The original idea for a library was suggested by Margaret Coupland, a teacher. Karen Witt and Charlotte Crank volunteered to head the project. They consulted Frances Smith, a state librarian, to outline the steps involved in started a library. An invitation was sent to all township residents announcing the first meeting of the association. Forty people attended the first meeting on February 10, 1965, and the needs, objectives and governing structure of the association were announced. On April 6, 1965, the Washington Township Public Library Association was formed.
A campaign was started to collect books and donations during National Library Week, April 26 through 30, 1965. During this week long, door-to-door book drive, over 400 books and $100 in cash were collected. Concerts, fashion shows, films for children, and bake sales were held to raise funds.
A location and a building to house the library was still needed. The Solar Building Company, one of the developers of Whitman Square, offered the use of the Russian House, a 24 x 26 foot sample home, as a temporary facility. A site on Ganttown Road was chosen and the association was able to lease the land for $1.00. Building Chairman Gerald DeWitz began the task of moving the building and converting it into a library. The Library Association members held quite a few work parties to paint, clean and fix cracks in the building.
Many individuals, businesses and organizations also helped make the library possible. The Lions Club donated and installed shelves; the Girl Scouts distributed flyers; the Boy Scouts carried books; a local electrician volunteered his services and another professional laid floors; Phil Seltzer, Harry Katz and Joe Esposito, developers of the Birches, donated a paved parking lot, grading, curbing and a sidewalk; the Goodwins, developers of Wedgewood, expanded the parking lot; and many others contributed to the library’s success.
One year after the initial idea, the Washington Township Public Library held a Dedication and Open House on February 27, 1966. The library officially opened for patrons on March 2, 1966. The collection consisted of 3,500 books, some of which had been lent to the library by the state. The library hours were Monday, Wednesday and Friday, 3-5 p.m.; Tuesday, 10 a.m.-12.noon and 7-9 p.m.; Saturday, 10 a.m.-12 noon. It was staffed by 25 volunteers. There was no plumbing in the building. In the summer of 1967 the building was expanded to 865 square feet.
In 1971, the need for further expansion became apparent. The shelves were overcrowded and the State Library Committee informed the library that they would lose their state aid of $2,500 because of failure to meet state requirements.
The first librarian, Linda Snyder, was hired in 1973.
In early 1973, Joseph Esposito announced plans to construct a new building for the Library Association. He donated a one-acre site on Chapel Heights Road and began construction. The David Iervollino Memorial Library was dedicated on August 3, 1973. It was named for Mr. Esposito’s ten year old nephew who had been killed in a car accident in 1970.
It took over a month to catalog and move all the books to the new library. On October 8, 1973, the new 1,500 square foot library was opened to the residents of Washington Township. Moving into a larger facility allowed for the start of story times for children.
By 1975, the library was again feeling growing pains. The population of Washington Township had climbed to 22,000 residents and it was decided that an addition to the library was needed. In 1976, 1,500 square feet were added to the little blue library.
In 1978, the library became a part of the county library system.
At a Chamber of Commerce dinner in November of 1983, Margaret (Peg) Heggan was honored as “Person of the Year.” She was also informed that because of her dedication and support of the library, the library was renamed the Margaret E. Heggan Library.
As a result of a public referendum, the library left the county system in 1988, and in 1991, became a municipal library and the Board of Trustees was formed. The library then became the Margaret E. Heggan Free Public Library.
Once again, the library was out-growing its space. The School Board swapped property it held on Greentree Road for the property the library occupied on Chapel Heights Road. The library then moved to what was supposed to be a temporary location on East Holly Avenue in 1992. The library occupied this location until 2011.
The Friends of the Margaret E. Heggan Free Public Library was formed in 2005. The Friends is a non-profit organization which supports the library through fundraising and advocacy. The library has benefitted greatly from the generosity of the Friends.
With the population of the township approaching 50,000, the need for a larger library was evident. New locations were scouted including a vacant grocery store, a county owned building, and a skating rink, among others.
Eventually, the Library Board of Trustees commissioned the purchase and renovation of the former Educational Information and Resource Center (EIRC) building and on June 18th, 2011, the library opened in its present 20,000 square foot location on Delsea Drive.
Peg Heggan grew up in Hammonton with her four brothers, one sister, and her parents Lilla P. Ruby and Thomas C. Elvins. Her father served as mayor of Hammonton for three terms, and later as Postmaster. He also served in the NJ State Assembly. Peg attended Hammonton High School, where she was a member of the debating team, and was named valedictorian.
Peg married her high school sweetheart, Oscar K. Heggan, in 1931. They had three children; Jon, Elizabeth and Colleen. Her children continue to support the library.
The family first moved to Washington Township in 1933. They operated a gas station on the Black Horse Pike. In 1938, they moved to Monroeville in Salem County.
Around 1942, the Heggans returned to Washington Township, purchasing the Wesley Brown farm, consisting of 220 acres, on the corner of Pitman-Downer and Glassboro-Cross Keys Roads, and extending to Fries Mill Road. They later purchased 120 acres across Glassboro-Cross Keys Road in Monroe Township. The family home still stands on the corner of Pitman-Downer and Glassboro-Cross Keys Roads, although it has been added on to. Also standing is the processing plant (now a pipe company) where they made applesauce, apple-raspberry sauce and apple butter which was sold up and down the east coast under the brand name Betty-Jon. Other buildings on the farm included homes for the workers, a fruit processing area, and an 80,000 bushel capacity cold storage facility, where growers from surrounding towns stored their apples. Campbell Soup was their largest client – storing thousands of bags/bushels of carrots each season.
Margaret Heggan was very active in the community. She was involved with the first Girl Scout troop in the township, Troop 88, for 20 years. Heggan Orchards sponsored one of the first Little League teams in Washington Township. Peg was also an active member of the PTA and the Band Parents, the Historical Society, and volunteered at Kennedy Memorial Hospital when it first opened. In 1961, Peg was elected to the Township Committee of Washington Township. She was appointed mayor to fill an unexpired term, becoming the first female mayor of the township.
All of her community involvement led to her dream of a public library in Washington Township. She became involved with a group of women who were also interested in establishing a library in the township, attending some of the first meetings and making up book cards. Her involvement grew when the library moved into the “little building” on Ganttown Road.
Over the following years, Peg volunteered over 20,000 hours for the library, either in the library or on the road picking up books, taking books to Millville for processing, driving to Trenton to borrow books from the library there, and picking up supplies. She quietly labored behind the scenes to promote and support he various expansion projects of the library and the construction of a larger facility, also on Ganttown Road.
In appreciation of all of her hours of service to the library and community, Margaret Heggan was named Washington Township’s Person of the Year in 1984. On January 21, 1985, the library was renamed the Margaret E. Heggan Free Public Library. Peg continued to volunteer at the library for many years.
Margaret “Peg” Heggan passed away on January 18, 2005.
James John Ponter, Jim, was a life-long resident of Gloucester County. He resided in Washington Township from 1985 until his passing in 2007. To make his western artworks historically accurate, Jim spent many hours doing research at the Margaret E. Heggan Free Public Library.
Jim also illustrated many children’s books, including “Henny Penny.”
The painting is on display in the library.