became the town's first librarian in 1959, the library was at one end of an old store and a bar was at the other end; confused patrons sometimes walked in the wrong door. She stayed on when the library moved in 1967 to a converted bank building on Grantsville's main street.

"I imagine we are the only library building in the state with a bulletproof drive-up window," Broadwater says.

And as town librarian, she never quite knew what requests she might get when the phone rang:

"Would you go across the street and see what the hours are at the barbershop?"

"Are the lights on at the Laundromat?"

"Would you go to Yoder's Locker Plant and purchase some homemade bread and put it on the bus to the Hagerstown Library?"

She accepted UPS packages for neighboring businesses, once even a gravestone for a funeral home. "I said I would, providing the body wasn't there," Broadwater recalls.

On one memorable day, a patron asked for the series of Revolutionary War historical novels by John Jakes. They were all on the shelf except for the first.

"When The Bastard comes back in I will call you," she told the astounded patron.

She's told that story for a decade or so.

"I loved my work," says Broadwater, 76. "There wasn't a day that I felt: 'Oh, gee, I wish I didn't have to go to work.' "

Broadwater retired in 1991, but she's never been far from the library.

Kim Lishia, the present librarian, often calls on her when folks ask genealogical questions. Broadwater built up a nice genealogy collection while she was at the library, and she's a real authority on Grantsville family histories.

But these days Broadwater's main interest is the effort to raise money for the new library. She's a member of the ReNew Grantsville Library Committee, which aims to upgrade the tiny homey library she ran for so many years.

"We want to wind up with a state-of-the-art building, and that includes computer service," says Jack Caruthers, a retired construction consultant and another member of the committee.

About 1 1/2 years ago townsfolk came together and decided they needed a new library.

"The library board, the community, the library users, the workers, everybody," Broadwater says. "It was a community effort. I think you find this in all small towns more than in cities.

"You take the town park," she says. "Whenever they needed something for the park, the town came together."

People have given generously to the library fund - this in a county where the median household income is about $30,000, only two-thirds of the state median, and where about 16 percent of all people (and nearly a quarter of the children) live below the poverty line.

At last count, the committee had raised $175,273.35. It's aiming for $200,000 by April 15, when Garrett County adopts its new budget. The county commissioners have promised to match what the town raises dollar for dollar. A federal grant of $300,000 will bring the total to within sight of the $900,000 they'd like to have.

"The response is just really impressive," says Sheila Miller, co-chair of the committee. She lives in Grantsville and is principal of the elementary school in Accident, about 12 miles south.

"It's not a hard sell," says Caruthers, a longtime user of the library. "Very few people say no."

And it's downright phenomenal for a town the size of Grantsville, population 619.

Mayor Gerry Beachy says Grantsville is growing. He's also the town pharmacist and a distant cousin of Broadwater's. The area is awash with Broadwaters and Beachys. His shiny, bright drugstore looks to be slightly larger than the library. "We went up 25 percent over the previous census," he says, "the fastest-growing town in Garrett County.

"It's a pretty nice place to live," he says, mayorally.

But the library's circulation area includes between 5,000 and 15,000 people, depending on who's doing the estimating. It stretches into Pennsylvania, which is only five miles north. Elk Lick Township and a school district in Somerset County, Pa., both donated to the library fund. So did the Salisbury, Pa., VFW Post.

Doing their part

When the call went out about raising money for a new library, the folks in Grantsville responded the way Broadwater says folks do out here: Everyone doing their part. The local gas station matched every 25 cents donated by their customers with a quarter of its own, for a total of $1,000. The ReNew committee created a potato bar, where cheese, sour cream and other fixings are slathered on baked potatoes and sold. It raised $1,300.03.

Kids at the Grantsville and Route 40 elementary schools tossed dimes into a jar for a total of about $600. They also wrote 250 letters asking for help from Gov. Parris N. Glendening. (He hasn't offered any money yet. But he hasn't turned them down, either.)

There was bingo and a toy raffle and a 50/50 drawing, and they sold individualized bricks for $100 each. The Lutheran, Mennonite, Brethren and United Church of Christ congregations gave $2,800.

