History of the Portville Free Library


On September 15, 1852, Marilla Clarke Wheeler, a former Vermont school teacher, arrived in Portville with her new husband, William Wheeler. An avid reader, Marilla longed for a library in her adopted town. She assembled a collection of her own books along with books donated by local residents. On March 14, 1857, the Portville Library Association was established. We have come a long way since those early days. 

For the first fifty-three years of its existence, the Portville Library Association had no dedicated structure in which to store books. Books were centralized in local homes or businesses, depending on what was available. Library membership was open to anyone in the village who paid the quarterly dues of twenty-five cents. The last Association location before moving into the current facility was at the home of Mr. and Mrs. John Phillips, aka John and Helen, located at 15 North Main Street. Mr. Phillips worked for many years as coachman and gardener for the Wheeler family. 

In 1909, Edgar G. Dusenbury purchased the home of Smith Parish on Main Street and donated it to the community for use as a library. The Smith Parish home, constructed in 1847, is in the Georgian Colonial style of architecture. Mr. Dusenbury wanted to maintain, even enhance, the home’s original beauty. Before turning the library over to the community, Mr. Dusenbury funded and supervised extensive renovations in the building and grounds, converting it into the beautiful library of today. Mr. Dusenbury continued to donate funds to the library as the need arose. 

On March 31, 1910, the library’s absolute charter was granted by the Regents of the University of the State of New York, and the Portville Library Association became the Portville Free Library. The Portville Free Library experienced enthusiastic support from the community and responded to the increased usage with major building additions in 1915, 1930, and, most recently, in 1960. In 1991, the Portville Free Library was recognized for its community service and placed on the National Registry of Historic Places. This distinction came about through the efforts of a few local citizens, including long-time Library Trustee, Ronda Shaner Pollock.

A more detailed accounting of the library’s pre-1950 years can be found a booklet entitled History of the Portville Free Library written by long-time librarian Betsey T. Keene.



Marilla and William Wheeler, 1852

Edgar G. Dusenbury, 1836-1920