The Byberry Library (Historical)
As the center of the community, Byberry Friends Monthly Meeting was involved a number of other educational / community programs beyond basic schooling for children.
The Byberry Library was established by a group of 23 members of the Meeting, including John Comly, in 1794. Each member gave a small contribution for the initial purchase of more than 70 books; they and future members maintained an annual subscription. The Library was initially housed in the home of a Friend but in 1798, it was moved to the Schoolhouse.
When the new schoolhouse was constructed in 1823, the second floor was purposely built for the Library. As part of this intentional separation, the stairs to the second floor Library were on the exterior of the building. This space was shared when additional classroom space was needed for the girl’s school between 1827 - 1837. It is unknown when the current wood frame section was constructed to house the stairs, but it was quite early.
By 1870, the Library held more than 2000 volumes. It remained opened to researchers until 2010 at which time most of the Library records and volumes were donated to Friends Historical Library at Swarthmore College.
The Schoolhouse was also used for public educational lectures for adults. After a series of lectures on astronomy proved wildly popular, John Comly suggested the creation of the Byberry Philosophical Society in 1829. In 1832, the Society furthered the mission for the Society and established a “Cabinet of Curiosities”, a collection of scientific specimens. The collection is said to have once held over 2000 specimens. The Society held a weekly lecture series well into the twentieth century, initially at the Schoolhouse until moving to Byberry Hall in 1846.
The Society remained active until 1959 at which time its records and the remainder of the Cabinet were placed under the care of the Byberry Friends Meeting. Specimens from the Cabinet that remain are on display in the second floor of the Schoolhouse as are the remaining volumes from the Library.
Susan Vorwerk, 2/25/2020