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Edgerton Public Library History
By Kathy Whitt
What can help American society more than the free public library? Here is the story of Edgerton’s crown jewel.
The Carnegie public library building is 96 years old, and the library is even older. Edgerton has had its library since 1866. Library service has grown and changed in those 134 years.
In Jan., 1907, Edgerton opened a beautiful neoclassical revival style brick and stone Carnegie building with 2400 books and a spacious reading room with oak furnishings and community space in the lower level. Two fireplaces were there for comfort and beauty. Community suppers, meetings and plays were held there. It was a delight for our community. We still have that building, and it has changed over the years without losing its architectural character or being enlarged. Children gather in the former Culton Hall for programs and services. Computers and many books now occupy much of the formerly spacious reading room. Time has brought change. In 2003, the library has a collection of more than 32,000 books, magazines, video recordings, audio recordings, and historical materials. In 2002 it circulated more than 71,000 books, videos, books on tape, magazines and other items.
In the beginning, the library started at an annual school district meeting. Miss Angie Towne’s History of Edgerton was quoted in a newspaper article of 1903, saying, “The school meeting in 1866 voted a tax of fifty dollars for a library and continued this tax for three years. In 1869 the school meeting directed that a committee use two hundred and sixty dollars on hand in purchasing library books. This was the nucleus of our public library.” The funds were set aside for purchasing 250 volumes.
The school district maintained the library with $50 per year for three years, and then $100 per year from 1870 until 1900. The librarian’s salary was $40 per year. The library was housed in various rooms and buildings in the business area. A committee composed of W. H. Stillman, E. A. Burdick and J. P. Towne formed a committee to purchase books and be in charge of the library for a number of years. W. H. Stillman was the first librarian and served until 1873. In those years the average annual circulation was 2370, according to a Feb. 1, 1907, article in the Gazette.
In 1900 the city took control of library operations in accordance with provisions of the State Free Library Law of 1899. Mayor Jenson appointed the first board of directors, which consisted of F. L. Moore, president; H. W. Child, treasurer; Angie F. Towne, secretary; Mrs. T. B. Earle, Mrs. E. J. Symons, Mrs. E. C. Hopkins, C. F. Mabbett, L. C. Whittet and J. M. Conway. At that time the library owned 874 volumes. In 1900, the library moved from the small room over Frank Ash’s Book Store, to its first permanent home in the building that became Pomeroy’s Paint Shop.
With the change to city operation, the library grew, and in six years its growth tripled and its circulation more than doubled. The city appropriated $250 in 1900 to operate the library, and $1000 were raised by subscription. City funding grew to $700 by 1905. The board looked for a larger space.
The Culton family was instrumental in giving the present site at 101 Albion Street to Edgerton for its new, larger building. In 1866, James Culton offered a lot for a Baptist Church. The church was erected in 1868. Culton and his wife Eliza were prominent in the church, but it became inactive. In 1904 the church lot and building were conveyed to the children of James and Eliza Culton, and they gave the property to the city to build a free public library as a memorial to their parents. In appreciation for the gift, the common council designated the auditorium of the new building as Culton Memorial Hall. Today the plaque continues to be displayed above the fireplace in the lower level of the building.
The other major benefactor of the library was Andrew Carnegie, the patron saint of American public libraries. He was a self made millionaire who made his fortune in steel. He gave grants to construct more than 2500 library buildings in the United States over a period of 20 years. In 1905, Carnegie gave the city $10,000 to erect a free public library building. He required that a suitable site be furnished and that not less than $1000 per year be allocated to maintain the library. The offer was accepted. In addition, the community raised $4000 by subscription, and a $3500 contribution was given by Florence and Harold W. Child.
The building committee composed of C.F. Mabbett, Wirt Wright and H.W. Child chose H. A. Foeller of Green Bay as architect for the new building. After the death of H.W. Child, L. C. Whittet joined the building committee. Construction began in spring of 1906 and was completed in January of 1907. The library board during construction consisted of L.E. Gettle, president; Angie F. Towne, secretary; Mrs. T. B. Earle, Mrs. E. C. Hopkins, Mrs. C.W. Birkenmeyer, C.F. Mabbett, J.M. Conway, Wirt Wright and L.C. Whittet. The cost for the building and furnishings was $12,682. A reserve fund of $5000 was established. The new library was built on the foundation of the former church. It was dedicated January 30, 1907.
Throughout the years the library hosted community functions. It was the meeting place for several organizations and a fall supper was held in Culton Hall annually. Plays were presented on the stage.
In 1938, the public library received special gifts of Pauline Pottery from Mr. and Mrs. L. H. Towne. The pieces were made at Jacobus Pottery in Edgerton. They also gave a tall urn, four pieces of statuary and a plaque made by Helen Mears. The pottery remains on display in the library’s periodical room today.
A major change came in 1971, when the new children’s library was completed, at a cost of $10,000, which included furnishings and equipment. After 64 years in the same building, there wasn’t much space for the children, so they moved downstairs. The library’s collection had grown to 18,680 volumes, many more than the building had been built to house. The Library Director was Ruth Young, who served the library for 35 years and is remembered by many Edgerton residents.
The Friends of the Library organized in May, 1991, to assist the library in various ways. Dues were set at $3.00 for adults, $5.00 for families, and $1.00 for students. They have never been raised. The original officers of the group were Nancy Gibson, Marilyn Hagen, Leneta Johnson, Cathy Dickinson, Kitty Murphy, and trustees Del Dallman, Walt Diedrick and Cliff Peterson. The Friends’ annual used book sale continues to this day and is very popular. The group has presented children’s programs and given many things to the library’s children’s room over the years.
Today the Edgerton Public Library stands as a monument to Andrew Carnegie’s vision that a free public library is one of the great civic institutions of American society. The addition and renovation opened to the public Wednesday, February 22, 2006, almost exactly 99 years after the original building opened. Many community people and organizations brought it about with their yes votes in the $2.5 million referendum and their generous donations. The referendum committee, building committee, library board, city council and many special people made it happen. Frye Gillan Molinaro Architects Ltd. of Chicago is the architect for the project, and Miron Construction Co. of Neenah, Wisconsin, is the Construction manager.
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