Charles Coleman Sellers nurtured a hope that became a reality 50 years ago.
On Saturday, Nov. 4, 1967, Dickinson College President Howard Rubendall presented an illuminated scroll to Sellers whose leadership played a major role in planning the Boyd Lee Spahr Library on West High Street.
“We salute you, not only as librarian, but one who is ever generous in giving counsel to others,” the scroll read. “That day in 1949 when you arrived on our campus to be curator proved a happy one for the college.”
The tribute came as the Carlisle community was celebrating the dedication of the $2.25 million library named for a Dickinson College graduate who served 62 years as a trustee. The Sentinel reported how the new facility was twice the size of the old campus library at Bosler Hall.
Sellers worked with others to develop a study center based on a guiding principle first expressed a century before by then college President Herman Merrills Johnson: “The library is the essential foundation of the college. This is first. Everything else is secondary and subordinate.”
The result was a three-story, 62,000-square-foot building with room for 315,000 books and seating for 800 students, or about half the enrollment at the time.
“A notable architectural feature is the extensive use of glass,” The Sentinel reported that Friday, Nov. 3. “(It is) designed to permit more light into the important nerve center of the campus and to contribute to feelings of airiness and freedom.”
The newspaper coverage included a montage of photographs showcasing the interior and exterior of a building that had actually opened for use the night of Oct. 13 after a campus wide Book Walk where students, faculty and staff transported about 149,000 volumes from the old library to the new facility in one day.
The Sentinel described the Spahr Library in detail: “The main level opens into a spacious lobby. On the left is the handsomely furnished Alexander A. Sharp lounge for recreational reading, and on the visitor’s right is the reference area. The librarian’s office, technical service audiovisual room and the periodicals lounge are arranged clockwise around the perimeter of the main level.”
The upper level featured the May Morris Room – a memorial to a former librarian – where special collections of rare books and manuscripts were kept. Some of this material was donated to the library by Spahr who was an avid reader of auction catalogs and had a good memory of alumni and their genealogies, according to an online encyclopedia of notable Dickinson College people, places and organizations.
The upper level also had a seminar room, group study rooms and stacks for history, art and literature books. The lower level had books on social studies, philosophy, religion and science. There were also bound periodicals, government documents and a late-study room for students who wanted to remain in the library after the usual closing time.
Distributed throughout the interior were 220 carrels or study stations – some of which were reserved for professors and honors students engaged in independent study. Most of the rest of the carrels were on a first-come, first-occupy basis.
Boyd Lee Spahr
The current archives and special collections department at Dickinson College maintains the encyclopedia that includes an entry on Spahr, a Mechanicsburg native who grew up in the first block of South Market Street. The son of a Mechanicsburg merchant, Spahr attended the Dickinson College preparatory school in Carlisle before enrolling in the college in the Class of 1900.
While at Dickinson, Spahr was the editor of the college newspaper and a member of the Belles Lettres Society – the oldest student organization on campus. Charming and athletic, he played tennis and was known by the nickname “Yodeler.”
Upon graduating, Spahr taught history for a year at the preparatory school and published a collection of stories titled “Dickinson Doings.” He then enrolled at the University of Pennsylvania law school and remained in Philadelphia the rest of his life.
Spahr was an influential figure at Dickinson College for much of the 20th century serving on its board of trustees from 1908 until his death in 1970. He was board president from 1931 to 1962. Described as witty and urbane, he governed the college by picking and influencing presidents and trustees who could shape Dickinson into what he called “the best small liberal arts college.”
During his tenure, Spahr slowly and quietly cut the college’s ties to the Methodist church. This proved delicate during the presidency of Fred Pierce Corson who later became a bishop in the faith.
To highlight the Dickinson heritage, Spahr donated materials to the library and, in 1947, established an annual lecture series in his name that focused on Americana and featured the work of many prominent historians.
Spahr was also influential in preserving the look of the campus with large trees and stone buildings. He even had Bosler Hall remodeled from the red brick and sandstone of Richardson Romanesque to the limestone Federalist style of Old West. After the books were moved to the new library, Bosler Hall underwent a $1 million renovation to convert it into the center for the modern languages and fine arts departments.
In 1997, the Spahr Library underwent a major renovation project, which included the construction of the $12.5 million Robert A. Waidner addition. This doubled the space and allowed the college to house all its books, collections and holdings under one roof. The expansion included study rooms, classrooms and computer labs.
On Sept. 12, 1999, The Baltimore Sun published an obituary on Waidner, a 1932 Dickinson College graduate and board of trustee member for nearly 50 years. Waidner was 89 when he died of respiratory failure on Sept. 5, 1999.
Waidner started his business career in the late 1930s with the Savings Bank of Baltimore before enlisting in the Army Air Force. He was the aide to Maj. Gen. Claire Chennault of Flying Tigers fame and served in the Pacific theater of operations during World War II.
From 1948 to the early 1990s, when he sold the business, Waidner was in charge of Standard Fusee, the nation’s largest manufacturer of colored flares used for signaling purposes by railroaders, mariners and highway authorities, according to his obituary. He later managed trusts and other investments and made bequests to Johns Hopkins Hospital, the Greater Baltimore Medical Center and various other educational and charitable organizations. A donation to Dickinson College made the library expansion possible.
As for Charles Coleman Sellers, he became the campus librarian in 1956 after May Morris retired. Sellers is best known locally for his book “Dickinson College: A History,” which was published in conjunction with the bicentennial of the college in 1973.