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Brief History of the Library


In December 1888, a group of about a dozen citizens met to make plans for the first library in the City of St. Charles. Mayor H. T. Rockwell was selected chairman of a committee to investigate incorporation. On December 17, 1888, bylaws were adopted for the St. Charles Library Association, which formally came into being in 1889.

a colorized photo of the original Library

Miss Jennie Lewis, daughter of the City's first mayor, became the first librarian of the Association. It was a subscription library with an annual membership fee of $2.00. The Library's first permanent home was at 203 East Main Street (now housing McNally's Irish Pub), formerly Judge W. D. Barry's law office where, it was rumored, Abraham Lincoln once consulted on legal matters. The subscription library served the community for 17 years. By 1900, it had 3,000 volumes in its rented rooms, and circulated about 200 volumes a week. Records of the Association are part of the Library's local history collection.

Library photo from Illinois Digital ArchiveBy 1906, the community had grown, and the members of the Library Association decided that the library should become a public institution to serve the entire community. That same year, the township residents voted to form a tax supported public township library. The first Board of Directors, with Mrs. Clara M. J. Farson presiding, met for organization on April 18. A letter was sent to philanthropist Andrew Carnegie requesting funds to build a new library. Mr. Carnegie's personal secretary responded with a letter, dated December 13, 1906, which informed the Library Board that "Mr. Carnegie will be glad to give Twelve Thousand Five Hundred Dollars to erect a Free Public Library Building for St. Charles." The remainder of the total cost of $15,000 was funded by local donations.

The site selected for the building was formerly a dump where east siders skated and which west siders criticized because of the Library's "great distance" from their homes. Phillips, Rogers and Woodyat, Chicago architects, designed the building which opened to the public in December, 1908. The St. Charles Library Association at that time turned over 2,000 of its books to the new Library. Miss Mary M. Stewart was appointed the first librarian and continued in that position until 1929.

In 1925 the first expansion, consisting of a mezzanine on the first floor, was completed. A pine-paneled room in the basement, to be used as the Children's Room, was completed in 1933 by a group of 23 men under the Civil Works Administration program.

1964 Library Addition - photo from Illinois Digital ArchiveThe growth of St. Charles Township from a population of approximately 5,000 in 1908 to 16,000 in 1960 made further expansion necessary. On November 10, 1962, a referendum for $255,000 in building bonds was passed for an addition to the building. Ground was broken on December 1, 1963 by Board President Vivian P. Comstock along with other members of the Board of Directors. The architects for the project were Frazier, Raftery, Orr and Fairbank of Geneva. The addition, completed on August 3, 1964, provided an additional 7,640 square feet of ground floor space with a basement area of 3,950 square feet. The ground floor housed all public services and the new building provided shelving for approximately 50,000 volumes and seating for 90 people.

Youth Services - photo from Illinois Digital ArchiveIn 1973 the Children's Department was moved to the basement level, thereby making possible expansion of the adult service area. The original Carnegie Library became office and storage space. Remodeling of the basement was funded in large part by a donation from the Thomas Rossetter family in memory of their son Bob. The St. Charles Jaycees donated the circulation desk.

In 1978, voters approved conversion of the township library to a library district. With the growth of the district population to over 28,000, and a population of 43,000 forecast by 2005, in 1986 the Library Board sought approval of $2,925,000 in building bonds for expansion of the facility. Voters overwhelmingly approved the building bonds and an increase in the Library's operating tax to support the expanded facility. Groundbreaking ceremonies were held on July 31, 1987 for the newest expansion. On December 17, 1988, the 35,000 square foot addition to the Library was opened to the public, exactly 100 years after the establishment of the St. Charles Library Association, and 80 years after the opening of the Carnegie Building. Remodeling of the 1908 and 1964 buildings was completed in 1989, with the former being opened once again to the public to house the business, local history, and genealogy collections.

Carnegie Business Room - photo from Illinois Digital ArchiveMuch of the furniture now in the "Carnegie Room" is from the original building. This furniture includes a clock donated in memory of Edward Bowman in 1911; six tables; thirteen chairs; shelving and a desk. (A piano from the Cable Piano Company, which was purchased in 1912 for $150, now is housed in the public meeting room.) The original Library walk-in safe was relocated to the hallway between the 1964 and 1908 buildings. A 5,200 square foot mezzanine was built for expansion space for materials and for reading and study areas.

