History of the Lima Public Library

From: Livingston County Library Profiles, written around 1966.

In 1909, a chapter of the D.A.R. formed the nucleus for Lima Library with the donation of 100 books which were housed in the Town Hall. A provisional charter from the State was granted in 1912 with School District Number 9 voting to maintain the library. A permanent charter was granted in 1913 and quarters obtained in the Hendrich Block, next to the present fire house. Ten years later, in 1923, the library moved to its present location* which used to be a two-cell jail cell owned by the Town!

A charter transfer in 1956 was approved changing the Lima Library from a school district library to a tax supported library serving the Town of Lima. The library has again outgrown its building and the board of trustees is presently involved in obtaining a new site and planning a new building**.

One of the members of the first Board of Trustees was Mrs. Thomas Keating, mother of former Senator Keating. Lima Library has been served by five librarians in its 57 years. Miss Emma Briggs, Miss Bessie Briggs, Mrs. Harriet Wilder, Mrs. Mamie Beale, and Miss Jeanette Erbe. Mrs. Beale was the librarian for twenty-three years and still lives in Lima with her daughter.

Since 1956, when the Lima Library joined the Livingston County Library System***, the book holdings have grown from 7, 437 to 12, 727 and the annual circulation from 10,950 to 18,749.

*The previous location for the library was 1808 Rochester Street.

**This location is the current site of the library at 1872 Genesee Street.

***The Lima Public Library is now part of the Pioneer Library/OWWL System which is made up of Ontario, Wayne, Wyoming, and Livingston Counties.

A photo of the Lima Library’s previous location on Rochester Street.


When the Lima Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution held its first annual meeting in 1909, Mrs. Mary Thompson, the secretary was asked to contact Albany about “obtaining a State Library.” That was the beginning of the Lima Public Library. Since one of the new chapter’s goals was to work for Lima, it is not surprising then that this group provided the first books for public reading in the Lima community.

Although the chapter was organized at the home of Mrs. T.W. Keating (the mother of Senator and Ambassador Kenneth Keating) on January 8, 1904, it rented temporary temporary quarters in the town hall by October of that year. Rent was $1.00 per month with heat and light included. But the ladies soon decided that a permanent room was needed “to preserve historical relics and to teach patriotism.” Therefore, Miss Warner, the Regent, appointed a committee to be on “the look-out for a permanent room to hold meetings.” Within a month, the group agreed to ask the town board for the use of the current room and “that we might use our influence for an affirmative vote.” Their influence must have been mighty because the town fathers allowed them to not only use the room rent free because “it (D.A.R.) had purchased a gas stove for the room.” Although the chapter eventually shared the Legion room, you can still see the D.A.__ on the door of the Assessor’s office just inside the front door of the town hall.

During the next few years, the membership worked towards its goals: they donated $1.40 (the profit from an ice cream and cake sale) to veterans and the many shut-ins in the village, gave prizes for the best essays by the seventh, eighth, and ninth graders in all Lima schools and in 1911, they discussed the organization of the town library. In 1955, its financial support was transferred to the town of Lima through taxes and state funding.

Initially, the collection was housed in the D.A.R. room. Miss Warner was librarian every Saturday from 3:00 pm to 5:00 pm. Dean Taylor, the son of Mr. and Mrs. Vernon Taylor, withdrew the first book. However, when circulation and the number of books increased, the library was moved to the upper rooms in the Keating Block on the south side of East Main Street. It formally opened as the Lima Public Library on December 12, 1912 with 215 borrowers. The year 1912 was also important because the library was given a provisional charter from the New York State Library Association. This included an annual grant of $50 provided the library spend a like amount and have its books approved by the State Library. A permanent charter was bestowed in 1913.

Our library would make three more moves before it settled in its present Genesee Street home. In 1916, it moved next to the old Centennial Fire House. But by 1923, when its literary seams were bursting again, the library moved to its own building on Rochester Street where the Community Center is now located.

According to Mabel Jenks, a Lima resident who wrote extensively about Lima history, the Rochester Street building has an unusual story. The original brick building was erected in 1875 by Robert Beale and his son, Henry. It was used successively as a town hall when the Main Street building was so busy, the councilmen were forced to meet in barns. Later, it was used as a polling place. In 1921, contractor Ben Beale, the grandson of Robert, added another room and a basement. And his wife, Mamie, was librarian for the next 41 years.

During her tenure, Mamie guided and guarded the literary leanings of the Lima community…especially the young people. Hildegarde Turk still remembers the scolding she received as a teenager when she tired to borrow Peyton Place, the current controversial best-seller that hinted at bedroom activity. Hildegarde recalled, “She scared me half to death in front of everyone and then called my father. I still haven’t read that book.”

When Mrs. Beale retired in 1962, Jeanette Erbe succeeded her. I still remember Ms. Erbe. As suburban transplants who were used to chauffeuring a large family every place but the bathroom, being able to walk to the library was a slice of heaven. And having Ms. Erbe, with her gentle smile and helpful reading advice, enlarged the slice.

Although the brick building was designed for future readers as well as the present, it was obvious by the mid-1960s that a larger building was necessary for the 11,000 books and the corresponding growth of readers. Fortunately, Mrs. Belle Chapin Tennie came to the rescue with a gift of $25,000 in seed money for the new building. And when the voters said “yes” to a $40,000 appropriation, the Moran Mill property on Genesee Street was purchased and ground broken on July 19, 1967. Ten months later, on May 19, 1968, Lima’s new library, the Chapin Memorial Library, was dedicated.

It was a proud day for Lima residents. A New York state flag which had flown over the state capitol was raised, a gold key was given to Mrs. Tennie and a “thank you” was said to Senator Kenneth Keating and his sister, Dorothy Keating Adams, for their gift of the large bay window remembering their mother, Louise Barnard Keating, who played a major role in organizing the first D.A.R library. And a small plaque on the wall of the Children’s Room honors Mrs. Mamie Beale, the keeper of Lima’s literary morals.

Barbara Wilcox picked up the librarian reins in 1970 and remained until she retired in 2005. Michelle Rohrbach was then appointed manager. The library not only increased its circulation during Wilcox’s tenure but also increased its services: story hours, library programs, talking books, large print books…videos, newspapers, and a meeting place for special events are a few of its services. There are also 12 computers in the building…Since Wilcox was a proficient grant writer, three of the computers were secured by state or federal grants.

Working within the Pioneer Library System, our library combines resources with libraries in Ontario, Livingston, Wayne and Wyoming counties. This affords a greater selection of books for its patrons.

The Lima Public Library has come a long way since those D.A.R. ladies wrote to Albany about “acquiring a State Library.” But it isn’t just about the 1500 patrons or the 26,385 book titles. It is about a high school student surrounded by reference books the night before a paper is due, literacy programs, and the folks who stop in for some quiet time browsing by the big bay window. Most of all the library is about service. It is Michelle or Sylvia or Cheryl or Sharon lending a helping hand in finding or ordering a book. It can also be help in locating the correct income tax form for a late filer or leaning over a youngster at the computer while he is trying to master the complexities of the electronic age.

Small wonder that the Lima Public Library is called “the best spot in town.”

Written approximately 2005. Mrs. Rapp was a fixture of the Lima Public Library and our friend. We miss her greatly.