Halcyon Days: Recollections of the Old Library

The Old Library by Lake Afton served as Yardley’s public library from 1878 until 1978, when the collections were moved to Lower Makefield Township. The library’s final years were considered by many to be “halcyon days.” At the time, it was a lively, welcoming place to do research, study and meet, even though books were stuffed from floor to ceiling and stored in the basement and on a balcony, too.  

The librarians and their assistants played a special role in making what would seem a difficult situation work well  – from finding materials from within the 22,000 piece collection to playing duck crossing guards out on West Afton Avenue.  

Here are recollections of those special days and testimonies about how important the Old Library is and was to the community. 

"Life at the Library" by Doris Chapman

Doris Chapman came to work at the Yardley Library as the assistant librarian in 1960, just three months after the new expansion completed. She became the head librarian several years later and served as such until after the move to Lower Makefield Township. 

She wrote this presentation  at the time of the move in 1978.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the old Yardley/Makefield Library on Lake Afton, I would like to give you a short history and tell you what it was like to operate a small town library.

The old Yardley Library on Lake Afton was often described by journalists as charming.  According to legend it is said that the style was copied from a drawing found in an 18th century volume of poetry.

The Library was established by five prominent Yardleyville citizens in 1845. They appointed Samuel G. Slack “a suitable person to serve as librarian with the salary of one dollar per year.” The Library was housed in a room over Mr. Slack’s general store, which is now the Continental Tavern in Yardley. In the 1870’s, the citizens joined forces to erect the library building, which was completed in 1878 on land donated by the heirs of the original William Yardley.

The new wing enlarged the original Library building by more than 50% to 759 square feet. It was dedicated in April 1960. I joined the staff in June of that year as assistant librarian, and a few years later became head librarian. It was primarily a fiction library.

Through the efforts of a small dedicated staff, a progressive library board, and a devoted group of volunteers, we grew to our peak circulation of over 75,000 volumes in 1975. It could be very hectic.

Where would you find a more picturesque scene in the summer than little boys fishing on the banks of the Lake or parents on their way to the Library with small children and bags of corn or bread to feed the ducks, or the children in the house across the lake paddling their canoe to the Library or watching the growth of families of ducks in the spring.

When we saw cars backed up with patient motorist, we knew the problem. A duck decided to rest in the middle of the road and was reluctant to move. Often we guided them to the Lake. We were labeled by some of the Library patrons as the “Keepers of the Ducks.”

One morning we arrived to find that someone had jammed the slot of our book bank, which was located on the porch. It had rained during the night, and we had a lot of damp books. On another occasion, we found a dead fish in the book bank. In another incident, we were robbed of our petty cash during the night. They gained access through the basement window and came in through the trap door.

Winter was more of a problem. The Yardley Recreation Board installed flood lights for night skating, which were great for the skaters, but hectic for the Library staff. We had phone calls as to the safety of the ice = “was it frozen.” The Library patrons had problems with people blocking the steps while putting on their skates. Cars belonging to the skaters on the ice blocking the Library patrons’ cars when they were ready to leave. I must say we had some irate customers. We had skater try to enter the Library with their skates on to use the lavatory. They used our porch railings and lakeside wooden benches to chop up for firewood to be used in bonfires to keep warm. We had hockey pucks sail through the windows and a rifle shot. We put Band-Aids on skaters’ boo boos, and the next morning we picked up skaters’ hats, scarves, socks, etc. We also rescued ducks frozen in the ice.

In the Library, newcomers were amused when we posted a guard around the trap door leading to the basement where back issues of periodicals were kept along with book not frequently requested. The door was always a delight to curious children, which is why we had to post the guard so that no one would end up in the basement inadvertently or otherwise.

Since my desk was located in front of the broom closet size lavatory, I had to move my chair to the aisle, if someone wanted to use the facility.

We cleaned the Library when our cleaning man was on vacation, shoveled snow, changed the ink and paper in the copy machine (which we owned), fixed the book charging machine via telephone instruction minutes before the Library opened.

