The Ross Library has something of a convoluted history. Most people are aware that the library was donated by Annie Halenbake Ross, who died in 1907 and left her home to the city for use as a library. The building, however, goes back much further than that, and February is the anniversary.
It wasn’t always a library. In fact, it wasn’t always a public building at all. It started out as a private home, owned by Robert Bridgens.
Robert Ritchie Bridgens was a contractor and lumber merchant who grew up on a local farm. He became the third mayor of Lock Haven in 1876, serving until 1879. He bought the property at 232 West Main Street, which had once been a circus ground, and built a Queen Anne style home for himself and his wife, Elizabeth, completing the home in February of 1887.
Bridgens didn’t get to live in the house for very long—He passed away in 1890, and was buried in Highland Cemetery. After his death, Elizabeth sold the house to Frank and Annie Ross, who moved in together. Frank, an ironwork employee, passed away soon after, and Annie Halenbake Ross was left in the house alone.
She often read books—Reading was important to Annie. Her obituary mentions people being able to see her through the front windows of her house, sitting in a rocking chair and reading classics.
In the fall of 1907, Annie was on vacation in New Jersey when she passed away of a burst appendix that had been misdiagnosed by a hotel doctor. Her funeral was held in her home, right about where the historian’s desk now sits. Her will left her home to the city, on the condition it be made into the public library. It took city council three years to accept the gift, but the Ross Library opened up on Thanksgiving Day of 1910.
Other wings were added on over the years, as the library grew. Standing outside on the sidewalk, it’s easy to see which part was old house, and which was a purpose-built library wing.
The library building has a long history, much longer than anyone realizes offhand. Circus ground. Former mayor’s mansion. Married couple’s home. And today, a hundred and thirty six years later, the Ross Library.