Back Mountain Memorial Library

A member of the Luzerne County Library System

96 Huntsville Road

Dallas, PA 18612


Mon – Thurs:

9:00am - 8:00pm


9:00am - 5:00pm


9:00am - 4:00pm

PH:  570-675-1182

FAX:  570-674-5863

It all started with a daydream.


Dallas resident Ruth LaGrand had noticed the empty Ryman house on Main Street on her walks through town and pictured it as a much needed library. Centrally located, not impossibly expensive, roomy, if community groups and citizens could come together, give support in money or books, and work hard? Dallas itself was not large, but taken together, all the little towns and villages of the Back Mountain could supply the imaginative, willing, public spirited, generous people to make this dream come true.


Mrs LaGrand suggested that all area organizations, service clubs, and Sunday school classes participate in a fundraiser, which was brought before the public by the Dallas Rotary. Buying and renovating the Ryman home and startup costs would run about $10,000, she estimated. Planning meetings resulted in the adoption of a charter and the formation of a Library board, formally elected on February 15, 1945. The name was set as the Back Mountain Memorial Library, and its mission statement was a solemn reminder that World War 2 was still ongoing:


To be a living memorial to the Back Mountain men and women who have served in all wars to preserve the American ideal.


That same week, the Dallas Women’s Club set up a fund drive, which quickly netted $10,600, enough to buy the Ryman home. Renovations proceeded soon afterward. Partitions between rooms were removed, plumbing and electrical systems were repaired, a soundproof drop ceiling was installed. The upstairs was turned into an apartment for a librarian. The Ryman family donated the librarian’s desk and a card catalog cabinet in memory of John Ryman.


A search committee began scouting for a librarian, and Miriam Lathrop, originally of Springville, Susquehanna County, was hired. She had extensive experience with both large and small libraries. She started work June 1, 1945, for a salary of $1,900 a year and the use of the upstairs apartment. Miss Lathrop faced a monumental task: to select and catalogue the most appropriate books for the Library from the thousands donated by generous friends in the community. By the day the Library opened, it held 4,000 books, with another 2,000 lent by the State library system. Within a year the collection had grown to 30,000 volumes.


The dedication of the new Library, scheduled for October 7, 1945, had to be postponed due to bad weather, but tours of the building were given that day at an Open House. On October 12, the dedication ceremony began with a parade down Lake Street to the Library. Most of the town turned out to see the American Legion, the Red Cross, all available uniformed servicemen and women, the ration and draft boards, air raid observers, the Junior Women’s Club, fire companies, and other war workers march through Dallas Corners. A poignant feature inside the Library was a shelf of memorial books dedicated to the 56 young men from the Back Mountain who had been killed in action, died in service, or were missing in action.


The Library lived up to its promise of service to the Back Mountain. Children’s story hours were organized soon after opening. The Book Club was instituted, which bought books with its members’ dues. The Friends of the Library, a volunteer service, was open to residents who contributed $1 per year. The Library also served 30 rural schools in its district, 17 of them one room schools. Because most did not have their own libraries, the students welcomed Miss Lathrop’s visits that provided them with books. Students at the Borough schools and Gate of Heaven parochial school walked to the Library each week for classes.


In 1947 the Library Auction, a beloved, community supported fundraiser, was instituted to raise money for the maintenance of the Library. From its early days, this annual summer tradition has served to tightly bind the Back Mountain community to the Library’s mission. Volunteers young and old have dedicated themselves to making each Auction a success.


It wasn’t long before the Main Street library building was bursting at the seams. The Board bought the Kilmer Parrish home next door where 10,000 books used for the schools were kept. Community groups could use the large meeting room downstairs, with its attached kitchen. This building was known as the Annex. It was turned into a children’s wing in August 1959. Youngsters enjoyed better access to their books, and the space was outfitted with low tables and small chairs. The circulation desk, once owned by Miss Lathrop’s father, was brought over from the main library for use in the Children’s wing.