When we were ready to move, we asked each of our active cardholders to check out ten books from the Lake Afton site and return them at staggered intervals to the new Lower Makefield building.  The Yardley Jaycees volunteered vans and pick-up trucks for reference books and other materials. Everyone worked together, but we had no shelving in place in the new library. We learned from the company that the crew that was to install our shelves had a serious automobile accident and were hospitalized. Needless to say, we panicked. The salesman, who sold us the shelving, called in another crew, and, fortunately, we were able to open on the scheduled date with the help of many volunteers.

The old Library was never dull, but I especially remember the patrons. They were always very appreciative of our efforts among all tht clutter. 

 I have many fond memories, and I loved every minute of it.” 

Portrait of Doris Chapman
Doris Chapman was head librarian at the Yardley Library during its halcyon days.
Interior of Library
The Yardley Library was so jammed that a move to a larger facility was inevitable.
Florence McEvoy Lendo and Dr. Arthur J. Lendo
Dr. Arthur J. Lendo with his mother Florence McEvoy Lendo.

"Why the Old Library is So Important"
by Dr. Arthur J. Lendo

Dr. Arthur J. Lendo grew up in Yardley and had a special attachment to the Old Library because his mother, Florence McEvoy Lendo, was an assistant librarian there.   Dr. Lendo  was the innovative  President of Peirce College in Philadelphia  from 1991 through 2009. He now resides in Tennessee, but his days in Yardley still evoke many great memories. 

My greatest blessing in life has been to have magnificent parents. Growing up in Yardley with my brother, Kevin, during the 1950s and 60s would be up at the top of the list, too. My Mother, Florence McEvoy Lendo, was a college graduate and had two careers: teacher and librarian.

Mother thoroughly enjoyed her time working at what is now the Old Library by Lake Afton with Mrs. Doris Chapman, Mrs. Ruth Leidy, and others. She often commented that going to the library a few times a week was not like working at all…it was more like a labor of love! The opportunity to regularly interact with local residents, especially small children, surrounded by books and learning was particularly delightful.

She walked, rain or shine, from our home on Fairway Drive to the Library. Mother often quipped that it was so pleasant that it was like walking downhill both ways ! And she would use different routes, usually depending on whether she would stop at Phil Friedman’s Yardley Pharmacy. My brother and I both played baseball for the Yardley Pharmacy in the Pennsbury National Little League. My Father was the Manager. We won the “World Series” in 1957 and 1958 topping the tough Yardley Cubs (American League champs) both times. Mr. Friedman hosted my Mom, Dad, and the players for a celebratory Cherry (or Vanilla) Coke…and free refills ! During her later years, inclement weather and advancing age sometimes prevented her from walking to The Library. If she did not take that daily stroll, then she would note that she missed chatting with “the locals” along the way.

Much of her work was in the evening. At dinner prior to her departure, she was quite articulate about the overall magnificence of the setting: The Library, Lake Afton, the colorful door at the church next door, the ducks, and the single traffic light! Having suffered through the Great Depression, World War II, the loss of my uncle killed in action in the Pacific, and tuberculosis; she viewed Yardley as the picture of “Dignity” and the Library as a “Beacon”.

Thus, it was no surprise to me that the Old Library would become such an iconic image and historical landmark over the years. It has been a privilege for me to “give back” to the Yardley community by establishing The Florence McEvoy Lendo Endowment Fund to preserve, protect, and perpetuate such a GREAT TREASURE. Let us all take good care of the Library,  Lake Afton, and our community. “

To ensure the preservation and maintenance of the Old Library, Dr. Arthur J. Lendo and his family established the Florence McEvoy Lendo Endowment Fund to honor their Mother and ensure the maintenance and preservation of the Old Library by Lake Afton.   The Yardley Historical Association is forever grateful for the Lendo Family’s support. 

We hope that you will share in the Lendo Family’s committment to the future on the Old Library by making your own contribution to the Florence McEvoy Lendo Endowment Fund.