The Rock Island Public Library
The public library building of the City of Rock Island, is very beautiful in design and architecture, and is the most imposing edifice belonging to the city, and of it all its citizens are justly proud. In fact it is readily con-ceded to be the most beautiful and commodious public building in the county, and with its valuable and well selected library, both for reference and general- literature, its influence for good in the community is very great and cannot be over-estimated. Its architecture is of “Ionic ” design. Its interior decoration is in “Italian renaissance” and most beautiful in design and execution. The building complete with all furnishings together with lot cost approximately $94,000. The present library is the result of arduous and incessant toil and attention; and it is to be deplored that no record of the exertions and sacrifices of the intellectual men and women who were primarily responsible for its being, has been preserved. All the facts are therefore not obtainable, but this much is known: Early in June, 1855, a few public spirited citizens of the city begun the serious consideration of this question, and it began to take definite form June 26, 1855. The Rock Islander of July 4, 1855, announced that “one of the oldest and most eminent citizens will gladly give one hundred dollars toward a library; provided nine others would, give a like amount.” On September 15, 1855, a public meeting of citizens was held in the basement of the First Presbyterian Church, and was organized by the selection of Honorable M. B. Osborn as chairman and H. C. Connelly and O. P. Wharton as secretaries. The desirability of a library organization was discussed by Messrs. Bailey, Hayes, Pershing, Knox and Marshall, and resulted in the appointment of Messrs. Knox, Velie, Steel, T. J. Buford, Pershing, Fish, Bailey, Conway, Harper and Kelly a committee to solicit subscriptions upon the conditions that those giving one hundred dollars, their children between the age of fourteen and twenty-one, should be life members; persons giving fifty dollars should be life members; those giving twenty-five dollars should be members for ten years, those giving ten dollars should be members for four years, and those giving three dollars should be members for one year. Five hundred dollars was subscribed at that meeting, and Messrs. Knox, Pershing and Wilkinson were appointed a committee to draft a constitution. On October 3, 1855, the organization was completed by the adoption of the name of the “Rock Island City Library and Reading Room Association” and the election of the Honorable Joseph Knox president, H. C. Connelly vice-president, Honorable W. M. Bailey treasurer and R. M. Marshall secretary. At this meeting Mr. C. B. Waite of Chicago donated lot three, block fifty-three, Chicago or Lower Addition, valued at two hundred dollars, to the Association, and the hall committee was instructed to fit up ” Library Hall” on the third floor of Bailey and Boyle’s block. On October 24, 1855, an advertisement was inserted in the Rock Islander for a librarian, and Mr. Richard P. Cropper was chosen librarian. The reading room was opened about November 7, 1855, from 10 A. M. to 10 P. M. On December 3, 1855, announcement was made that a large invoice of books had been received from New York and that the fully equipped library would be opened to the public on Tuesday and Wednesday following, from 10 to 12 A. M., .1 to 5:30 and 6:30 to 10 P. M. In 1857 the number of volumes had increased to 1,000. For many years this association was prosperous, and proved a great benefit to the city. After some years the interest seemed to wane, and Mr. Charles Pettifer became librarian. During his incumbency the library substantially ceased to be popular and it was closed. Afterward some of the young men of the city organized an association known as the “Young Men’s Library Association,” and the library of the original association passed to its control. It continued to be a live and valuable association until the organization of the present City Library, having increased the number of volumes to 2,000, and was sup-ported by the annual dues of its members. It was not until August, 1872, that full public cognizance was taken of the manifold and far-reaching value of such an organization. In this last mentioned year the General Assembly of this State passed the present library law, and it was approved and came in force March 7, 1872. A few of the leading citizens of the City readily realized that a public library would be of inestimable value to the City, and they promptly proceeded to avail themselves of the law, and their efforts to that end were readily supported by the mayor and City Council of the City. On August 12, 1872, the City Council passed an ordinance organizing a public library as a part of the City government, and at the same meeting Messrs. Henry Curtis and E. D. Sweeney appeared before the council, and on behalf of the “Young Men’s Library Association,” donated the entire library of that association, consisting of about 2,000 volumes, to the City. Thus the present public library was established, and it is believed to have been the second library established under the law of 1872. On October 12, 1872, Mayor Bailey Davenport recommended to the City Council that Messrs. Edward Burrall, Cornelius Lynde, junior, E. D. Sweeney, W. H. Gest, L. M. Haverstick, Milton Jones, Conrad Spiedel, R. Lloyd and P. T. McElhern should constitute the first board of directors, and they were unanimously approved as such directors. The board organized by the election of Edward Burrall as president and E. D. Sweeney as secretary. The discussion of the proposition to erect a new library building in the City begun as early as 1895, and serious consideration was given it by the board of directors, collectively and individually, from time to time; but definite action to that end was delayed for the reason that the majority of the board thought it inadvisable to increase the taxation upon the citizens to the extent necessary for such purpose. During these years the different members of the board gave the question much thought, and various wealthy citizens of the