Broadwater donated four negatives from her Leo Beachy archive. Beachy, a regional photographer with a national reputation, was her great-uncle. She's the steward of his legacy of photographs and glass negatives. Hobby House and Pioneer Prints published them, and they brought in nearly $2,900 at $20 each.

About $27,000 was donated in the name of Elsa Rodgers Naser, a 64-year-old Grantsville woman who was murdered in March 2000. She was a retired schoolteacher who often read to children in the library.

The Grantsville Rotary and the Lions Club each gave $5,000, and the Lionesses $5,100. The Casselman Valley Homemakers Club put up $25, the Grantsville 4-H Club ponied up $700, and the local chapter of the Vietnam Veterans of America gave $1,000.

"The town donated $25,000 to start it off," Mayor Beachy says. "We want to have a nicely equipped library for the future. We want to have fiber optics in the library. We want cable in it.

"We want to get a bank of eight to 10 computers. We have a lot of poverty around us, people who can't afford computers. That would give them a chance to come in and learn what's on there.

"And, of course," he adds, "up-to-date books."

The library is now in a handsome brick building, more or less in the center of town. Grantsville stretches out about three-quarters of a mile along old U.S. 40, just down the hill from I-68.

"That's the National Road out front," Caruthers says. "Anybody with a national reputation between, say, about 1820 until the railroads opened up in 1852, and was from the West, went right up and down the main street of town. Andrew Jackson rode by here on his way to being inaugurated to be president in 1829. ...

"President Polk gave a speech down here at the Stone House, at Little Meadows. Abraham Lincoln, as a congressman, came through here at least once, probably twice."

The Stone House still stands, and so does Casselman River Bridge, the longest single stone arch bridge in the new nation when it was built in 1813. George Washington named the area Little Crossing when he marched through in 1755 with British Gen. Edward Braddock to attack the French at Fort Duquesne, better known today as Pittsburgh. They lost, incidentally. Braddock was killed, but Washington fought onbravely.

Casselman's Hotel, built in 1824 as a stagecoach stop and way station for drivers, still serves a very tasty honey-dipped chicken.

The library itself dates back at least to 1910 when the building was a harness shop. But inside it's pinched for space.

"Oh, yes, in work space and in every way we're crowded," says Lishia, the librarian.

She has to cull the collection periodically to make room for new books and new items such as DVDs.

"The worst job I had was weeding the shelves," Broadwater says. "The older the book, the more I wanted to keep it. Any discarded books, we'd give them to Jack. I couldn't throw a book away."

Time for expansion

Behind that bulletproof window, the library's office is small, narrow and cramped. The one working computer is inside the old bank vault along with the magazines and some genealogy material. Fiction books line the walls of a room not much bigger than many modern bathrooms. The children's area is cozy, but two tables fill a space that might have been a teller's cage. Caruthers says the library is crammed into about 850 square feet.

"For the population we serve here, this building should be about five times the size it is - between [4,000] and 5,000 square feet," he says.

The library has about 8,000 books now, nearly 10 times what Broadwater started with. And it circulates about 3,000 items a month, Lishia says, including records, cassettes, videotapes and magazines.

When a snowstorm is predicted in these Appalachian foothills, people not only stock up on milk and bread, they leave the library with their arms full of books.

Before the school had its own library, kids used to come up and learn the Dewey Decimal System and other arcane mysteries. So lots of people in town have gotten used to popping into the library if only for a chat, which is another reason the fund-raising response has been so remarkable.

"It's an investment in the community and an investment in the future of the children," Caruthers says. "I think four groups really appreciate library services more than anybody else and have a greater need: the old and the young, the sick and disabled, and the poor.

"Where else can you go for free and get what's available in a library?" he says. "From magazines to videos to books to maps. It's unlimited. And it doesn't cost you anything unless you keep things out and don't return them on time.

"There's no way a private individual could maintain the resources this library has, unless they were very wealthy. And through inter-library loans and Internet access, you have a little window on the whole world."

Broadwater says, "I just think the community is showing, just by word of mouth, they're really working hard to help support the new library."

And they'll no doubt get a fully wired, computer-friendly, 21st- century library, but it probably won't have bullet-proof windows, or a thick-walled vault or librarians ready to accept tombstones when the funeral director's out of town.

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