History of the Brumback Library

The Brumback Library under construction.John Sanford Brumback, for whom the Brumback Library is named, was born in 1829 in Licking County, Ohio. When he was four years old his father died, leaving his mother with six young children and a log house on forty acres of undeveloped land. John attended school during the winters, when he was not needed on the farm. He learned as a child to depend upon himself, which helped develop his work ethic. At ten he was entrusted with taking the produce from his family’s farm to market; at fifteen his mother boasted about his horse-trading skills; at seventeen, he left the farm with fifty dollars and opened a general store. His success continued through the years.

In the spring of 1862, with $5,000 in gold, he moved his wife and children from Illinois to Van Wert, Ohio, a sparsely populated county. He opened a dry goods store and took an interest in the stave business—the area had thousands of acres of fine hardwood timber. Nearly twenty years later, Mr. Brumback became one of the first Presidents of the Central Mutual Insurance Company and served in that capacity until 1897. In 1884 he sold his store and bought a controlling interest in the Van Wert National Bank. He became President of the bank, helped create and finance many companies and became known as a keen businessman, banker and philanthropist.

In 1890, twelve women in Van Wert formed the Van Wert Ladies Library Association to establish a subscription library for residents in the area. The library, which contained 1,400 books, became a free city library in 1896 as a result of a city tax. Mr. Brumback offered financial support because he believed that all county residents should have access to a free public library. Later, he had plans drafted for the construction of a County Library. Sadly, when the building plans he ordered were almost completed, Mr. Brumback became seriously ill. Following his death, however, his family fulfilled his wishes and constructed an even better building than originally planned. Orville S. Brumback, Mr. Brumback’s son, also had great foresight for he was responsible for enabling legislation that was passed by the Ohio Legislature that approved the first tax-supported county library in the United States—the Brumback Library.

The cornerstone for the building was laid with imposing ceremonies, on July 18th, 1899 and on January 1st, 1901 the building was dedicated. No expense was spared in the construction of the building, which was designed by a well known Toledo architect David L. Stine, and built by J.S. Zook of Van Wert. The architecture is a combination of Gothic and Romanesque with a Ludowici tile roof and turreted towers. This imposing building sits among the trees in the park, as originally requested by John Sanford Brumback. Mr. Brumback’s heirs continue to provide support to the library including two renovations. In 1917 the basement was remodeled for a Children’s Department and, in 1991, an addition of 10,500 square feet was added and a renovation completed to the existing building. The latter work was funded through a bequest from Orville Reed and Ellen Reed, grandchildren of J.S. Brumback. The building’s newer section is known as the Reed Memorial Addition in memory of the Reed’s parents, John Perry Reed and Estelle Brumback Reed, together with their brother, Richard Reed. The addition was designed by Clyde Henry, a highly noted architect with the Columbus firm of McDonald, Cassell and Bassett.

The renovation and addition to the Brumback Library allowed for many improvements in library services. In 1991, the adult, children’s, reference, and genealogy collections included 61,704 items. With the additional space, the Main Library now has a collection which totals more than 235,000 items. For the benefit of staff and patrons alike, a series of automated resources have been added since 1991 as well. These resources include an automated catalog and circulation system, Internet workstations for adults and children, plus an expanded newspaper and periodicals collection. Up-to-date lighting, computer wiring capabilities, etc. have likewise helped to enhance the Library. In short, the Reed Memorial Addition has enabled the Library to offer its patrons greatly enhanced resources and services in a truly magnificent setting. In 1979, Main Library was added to the National Register of Historic Places. Then in 2001, it was recognized as a historic site by the Ohio Historical Society.

The renovation/addition project also served as a catalyst for the development and improvement of branch library services. In 1991, the Library had branches in Convoy, Wren, and Willshire. In 1997 however, a branch improvement plan, designed by the Director and endorsed by the Board of Trustees, led to four newly constructed and/or renovated buildings in Convoy, Middle Point, Ohio City, and Wren. By 2001, these communities had greatly expanded collections as well as automated resources and services. A renovated facility provided by the Village of Willshire followed in 2007. Circulation and usage have continued to grow over the years. In 1991, the Brumback Library’s systemwide circulation totaled 247,707; in 2016 circulation totaled 990,205. The Library remains a relevant resource and community treasure offering printed books, E-books, books on CD, wireless access, internet workstations, and a wide array of materials for all citizens of Van Wert County. Having one of the largest rural public library collections in the state of Ohio, The Brumback Library has consistently ranked as one of the nation’s best libraries, and has been designated as one of America’s Star Libraries by Library Journal for the past ten years.

The Brumback Library has indeed been blessed to have the interest, support, and involvement of generations of Brumback Family members who have generously contributed their time, talents, and financial resources on behalf of the Library, together with the financial support of the people of Van Wert County. Enhancing Van Wert County’s quality of life, this lifelong center of learning has provided countless individuals with recreational, informational, and research resources for 128 years. An institution committed to learning with a tradition of service, we encourage residents of all ages to avail themselves to the treasure-trove of learning, adventure, and discovery that await each and every individual at the Brumback Library.