City were approached upon the subject, with the view to elicit their co-operation and financial aid toward the erection of a suitable building as early as 1897. Mr. Frederick Weyerhaeuser early showed an interest in the project, and proposed to join with others he mentioned in providing a fund with which to build; but as no one else would co-operate the project failed. Mr. Andrew Carnage’s attention was called to the needs of the City by one or more citizens other than members of the board of directors, but with-out being able to interest him in the matter. The accommodations for the library became so poor and inadequate and the growing needs of the library so great, that finally the board of directors, which consisted of Charles L. Walker, president ; John W. Welch, secretary; and Walter Johnson, Louis Kohn, Charles J. Larkin, C. W. Foss, Charles Fiebig, Alexander de Soland, and Joseph Kerr, were compelled to take action looking toward the erection of a new library building by general taxation, and in view of the steady advance in real estate it seemed imperative that a suitable site be secured without delay, and the board finally, on October 10, 1899, appointed a committee to consider the matter and report. On March 6, 1900, the committee reported that they had obtained an option on the present premises for $8,500, and the committee was continued to further consider the question. On April 7,. 1900, they reported that Messrs. Drack and Kerns had been employed to prepare preliminary plans for a suitable library building, and such plans were submitted, with the estimated cost of $70,000. The board unanimously approved such report and plans, and passed the required resolution for the erection of the building, out of general taxes, to be collected in seven yearly installments. On April 9, 1900, the City Council authorized and directed the board of directors to proceed to have such building erected. For this action, and the liberal and progressive spirit manifested, the people are indebted to the following city officers: Honorable William McConochie, Mayor; H. C. Schaffer, city clerk; and Aldermen George W. Aster, Fred Gall, John Lawhead, Thomas A. Fender, H. L. Wheelan, Andrew Soderstrom, Michael Concannon, Charles Willis, Albert Johnson, Robert Beck, Charles Heidemann, Basilius Winter, J. O. Freed and Henry Elwell. On June 12, 1900, the board requested that the first installment of $10,000 be levied, and the City Council on June 26, 1900, duly ordered such levy. August 20, 1900, the board of directors obtained a deed for the lots on which the building now stands. On November 13, 1900, Mr. Walker re-ported to the board of directors that Mr. Frederick Weyerhaeuser, in order to permit the immediate erection of a library building, had very generously offered to give the board outright $10,000 and to loan them $50,000 at five per cent, provided a fire proof and ornamental building be erected. This offer was gladly accepted and plans for such a building were ordered. Mr. Leonard Drack, architect, submitted plans of the present building, but when the bids for its erection were opened, it was found that it could not be erected within the amount at the disposal of the board, except by eliminating the beautiful columns and pilasters. This dilemma was submitted to Mr. Weyerhaeuser, and he insisted that the beauty of the building should not be sacrificed; and in order to prevent it, generously gave $2,500 in addition, and persuaded Mr. F. C. A. Denkmann to give a like amount. Subsequently, in order to enable the board to liquidate the extra cost of the building occasioned by the difficulty of getting a safe foundation and some other necessary changes, Mr. Weyerhaeuser gave the further sum of $5,369.32, and finally his generosity induced him to purchase thirty feet additional ground adjoining the library lot on the east, so as to make the lot one hundred and fifty feet square, thus making his total gift to the library $20,769.32. The contract for the building was entered into September 10, 1901, with Collins Brothers as general contractors, for $58,147, who immediately begun work. The corner stone was laid in the Fall of 1902, and the building was opened to the public for general use December 15, 1903. The first floor consists mainly of one large room, divided only by the delivery desk with its attachments and metal stacks, into stack room, reading room, reference room and children’s room. To the right of the stack room are the librarian’s office and the work room. The stack room will accommodate 60,000 volumes. Up stairs are the directors’ room, art room and audience room, the latter to be used in the future for a general reading room. In the basement are rooms for Government documents, newspaper files, heating plant, lavatories, etc. All are finished in quarter-sawed oak, in antique finish. The rooms are thus conveniently arranged for entire supervision from the delivery desk, and the rooms are spacious and airy.. It is, withal, a public institution for which the people of the city and county are justly proud, and for this they are largely indebted to the generosity and public spirit of Mr. Weyerhaeuser. It contains, in round numbers, 18,000 volumes, besides pamphlets, which are freely loaned to all citizens. The art and assembly rooms are large and well adapted to such uses, and the directors’ room is beautifully decorated and furnished. The building committee consisted of Mr. C. L. Walker, elected member of the board in July, 1891, and who has been its president since July 25, 1893; Mr. J. W. Welch, appointed a member of the board in 1890, and has been its secretary since July 25, 1891; C. J. Larkin, appointed in 1886, and Louis Kohn, appointed in 1894. The present members of the board are Charles L. Walker, John W. Welch, Claude W. Foss, Charles J. Larkin, Louis Kohn, Charles Fiebig, Alexander de Soland, C. P. Comegys and Doctor Joseph DeSilva, Miss Ellen Gale is the librarian, and Miss Fanny F. Cleland first assistant librarian, and Miss Elsie Schocker second assistant. The library and reading rooms are open from 9 A. M. to 9 P. M. on week days.
Source: Historic Rock Island County, pub. Kramer & Company, Rock Island, Illinois, 1908