Hi. Barb here.
Over the years, many of us Maine Crime Writers have told the story of the library that most influenced our lives. I was supposed to tell mine last year, but National Library Week coincided with Boston Marathon week, and I found I just couldn’t.
So I’m trying here again.
I grew up in Montclair, New Jersey, but in the summer between fourth and fifth grade, my family moved to Wallingford, Pennsylvania, a southwestern suburb of Philadelphia. We moved into a development called Heatherwold, a small community of sidewalkless, winding roads and houses of brick and stone built just before the second World War.
For me, the most amazing thing about Heatherwold was that the community library, The Helen Kate Furness, was right in our development. I was, at ten, at last allowed to walk to the library by myself, any time I wanted. One of my most vivid sense memories is of walking there one evening in the fall. The sky was dark, the air crisp, and as I walked, I drank in the freedom that you feel when you are a child, on your own, in charge of where you’re going for the first time. An enormous flock of Canadian geese flew overhead, so noisy I can hear them still.
At the Helen Kate Furness, I read everything I could in the children’s library, books that would now be labeled young adult, and then the librarian gently suggested that I go upstairs to the adult library. I did and never looked back, inhaling mysteries, historical fiction and classics in the adult collection.
Heatherwold and the library were built on the land of Lindenshade, the country estate of Horace Howard Furness (1833-1912) whom Wikipedia describes as the “most important Shakespearean scholar of the 19th century.” The library is named for his wife and collaborator. His brother was the noted Victorian architect Frank Furness and Lindenshade is attributed to him.
When I was a child, only two widely separated wings of Lindenshade still stood. One was the brick library built for H.H. Furness’s collection. In the early 1960s when I lived in Wallingford, the former library wing was a rental property where my friend Alison lived. When I look at this photo of Furness in his library, I wonder how that worked.
Everything you read about Lindenshade says it was demolished except for its library in 1940. But I am certain that when I lived in Wallingford in the early 1960s, the two-story wing you see in the foreground of the photo below still stood. And in it lived the descendents of H. H. Furness’s daughter Caroline Furness Jayne.
Jayne was an enthologist who in 1906 published the definitive work String Figures and How to Make Them: a study of cat’s cradle in many lands. It is still in print today, and just to bring us full cycle, in 2000 D.R. Meredith wrote a cozy mystery, By Hook or By Book, about a missing Jayne manuscript and a murder at a string figure conference.
The wing that still stood was at the end of a lane at the edge of a wood, and in it lived three beautiful little girls with long braids. And beyond their house, and its stables, in a wild wood, was the basement of Cornelia Furness Jayne’s old mansion, called Sub Rosa, the remains of a marble swimming pool and a bamboo forest. The woods were a magnet for children and we spent hours and hours playing there.
I cannot tell you how many times those woods, those ruins and those three little girls have appeared in my writing–short stories, novels, what have you. It is the place of my childhood imagination.
Today, Google maps shows me, H.H. Furness’s library has an addition, which makes it look like a comfortable home. The old wing where the Jayne girls lived has either been radically remodeled or torn down and rebuilt, the same for the stable. The woods are now called Furness Park. The Helen Kate Furness Library had a second addition in 1974 and goes on as the community library.
(Note: Many of the photos here and some of what I learned of the history is from the personal website of Richard Griscom.)