Bayne library in Bellevue turns 100 years old

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One of Bellevue’s founding families continues to play a role in the everyday life of the community more than 100 years later.  The daughters of Andrew Bayne bequeathed a family homestead on what is now North Balph Avenue to the community, and this weekend, a celebration to mark the 100th anniversary of the Andrew Bayne Memorial Library will be held in the 1875 house that is the library. Anniversary festivities will include an adult reception from 6 to 8 p.m. Friday and a family celebration from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, with a book character costume contest and prizes for children.

“It’s a celebration for the community, since the community has kept this library going for 100 years,” says Denise Plaskon, librarian and cultural director for the facility and for events at the four-acre park on which it sits.

The library and acreage were a gift to the the community from the Bayne sisters — Amanda Bayne Balph and Jane Bayne Teece.

“It is a unique story to have a family that is part of the founding of the borough in the 1860s donate their family home for the benefit of the community,” said Joseph Heffley, 30, co-founder and past president of the Bellevue Historical Society.

His mother, Lynn Tennant-Heffley, a Bellevue council member, is working to get the library recognized on the National Registrar of Historic Places. It was awarded a plaque from the Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Association in 1976.

“It most likely meets the criteria to be put on the registry,” Mr. Heffley said. “This will also help to make the library eligible for more grant funding to help with upkeep of the building.”

The library and the park were named for the Bayne sisters’ father, Andrew Bayne, a founder of Bellevue, who once served as elected sheriff of Allegheny County. He gave land as wedding gifts to each of his daughters. The Teece home is now the Miller Funeral Home.

The house that became the library was built by James Madison Balph, a Pittsburgh architect. In 1912, Amanda Bayne Balph died, and the house and land were donated to the borough with the stipulation that the gift always remain a library and a park.

Over the century, the original book collection, housed in two upstairs chambers grew to 3,000 books by the mid 1920s, and now, 25,000 books fill the Italianate Victorian house. The library retains the feeling of a home with books displayed on marble mantels.

At one time the reference section took up the largest room; now it is in the smallest.

Computer instruction was standard library offerings two decades ago. Even that has been updated. “We now have two technology days when anybody can come with their current technology, and the teenagers will instruct them on what they need help on,” Ms. Plakson said with a laugh.

Other changes this past decade added programming for seniors and for children. Evening story times, to accommodate working parents, were added a decade ago, and the summer reading program — in which children receive rewards for the books they read — is no longer just for kids. Some programs last all year, and are intergenerational.

“One of the favorites is the 50 Book Challenge. People love it. They track how many books they read in a year, with the goal being 50,” said Mrs. Plaskon.

Although a few stories claim that the library is haunted by the spirit of Amanda Bayne Balph, with missing books materializing on previously searched shelves, or park visitors spotting a woman wearing a bonnet in a second story window, Ms. Plaskon will only speak of a different spirit.

“The community spirit has always been there. State aid has been cut dramatically, but this library is in good shape because of the community supporting it. It’s still a community gathering spot. We hope for another 100 years,” she said.

Jane Miller, freelance writer: suburbanliving@post-gazette.


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