History of our building
The Spalding Memorial Library-Museum Building was constructed in 1897-8 to house a new free-library on the first floor and the two year old Tioga Point Museum on the second floor. Funds for construction were donated by Jesse Spalding, a wealthy Chicago lumberman who kept strong ties to his birthplace, Athens Township, Pennsylvania. Mr. Spalding made the donation as a memorial to his son, Robert, and presented the building to the people of Athens and vicinity. Originally the building was administered by the Tioga Point Historical Society, the organization that established the museum, but in 1901 control was transferred to the newly-formed Spalding Memorial Library Building Association, and this group has managed the building ever since.
Since its completion in 1898 this building has served the same function: to house the Athens Spalding Memorial Library and the Tioga Point Museum.
During construction of the Spalding Memorial Native American artifacts were discovered on the site. The artifacts uncovered remain in the collection of the Tioga Point Museum. The property adjoins the site of Mathias Hollenback’s 1783-1818 trading post and the museum collection includes some account books from this business. The property is close to, if not within, the boundaries of the Revolutionary War Fort Sullivan.
By 1897 Athens had made the transition from a rough frontier area embroiled in the Yankee-Pennamite conflict to a prosperous town with thriving industries of lumber, carriage making and bridge construction. The new railroad was making nearby Sayre into a boom town. This prosperity is reflected in the surviving domestic architecture of Athens, Sayre, and Waverly, New York. Between c.1840 and 1900 the neighborhood in which the Spalding Memorial stands was built up with fine examples of Greek Revival, Italianate, Stick-Style and Queen Anne houses. Commercial buildings, further up town, were simple and typical of the late nineteenth century. Earlier structures made of wood had been replaced with brick blocks, some of which still stand.
The Spalding Memorial Library-Museum Building is the grandest building in Athens that is not a private dwelling. It is the only example of Neo-Classical style architecture in Athens; its inspiration was the Academy of Natural Science in Chicago. It is one of the oldest public buildings in the Athens-Sayre-Waverly area, and remains essentially as it was when it was built, both in form and function. The only alteration is a 1928 stack room addition, a typical early 20th century library construction, itself unchanged since 1928. This addition was built with funds from the family of the original donor.
This building is closely associated with local author, historian and speaker Louise Welles Murray (1854-1931). Mrs. Murray wrote the definitive history of Athens: Old Tioga Point and Early Athens, in 1908. She wrote a history of the refugees who settled at French Azilum, edited General John S. Clarke’s manuscripts relating to area Indians and published many articles on historical and archaeological subjects. She was a co-founder of the Tioga Point Museum and served as its director until her death. She was also instrumental in the founding of the library. Her archaeological pursuits were far reaching and included serving a term as one of the early officers of the Pennsylvania Archaeological Society. Mrs. Murray is associated with a number of other buildings in the area, most importantly her house at 635 South Main Street, a fine Stick-Style residence constructed in 1883-4. During construction of this house a Native American burial ground was discovered. This cemetery was excavated under the direction of the Wyoming Historical and Geological Society of Wilkes-Barre; the artifacts from this site that were not removed to the WHGS were later placed in the Tioga Point Museum.
The designer of the Spalding Memorial was the well-known Wilkes-Barre architect Albert H. Kipp. Kipp also designed Nelson Memorial Hall at Wyoming Seminary, the Wyoming Historical and Geological Society, the Westmoreland Club, the First National Bank and many Queen Anne style houses in Wilkes-Barre. A full page rendering of the Spalding Memorial Library and Museum was published in the December 10, 1898 issue of Architecture and Building magazine.
Preserving our past
The Bell from the former St. Joseph’s Roman Catholic Church in Athens has found a new home in the garden of the Tioga Point Museum. The bell and the upper level of the brick cupola were removed as a result of needed renovations to the bell tower on the former church. The current owners of the church building, David and Lisa Sheftic of Sayre, recognized the historic significance of the bell and the importance to the community and offered to donate the bell to the Tioga Point Museum. Originally installed in 1914 as a donation by John Lynch, the bell is inscribed “Sacred to the memory of the donor John Lynch, his Father and Mother and their Children”
During the 102 years that the 1200 pound bronze bell resided in the tower, it had collected a dense layer of corrosion, dirt and pigeon droppings. It required approximately 160 hours to clean, strip, polish, lacquer and paint the entire assembly. The new display incorporates the brick from the bell tower of the church that were removed during renovations.
The yoke and bell were restored by Todd Babcock, President of the Tioga Point Museum, and Athens resident Steve McNamara They were also assisted by Gary Babcock, Scott Babcock, Rex Soper and Joe’s Automotive Center. The bell may be viewed in the garden area behind the Tioga Point Museum and Spalding Memorial Library at 724 South Main Street in Athens.