About Us

The mission of the California Area Public Library is to provide an atmosphere where diversity and the open exchange of ideas is encouraged in an effort to foster lifelong learning, strengthening the community through the creation of an educated citizenry via open access to culture, advanced intellectual experiences and information resources. California Area Public Library is a member of the Washington County Library System. CPL is the Information Station for the communities that comprise the California Area School District: Allenport, California, Coal Center, Brownsville Annex, Long Branch, Elco, Roscoe, and West Pike Run Township.

The California Area Public Library works to encourage a community in which the library helps to ensure that:

  • The community's inquiries are accomplished by consulting proper and authoritative resources.
  • The community embraces diversity.
  • California Area's children develop the skills necessary for academic and lifelong success while also developing a sense of accomplishment and a love for reading and learning.
  • Every citizen is provided the opportunity to engage in a life that is culturally and intellectually fulfilling.
  • Programs

  • STORY TIME: Play and Grow! For ages 0-3 and 3-5. Call to register. 724-938-2907 Storytime is currently seeking a paid adult leader.
  • California Public Library is the happy recipient of a large collection of toys. The first collection arrived with a Play-K program manual: we pair our story time themes with the new toys. Explore some of the toys while you visit the library. The Play & Grow grant provided us with over $4,000 of materials. We also have 4,000 Legos, a Keva Planks set, a Makey Makey, Adventure card games, Lincoln Logs, a puppet theatre, and more, including everyone's favorite: magnetic blocks.
  • Start an Activity

  • If you are interested in creating a Card Club, a Book Club, a Yarn Club, a Game Night, a Garden Party or something novel, we'd like to help. Call to set up an appointment so we can discuss the venture.
  • Time, Treasure, Talent = Service Opportunities

    CALIFORNIA AREA PUBLIC LIBRARY Board of Directors: 2024 - Joy Helsel, President; Linda Wohar, Secretary; Amelia Gajan-Mitchell, Treasurer; Matt Peteritis, Technology; Candace Treser, At-Large. Librarian-Director is Lillian Stewart.


    The following text is a paraphrasing and updating of an essay by the late Elsie Channing titled “Brief History."

    In 1935, forty Federation Club women decided to justify their existence as a civic group by organizing a public library. They rented an empty storeroom in the Parinello building on Third Street, fixed it up, found books, and at 2:00 on the last Saturday of May, opened the doors of California Public Library.

    Volunteers manned the library from two to four on Saturdays and from seven to nine on Tuesday and Thursday evenings. Bake sales, rummage sales, card parties, dances, tag days and door-to-door canvases helped to bring donations to the enterprise.

    Ten years later, the library collection was moved down the street to the King building, but because its roof leaked and the furnace was broken, volunteers moved the books to a temporary home on the second floor of the yellow brick borough building (now a parking lot).

    On May 24, 1958, California Public Library opened at its current site—the former Pennsylvania Railroad station, rented from the company for just $10 per month.

    But in June 1965, the Friday Evening Club (an incarnation of the Federation Club) published an open letter explaining that it could no longer support the library. In November, the community rejected a 1-1/2 mil tax referendum; on June 19, 1965, the library closed. Attempts to re-open the library floundered until June 15, 1975. A coalition of local citizens organized as Friends of the Library and accepted responsibility for helping to raise funds. Mary Hart was its president. Friends sponsored many community programs, including concerts, adult mini-courses, and even an amateur theatrical group directed by the late Robert Grimes and called The BareBones Players. The late June Mulé accepted the post of first Board of Trustees president.

    On July 18, 1979, the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission notified California Mayor Peter J. Daley that the historic building had earned a place on the National Register. Borough workmen joined volunteers to restore what is now the Children’s community Room, thus increasing usable space.

    The next year, largely because of the unceasing efforts of Wyona Coleman, the Washington County Commissioners voted to establish the Washington County Library System. California Public Library promptly joined the fourteen-library coalition, thereby enabling the library staff to better serve the local citizenry through resource sharing.

    Update: In June 2013, the holdings of California and its sixteen sister libraries (including several in Greene and Fayette counties) became searchable online through a union catalogue powered by Polaris. The funding for this project was supported by the proceeds from six years of "Off the Shelf", an annual fundraising dinner hosted by the Washington, Pa. law firm of Peacock, Keller. (By 2018 twenty libraries formed the network.) Patrons began to use the new Waggin library card, featuring a retriever dog riding a wagon. Inspiration for the new logo came from the new name for our expanded library community: Washington and Greene Greater Information Network.

    Our Caboose

    Our caboose is retired Norfolk and Western #562851. It was built for the Wabash Rail Road by International Railway Car Company of Kenton, Ohio in October 1955; its original number was 2651. In 1988, Norfolk Southern donated the caboose to The California Area Public Library, located in the former Pennsylvania Railroad Station at 100 Wood Street, California PA 15419. Officials cautioned that rail traffic could be stopped no longer than one hour while the car was relocated to the property. Anthony Crane Co. used a crane to lift and manueuver the 48,300-lb. car from the tracks to a set of rails installed on the Library's side yard. A donation from the Levi family in memory of their son Timothy, along with funds raised by the Library's Friend's group, paid for renovations. The caboose project was chaired by Ellen Hasbrouck (who originated the idea) and Librarian/Director Wyona Coleman. Interior renovations were carried out mostly by Joe Horvath.


    Wooden cabooses were first adapted in the 1830s to house and carry brakemen and flagmen. Brakemen manually stopped the trains by climbing to the roof of each car and turning the brakewheels. Eventually, the caboose became an office for the conductor and also provided a place for the crew to sleep, cook and bathe. Despite derogatory nicknames such as crummy, doghouse, bone-breaker and snake wagon, the caboose provided a home away from home. Similar to the red schoolhouse and the red barn, the red caboose became an American icon and was often sighted trailing behind trains en route to their destination. Despite their charms, cabooses were phased out beginning in the mid-1960s as advances in technology provided more practical and feasible methods to monitor the train.

    Friends of California Area Public Library thought the caboose would create a charming space to conduct children's programs and to hold meetings of small community groups. From about 1994 to 1999 Claudia Bennett led a preschool story hour in the caboose every Thursday morning, starting at 10:30. These days, the caboose stores the Library's collection of used books for sale (as well as anything that won't fit in the Library's tiny storage closet).

    Of course, #562851* is a metal caboose. When it arrived in California, the caboose was covered with grease and grime accumulated from years of hard work on the tracks. Its body still carries the scars left when windows and heating units were removed during renovations. The first task of caring for the caboose fell to a group of Friends volunteers who powerwashed the exterior and then painted #562851 solid red (as it had arrived) with a black cupola and yellow safety rails. In the autumn of 2013 a group of spry college-age volunteers organized by an AmeriCorps project supervisor restored the caboose to its orignal red and white color scheme; a grant from Home Depot's Fresh Paint Days project, in addition to private donations, paid for the new look.

    *We assure you, it is and always has been #562851 which sits outside the California Area Public Library--don't believe everything caboose afficiandos post on the internet!