History of the Library

Library Origins – Est. 1901


The Vandergrift Public Library is located in the annex to what is now known as the Casino Theatre building. The building was formerly called the Municipal Building. It was built in an era when it was common for the “company” to build a few imposing “company buildings” at the center of the company town. George McMurtry, former President of the Apollo Iron and Steel Company and founder of Vandergrift, expanded on this idea by constructing the building to also include the town hall and library.

“By doing so, McMurtry produced a blend of the paternalistic theater, the philanthropic idealism of a library and the ancient idea that government should occupy the most central and prominent palace in a community.” —-The Vandergrift Historic District was entered onto the National Register of Historic Places in 1995. The text above came from the original nomination document.  

McMurtry’s reason for establishing our library was “to provide the townspeople of Vandergrift with all the advantages of learning.” This idea that libraries play a vital role in the promotion of the “intellectual make-up of a community” dates back to Benjamin Franklin.

Franklin was responsible for opening the first library in the original thirteen colonies at Philadelphia, PA. At that time, there was a concern that Americans weren’t as polished in language usage as were people in other countries. After some time, libraries became popular and a movement occurred through the colonies in which the people defended their privilege of having free access to libraries. Franklin observed the growth and later said, “these libraries have improved the general conversations of the Americans, made the common tradesman and farmers as intelligent as most gentlemen from other countries.”

To equip the library in 1900, McMurtry challenged the citizens of Vandergrift to match his proposed donation of 1,000 books. He thought it important for them to demonstrate good faith by proving they were serious about owning a library.  The Library Association was formed in early 1901 and McMurtry’s donation was matched.

On March 28, 1903, the library became incorporated under a charter and the name became the Vandergrift Public Library Association, Inc. The incorporation provides the library with the ability to continue indefinitely.

As the need increased, the library grew in size. Originally the library consisted of two rooms back to back.

Phases of expansion

Year 1927

The purpose of the first building addition was to provide extra space to the library on the first floor for a children’s library room.

Year 1934

The purpose of the second building addition was to provide additional space to the library on the first floor and to house the American Legion Post #114 on the second floor.

Year 1970

The American Legion Post #114 moved to a new building on Custer Avenue in Vandergrift. The second floor space was given to the library and was converted to a children’s library. A staircase had to be installed to connect the first floor of the library to the newly added second floor. Formerly, the second floor of the addition was accessed through using the sweeping staircase in the foyer.

Year 1975

The first floor children’s library room was converted into an adult reading room.

Year 2004

Two storage rooms on the second floor were converted into a teen library room and a teen activity room.

Years 2009, 2010 and early 2011

Major renovations occurred in the overall library. Those renovations included wiring & lighting updates, the installation of an energy efficient furnace and air conditioning system complete with new duct work and updates completed on the bathroom to make it handicap accessible plus open to the public. The entire first floor was painted and carpeted. The two teen rooms on the second floor were painted. The finishing touch was the installation of energy efficient windows on both floors. State Senator Ferlo raised the funds needed for the renovations to occur.

All of the renovations had to meet specifications provided by the PA Historical and Museum Commission because the library is an existing building in a historic district.

Year 2012

Two artistically designed outside signs were installed. One is on the side of the building facing Washington Avenue and the other is in the flower garden in front of the library.

The library’s website was redesigned.

The teen library and activity room was renamed the “Teen Alley.” Through a generous memorial gift given by John & Michelle Nichols, in honor of their son, John Nichols III, both rooms have been beautifully refurnished. “John’s Studio”, named after John, is located in one of the “Teen Alley” rooms. Everything from a 50″ HDTV to PS3 & WiiU game boxes with games to an iMac computer is available for teens to use. It has been John & Michelle’s goal to provide a safe space within our library for teens to gather.


Year 2013

Because of John & Michelle Nichols’ continued generosity, new lounge furniture for people of all sizes was purchased and set-up in the children’s library.

Year 2015

Through a collaboration with the Casino Theater Board of Directors and the Vandergrift Public Library Board of Trustees, one room and a connecting hallway on the second floor were renovated. Casino Theater Volunteers and outside contractors funded by the library finished the Mayor’s Office for the purposes of using it as an intermission space for the theater and programming space for the library. The second room opened on Saturday, Nov. 7, 10am-3pm, to sell books, DVD’s and magazines. This “Second Floor, Books & More Store,” will be dedicated as a memorial to our former longtime Treasurer, Dr. Ronald Aikins at a later date.  The funding for this project came through the Senator Ferlo fundraising project that occurred earlier. Included in the renovations were a HVAC system for the downstairs foyer, new windows in the foyer & back office and lighting & wiring updates. These renovations were funded by the Bozzone Family Foundation.