Attempts to establish a library in Beach Haven had begun as early as the 1880’s with a gift of books for the town’s children by Dr. Edward Williams. Williams, along with Charles Parry of the Parry House and the Baldwin Hotel, was a partner in the Baldwin Locomotive Works. The library collection was first housed in the home of Samuel Copperthwaite on Engleside Avenue. It was later moved into one of the Sunday School rooms of the Kynett Methodist Church, which had been built in 1890.
After the old Quaker Meeting House was donated to the town by Walter Pharo, the Reverend Alexander Corson of the Methodist Church began work, with the help of his wife, to turn the former Meeting House into a viable library. By the time they left in 1908, it was well on its way.
In 1923, Walter’s widow, Elizabeth Pharo, presented the library’s board of trustees with a proposal to build, entirely at her own expense, a new library for the town. It would be sited two blocks away from the Methodist church on a corner lot which she owned at Third Street and Beach Avenue. The library would be dedicated to the memory of her husband’s parents, Archelaus Ridgway Pharo and Louisa Willits Pharo–the founders of Beach Haven–as well as to her late husband Walter.
Mrs. Pharo contracted R. Brognard Okie, one of Philadelphia’s finest architects, to design the new library. He chose as his model a Pennsylvania farmhouse–not an early lifesaving station, as some believed. Unlike a traditional farmhouse, however, it would be constructed entirely of brick and steel and include several stunning features: three working fireplaces, a vaulted ceiling, and an interior balcony encircling the first floor.
Tons of concrete were poured and steel girders for the new, two-story structure were already up by the spring of 1924 on the southeast corner of Beach Avenue at Third Street. Okie moved to Beach Haven to supervise every step of the construction, which was all done by local builder Floyd Cranmer. Ten railcar loads of bricks were used to build the solid outer walls and it was soon evident that the town was to have the finest library on the New Jersey coast.
As the library neared completion in the late fall of 1924, its beauty was already drawing praise. Every window in the structure was framed with long shutters of pale green, which gleamed against the white brick exterior. A sweeping, multi-dormered black roof added a grace seldom seen in a public building. Surrounded by a low, white picket fence and later, a well-kept green lawn, it added an incomparable dignity to what, in that time period, was the town’s main street, Beach Avenue.
There are two large colonial-style working fireplaces on the first floor. One is in the main room and the other is behind it in the long back room on the ocean side of the library. Today this room houses the Mystery collection and its solid, ten-foot table makes it useful as a meeting room. In the early years, however, it served a different function–it was designated as the men’s reading room, and there male patrons could sit in large comfortable chairs to read magazines and newspapers. It was well lit by two tall French windows and it opened out onto the screened porch on the north side.
The main reading room with its vaulted ceiling is encircled with a balcony reached by a spiral stone staircase, its steps topped with thick slabs of slate. The balcony flooring is of oak, as are all of the spindles in the railings. The upstairs walls are lined with books. One great window on the west side rises ten feet to the ceiling. The rest are all set into dormers. On the east wall behind the upstairs balcony there is a door where one may step down into a well-furnished little museum with high, beamed ceilings and a huge stone fireplace. It is filled with old hotel registers, deeds, diaries, photographs and other mementos of Beach Haven’s vibrant history.
The Beach Haven Public Library is a prime architectural treasure on Long Beach Island and a direct link to a colorful past that is the town’s most precious heritage. Mrs. Elizabeth Pharo’s gift to the town, itself now almost 100 years old, is as stunning as the day it was built. The taxpayers who support it are proud of its status as the only independent library in Ocean County and have chosen to keep it that way.