Happy Birthday, Birmingham Branch!

Posted on October 5, 2020

by Julie M

Travel back to 1925 at the Birmingham Branch Library

October 5, 1925 was a long-awaited day for Toledo’s Birmingham neighborhood. It marked the grand opening of the new Birmingham Branch Library!

Most Birmingham residents of 1925 were of Hungarian descent. In the 1890’s, a company called National Malleable Casting was established on Toledo’s riverfront. The company had sponsored 100 Hungarian families to live and work in the Birmingham neighborhood. A generation of Hungarians followed, and Birmingham thrived.

Named after an industrial area in England, Birmingham resembled a small town, filled with newly built homes, boarding houses, schools, and churches. In its heyday, Birmingham featured three movie theaters, a Hungarian newspaper, a bank, a jewelry store, and many restaurants, taverns, and grocery stores.

The bustling neighborhood hungered for education and assimilation to American society. In 1920, a small library opened in a neighborhood community house. It quickly outgrew that space, and neighbors successfully petitioned for their own branch of the Toledo Public Library.

After groundbreaking in February 1925, the brick library was built for $30,000. Miss Catherine Gorman, known as “Néni,” was appointed head librarian.

The new library featured a fireplace, meeting space for 200, juvenile and adult areas, and 5,000 books, many in the Hungarian language. Miss Gorman had traveled to Hungary by ship to purchase books for the library!

Aspiring new Americans visited the library to study for citizenship tests or to learn English. Yet the Birmingham library was also the social center of the community.

If you had a flair for drama or dance, the library’s stage in the basement was a place to perform. Hungarian plays and dance programs were highly anticipated and well-attended.

The library was also the home for a sewing club, separate book clubs for boys and girls, and community debates on important issues of the day. It also served three neighborhood schools, which didn’t have their own libraries at the time.

Ninety-five years after that opening day, the Birmingham Branch Library serves a diverse community. With a nod to the neighborhood’s roots, the library partnered with the Hungarian Club for “Learn to Cook Hungarian,” a well-attended series of cooking classes.

If you visit the Birmingham Branch Library today, you’ll find the branch retains that small-town charm. The brick façade, dark wood shelving, fireplace, and basement stage are original from 1925.

Hanging above the fireplace is a mural painted in 2003, when the library was renovated. The mural, entitled “Faith, Hope, Opportunity” was painted by local artist and educator Robert Garcia. It depicts the journey of Hungarian immigrants to Toledo, and the country they left behind.

The library also features a collection of Hungarian dolls and artifacts available for viewing, as well as many books of cultural interest.

Birmingham Library is open Monday and Tuesdays, 9:30 a.m. to 7 p.m., and Wednesday through Friday, 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Visit us for a trip back in time!

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