Change may be coming to Ferry library

CHANGING the status of the Martins Ferry Public Library to the Belmont County District Library has been proposed.

This possibility has been explored by the Martins Ferry Public Library Board of Trustees, which recently approved a resolution for this change and forwarded it to the State Library Board in Columbus for consideration.

The proposed Belmont County District Library would encompass the area now served by the Martins Ferry Public Library.

“While the library is currently a school district library and has as its legal service the Martins Ferry City School Board, it also had county extension service until last year when Senate Bill 321 changed that in the Library Omnibus Bill. Changing to a county district library stabilizes and legalizes the boundaries that the library has served since the 1930s,” according to a news release.

The news release further explained that in addition, this would afford “wider latitude in meeting the growing commitments of today and facing the challenges of tomorrow in providing the best possible service not only to Martins Ferry but to Bridgeport, Shadyside, Powhatan Point, Bethesda and the Victoria Read Branch in Flushing. The library board looks to the proposed conversion with great enthusiasm and optimism.”

According to library officials, out of 251 independent public libraries in Ohio, 57 are county district libraries.

Changes have been many at the Martins Ferry Public Library since it came into being during the Great Depression.

Branch development and service to the rural portions of the county have been important to library officials since its early history. The State Library Board during the late 1930s designated the Martins Ferry Library to be the County Extension Center Library for Belmont County.

The library in Martins Ferry opened in 1930 in a storefront at Fifth and Walnut streets and later moved to other storefront locations. It kept outgrowing its locations, and it was decided during the 1960s to construct a new library.

In 1967, a federal Library Services and Construction Act grant was awarded to the Martins Ferry Public Library for the construction of the new facility, and this was helped by a bond issue approved by voters in the Martins Ferry School District.

The new library, designed by Robert Forsythe who also was architect for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, opened in 1968. Forsythe, a Martins Ferry native, was inducted into the Martins Ferry Hall of Fame, and plaques to honor him and other inductees are in the library, located along James Wright Place.

James Wright Place is a section of South Fifth Street, and the name was changed to honor the Pulitzer Prize-winning poet, who also is a Ferry native and is in the HofH. Efforts to change the name of that section of street were spearheaded by John Storck, former library director.

Extension services provided through branch libraries and bookmobiles were provided by the Martins Ferry Board of Trustees, beginning in the 1930s.

The library’s history points out that branches were opened in Bethesda in 1936; Shadyside, Neffs and Flushing, 1937; St. Clairsville (an independent library since 1942) in 1938; Bridgeport, 1939; and Powhatan Point, 1950. The Neffs Branch closed in 2002 when library funding cuts by the state became prevalent.

Martins Ferry wasn’t the only place on the Ferry library system where a new library was constructed. The Victoria Read Public Library replaced a storefront library in Flushing. Named for a Flushing native who helped to provide funds for the facility, the library has a very appropriate name for a library with “Read” in its name. Victoria (Twarog) Read’s husband was Dr. Gerald Read, a professor at Kent State University.

New libraries also were constructed in Shadyside and Bridgeport. At least two other libraries – in Bethesda and Powhatan Point – have changed locations.

Progress hasn’t been confined to buildings as activities have increased and technological advances have been made.

The library’s history on its website quotes Storck, who once noted, “Libraries must be the public’s access to information superhighways, roadways, country roads and any other sources of useful information. Our mission, and the need for our services, can only grow.”

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