James Hamilton, Jr., founder of the Hamilton Library Association and what became the Cumberland County Historical Society, was born in Carlisle, Pennsylvania on October 16, 1793, the only son of Judge James Hamilton (born 1752 in Belfast, Ireland, died February 13, 1819) and his wife Sarah Thomson, daughter of Rev. William and Susanna Ross Thomson.
James Hamilton, Jr., founder of the Hamilton Library and Historical Association, was born in Carlisle, Pennsylvania on October 16, 1793, the only son of Judge James Hamilton (born 1752 in Belfast, Ireland, died February 13, 1819) and his wife Sarah Thomson, daughter of Rev. William and Susanna Ross Thomson.
In his first will, dated November 20, 1871, James Hamilton instructed his executors to pay $2,000 “to any incorporated company in Carlisle,”…for the establishment of a Town Library. To that end he directed that “60 feet square off the corner of Lot #85 in the plot of said town of Carlisle, at the intersection of Pitt Street and Dickinson Alley, being the northwest corner of my garden…” be given for a suitable building to be erected.
However, Hamilton drew up a second will on January 13, 1873 giving the brick house that he owned, next to his residence on High Street, to the Trustees, stipulating that $4,000 should be invested with the Orphans’ Court and the interest be used for the establishment of a Town Library. He directed them to “fit up the two rooms above the parlour for a museum of fine arts, paintings and antiquities, and the two rooms now used as parlours for a Library…” The Trustees were to use one half of the interest annually to purchase history books. Hamilton also willed bookcases, carpets, furniture, paintings, philosophical apparatus, minerals, etc. for the Library. He also gave the 60 foot portion at the corner of Pitt and Dickinson Alley “for the purpose of erecting thereon a fire-proof building for said Library and Museum…”
To the second will he added a codicil stating that the first will, dated November 20, 1871 would be his last will if he died before March 1, 1873. If he died after that date, then his second will would stand. He died on January 23, 1873, consequently, his first will was valid; a decision that was upheld by the Orphans’ Court of Cumberland County as well as the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.
The Trustees named in Hamilton’s will drew up a constitution and by-laws, and a charter was granted to the Hamilton Library Association on April 21, 1874. The actual construction of the building was delayed for seven years because the money for the building had been invested in shares of rail road stock that declined in value.
A contract for the building was awarded on April 9, 1881 to J. P. Brindle for $1,789.85, and the plans were drawn up by George Rice. By June, 1882, the building was finished and ready for use, but due to financial reverses there was no money for equipment or maintenance of the Library.
The volunteer efforts of the Society’s first secretary, Reverend Joseph A. Murray, local historians Charles P. Humrich, and Capt. William E, Miller, enabled the library to function. Books, historical objects, and bound volumes of newspapers were donated and enabled the collection to build.
In 1882, Association Secretary, Reverend J. A. Murray, reported that since the founding of the Association, four of the twenty members of the Association had died, which temporarily paralyzed the Association. He reported on the number of books and written materials that had been received and noted that a standing appeal was made to the public to donate historical newspapers, documents, letters, manuscripts, deeds, etc. The Association also proposed to commence a Museum in the building to house relics of Cumberland County’s past.
The creation of the J. Herman Bosler Memorial Library in Carlisle in January 1900 transferred the burden of being a public lending library from the Hamilton Library and let it specialize in the collection and preservation of local history.
The Report of the Association in 1900 recorded the advisability of changing the name of the organization to the “Hamilton Library and Historical Association;” to elect more members, and to fit the upper room of the building for public meetings.
The year 1901 was the sesqui-centennial of the founding of Carlisle and a perfect time for the Hamilton Library to display their collection of historical documents, artifacts, objects and photographs. It was also the year the Hamilton Library began its long and distinguished tradition of the publication of papers about historical subjects by local authors and historians. The Hamilton Essay program encouraged Carlisle High School students to research and write about local history. The collections of photographs by local photographers Charles F. Himes and A. Allen Line were the foundation of the ever-growing photographic collection.