Mezzanine - photo from Illinois Digital ArchiveThe mezzanine project was completed in 1995 at a cost of $201,196. Funding came from the Library's Special Reserve Fund, as well as a $91,447 Illinois Secretary of State Live and Learn Grant. There was a major relocation of equipment and furniture in the Adult Services department, especially the Reference section. Our intent was to combine activities which require noisy equipment, to define areas of quiet study. All equipment was removed from the Carnegie, and all workstations and microform equipment were grouped in an area east of the Reference desk. In an effort to divert traffic away from the study areas, materials which are heavily used were relocated to areas where traffic already was heavy. After major weeding, back issues of periodicals were moved from the reference area to the nonfiction stacks. This extensive weeding of paper copies was part of our plan to get as many periodicals as possible on microform or through electronic delivery. The very popular videotapes and books on tape were moved to shelving east of adult fiction - close to the high-traffic browsing area. Audiotapes were removed from the sight-blocking towers, and placed with CDs in our old wood card catalogs.

Shelving to accommodate 50,000 books was installed on the mezzanine, and adult 700s through Biographies were moved there by the staff and Hallett Movers. The staff did a tremendous job during the move and before the move, when activities were concentrated in the east portion of the Adult Services Department while the ceiling tiles and light fixtures and wiring in the 1964 addition were replaced.

In addition to the nonfiction, the mezzanine now houses circulating art work, the artist of the month displays, ECC videocourses and two viewing stations, lounge seating for eight, study seating and tables for thirty-two, two OPACS, and three conference/study rooms. Two of the conference rooms seat up to eight people; the third seats up to six. Access to the mezzanine is by stairs or elevator. Moving the ECC videotapes to the mezzanine has freed the shelving at the circulation desk to provide much-needed space for other materials.

Helen Gale Story Room - photo from Illinois Digital ArchiveAlso in 1995, the Helen Gale Story Room was constructed in the northeast corner of the Youth Services Department. Named in memory of a former St. Charles Public Library Children's Librarian, the Room was the first project of the St. Charles Public Library Foundation. Paid for by donations to the Foundation from individuals as well as by major grants from the Dellora A. and Lester J. Norris Foundation and the General Mills Foundation, the Helen Gale Story Room is a special area specifically for small group storytelling and activities. Up to 35 children can enjoy the room, which features a large crescent moon on the carpet and soft-sculpture gold stars and moon suspended from the ceiling.

The second project of the Library Foundation was the Carnegie Community Room. Known as Library Hall when the 1908 building was constructed, it housed library programs, meetings of community organizations, high school dances, and kindergarten and elementary school classes on a temporary basis. The room eventually was closed to the public, possibly at some point in the 1940's, and was used for storage. During the 1988 building expansion and renovation project, the Library Board included renovation of the room as an alternate bid, but it was eliminated because of budget constraints. However, elevator service and utilities were provided to the area in the hope that the project could be undertaken in the future. Renovation of the room began in 1997 and was completed in 1998. The Foundation Board's stated purpose for the project was to restore a unique historic space to its original purpose for smaller exhibits and cultural programs which are library related, such as concerts and recitals, fine art exhibitions, small productions of community theater, story telling, lectures and speakers series; and for permanent exhibition of library archival material. The Foundation hoped to recreate as closely as practical the original ambiance of the room. The $175,000 project was funded with donations from the community to the Foundation including generous grants from the Dellora A. and Lester J. Norris Foundation and the City of St. Charles Visitors Cultural Commission. In addition, the Library received a $65,000 Illinois Live and Learn construction grant. The cost of abatement of lead discovered in the old paint was covered by the grant. The Library purchased furnishings and the Friends of St. Charles Public Library donated a custom-made display case. The picture of Andrew Carnegie, long stored in the attic, finally found a home.

For more historic photos and notes from 1906-1930 Board Minutes see the Illinois Digital Archives.


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- photos and notes from 1906-1930 Board Minutes

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