The next challenge for the new Library came when Miss Lathrop retired in 1961. An Expansion Committee was formed to direct the remodeling of the upstairs. The addition of the six rooms there eased the crowding in the whole Library. The adult fiction moved to the second floor, and sections were created for mysteries, short stories, and teen books. The addition of a Pennsylvania Room pleased local history researchers. Every inch of space that could hold books was utilized. It was odd but common to find books shelved in strange nooks, cupboards, and linen closets.


As years passed, it was increasingly obvious that a long term solution would be needed to address the tight quarters and limited parking at the Main Street location. The timing was right when the Dallas Borough Elementary School on Huntsville Road closed in 1983. This two story brick building was sturdy, in good repair, centrally located, had a spacious parking lot, and grounds that would be perfect for the annual Auction fundraiser. The property was purchased for $30,000 in 1984.


Renovations proceeded to turn the former school into a library. The Board launched a capital campaign with a goal of $450,000. Partitions between rooms on the first floor were removed, creating spaces for offices, fiction, and reference. The front entrances were changed to the rear of the building and steps were eliminated at the main entrance. New windows were installed to conserve energy and reduce heating costs. The coal furnace and radiators were replaced with a new system, and the plumbing was modernized. The floors had to be reinforced to hold the added weight of books.


The Main Street library closed on February 16, 1985 and the new Library’s ribbon cutting ceremony opened the building for service at 9:30am on March 3, 1985. Patrons were welcomed into a bright, roomy, accessible space, with the books displayed on metal library shelving. Wall to wall carpeting and new furniture made the building comfortable and attractive. The second floor, with its own entrance, was rented to a daycare.


The Auction was taken into consideration right from the start. Storage rooms and an auction block were designed in a barn style and painted a cheery red and white to honor the history of the fundraiser. A matching food booth carried out the theme. The 1985 Auction premiered on the new grounds, to the delight of bidders, auctioneers, and volunteers, alike.


By the 1990s, conditions in the Children’s section were very cramped, and space for story hours and special programs was hard to come by. Building an extension to house a Children’s wing on the ground floor would be a major undertaking. A capital campaign was announced in 1995 to raise the money, and the community responded generously. While the goal was $500,000, the campaign raised $676,000. Although a Keystone grant provided some of the total, smaller fundraisers, book and bake sales, a cookbook, and more, let donors feel that anyone could contribute to the success of the campaign. On April 21, 1998, the Children’s Room was formally dedicated. The new wing added a much needed 2,000 feet, with a roomy story area, study space, computers, and shelves sized for a child’s reach.


The Children’s Room had been designed with a basement that became the Slightly Read Bookstore. It opened in November of 1998, and has been a destination for book lovers ever since. It is stocked entirely with donations. Another result of the expansion was the Memorial brick walkway at the entrance to the Library. Many individuals and groups have been commemorated in this way through the years.


Entering the 21st century, the Library was aiming for the future. Computers had replaced the old card catalog, and county wide cards were issued that were good in all of the member libraries of Luzerne County. Barcodes that could be scanned were added to all the items in the collection, so that patrons’ checkouts were instantaneously recorded. Requesting an item from another library became as simple as the click of a mouse. Free wi-fi meant that users could access the Internet directly from their devices.


The school turned library had served the community well, but with the building approaching 100 years old, she was showing her age. In 2020 the Accessibility and Renovation Project was undertaken with the goal of improving handicapped access and reconfiguring study spaces to more efficiently meet patrons’ needs. The result is a beautiful building with new paint, carpeting, shelving, lighting, furniture, and a completely revamped Community Room. Much of the cost was covered by LSA, Keystone, and Community Development grants. When the ribbon cutting ceremony was held on June 19, 2021, the response was unanimously positive. The serene blue gray walls and carpeting inspire an atmosphere conducive to study and concentration.


The story of the Back Mountain Memorial Library is one of challenges continually met with generous community support. With almost 80 years of service behind it, the Library is pledged to continuing its mission of promoting lifelong learning and a spirit of community into the future.