The Librarian

By Kathryn Finegan Clark

It’s June 24, 2010. This day in the life of Jane Moyer is different from all other days in her nearly 100 years — and it is perhaps one of her proudest, most anticipated moments.

After 75 years on the job and weeks of upheaval readying for a gigantic move, she starts work in a new office in the brand new Sigal Museum on Easton’s Northampton Street.

The library she loves has finally found a new home and more space to store and file the documents she has been guarding since 1935 when she first began her volunteer work for the library of the Northampton County Historical and Genealogical Society.

For three-quarters of a century, Moyer has entered the ancient door of the Mixsell House on Easton’s South Fourth Street to begin each day’s work as the society’s volunteer librarian.

There in the restored early 19th century house in a room that can only be described as Dickensian. Moyer was dwarfed by stacks of books and piles of historic documents that loomed like mountains around her antique desk. And she has always sworn there was a ghost upstairs in that house. “I heard him talking,” she says, “and when I’d call up the stairs, he’d stop.”

That office had seen her evolve from an eager, young Kutztown graduate to a straight and sturdy almost-centenarian whose arthritis requires her to walk with the aid of a cane. A charming but direct, soft-spoken and dignified lady, Moyer is exceedingly sharp and totally equipped for, and at home with, several centuries.

But on this day, Moyer’s first in the society’s new headquarters, her driver picks her up at High Acres, her farm in Forks Township, and delivers her to the new Sigal Museum.

At precisely 9 a.m. she rides the elevator to her spacious private office in the library on the third floor of the handsome new museum. An interior window allows her to oversee the library tables ready for volunteers and the researchers who will arrive when the library officially opens in September.

Moyer’s view of the Lehigh Valley is as clear as — but far broader than — that window, and her encyclopedic knowledge of the region cuts through the secrets of the Valley’s past.

Linda Heindel, a retired Moravian College dean, calls Jane “the ‘go-to’ person for questions of fact about the history of the region.” Linda, one of seven library volunteers, says, “If there’s a question Jane can’t answer, the answer is probably unknown.”

And every day the questions fly in to the library from all over the country. While many 18th and 19th century immigrants settled in Easton, thousands more pressed westward. When the descendents of those pioneers search for their roots, they turn to records in colonial cities such as Easton.

Moyer is more often than not able to help them as well as the local folks who seek her aid.  She has cataloged and indexed more than 4,000 families, early immigrants as well as the more recent Italians and Lebanese, who have settled in Easton. She can direct each person to books, periodicals, genealogical files and newspaper clips. Moyer knows the NCHGS collection, because she has basically assembled it.

At 10 a.m., the press descends and Jane tells her story and poses for photos.

She was meant to be a librarian. Her mother had died young. Her father, a janitor at the Easton Public Library, was left alone to care for her. He took her to the library with him and while he worked, she did her homework and roamed the stacks, a child fascinated by her surroundings.

“The children’s room was my first playground, you see,” she says.  “Henry Marx, who was library director, took me under his wing.”  Later, from 1957 to 1977, she was to serve as director of Easton library herself and organized the extensive local history and geneaological collection in the Marx Room, named in her mentor’s honor.

When Moyer was at Easton High School, she worked summers at the library, and in 1934 when she graduated from Kutztown — now a university, where she had studied library science, history and English — Marx offered her a part-time job at the library. The country was still reeling from the Great Depression and job openings were rare. “They paid me $1.25 an hour. I agreed to that because I was doing what I liked,” she explains. In fact, she liked it so much she started volunteering at the Society’s library then housed in the Mixsell House.

In 1940, she married teacher Roland Moyer, who later was to become principal at Palmer Elementary School, and they moved to a stone house built in the 1700s in Forks Township. Moyer bred and showed Irish setters and Great Pyrenees for 30 years and all those years continued her volunteer work. She now works four days a week from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.

“When people come here to do research, I always ask them the religion of their families and that surprises them, but it’s important to know because churches are where the old records were — the baptisms and marriages and burials.” She says her records are not just from Lehigh and Northampton counties but extend into Berks and even Warren County, N.J.  “It’s surprising how mobile people were back then,” she says.

Moyer has answered many strange requests.   Once, she recalls, “a woman who had bought a house on College Hill called me and told me she often saw a woman walk through the house and then disappear.  She wondered if there had been a murder there. I was able to research the house and find out that it had indeed been the scene of a tragedy.”

Moyer’s desk was left looking like a landfill by the movers, and as she works to clear it, she directs the volunteers who are wrestling with boxes filled with books and documents to be shelved in the library. “It’ll take us {until September} to get it ready,” she says. “I’m anxious to see how the public likes the new set-up.” Meanwhile, she continues directing her volunteer staff, pauses for a quick lunch and returns to work.

Barbara Kowitz, the society’s interim executive director, says. “Jane Moyer is an icon of the modern age. Throughout the 20th century she balanced married life with a professional career, and took great pride in her leadership in expanding the library’s facility and resources while maintaining an enviable attachment to rural living.”

A formal portrait of Moyer will hang in the library that now quite appropriately is named the Jane S. Moyer Library.

Kathryn Finegan Clark, a freelance journalist and winner of a National Press Club award and state and regional prizes, has been writing feature articles for Lehigh Valley Marketplace for several years.

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