Library History

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In 1921, a group of civic-minded women created the Carbondale Public Library, which was housed in the annex of First Baptist Church (the Franklin Chapman house on West Main, next to the church). Miss Julia Errett, the first librarian who remained until her retirement in 1937, was paid $1 a day!!! On May 15, 1922, a Library Board of Trustees was elected: Mrs. EW Reef, chairman; Mrs. TA Weaver, secretary; Mrs. AF Hooker, treasurer; Miss Mary Steagall; Mrs. AD Brubaker; Dr. HW Patterson; Judge AL Spiller; Commissioner Joe Anderson; and Professor WO Brown.

This Board sought larger quarters and was given approval to use a room in the City Hall (on East Main Street), although the library patron had to walk through the courtroom to get to the library. In 1926 the Board bought the St. Andrews’ Episcopal Church building at the corner of Elm and Normal, and Mrs. Samuel Harwood was appointed assistant to Miss Errett.

cplBW1 This building on the southwest corner of Elm and University was first built to house the St Andrew’s Episcopal Church. The library Board bought it in 1926 when the church moved to Mill Street. It served as the Carbondale Public Library until 1957, when the Library moved to Walnut Street. Currently, the Unitarian Fellowship is using this building.

In 1937 Jack Spear became librarian, followed by Fern Brewer until 1942 when Mrs. Zella Rath was appointed. In 1951 Grace Burkett and her sister Anna left $30,000 to the library. Although the library board bought the John Lewis residence at 510 Walnut with the idea of converting it, the house was found not useable for a library and was sold in 1955, at which time the lot at 304 West Walnut was bought. A new building (cost: $58,354)) on this site (architects were Lee, Potter & Smith of Paducah, KY, and the builder was Oakes Construction) was dedicated on October 4, 1957. The Board at that time were Elmer Tuegel, president; William Etherton, chairman of the Building Committee; Mrs. JW Barrow, secretary; Mrs. ER Sanders; Miss Dora Brubaker; Miss Jewell Truelove; Ted Ragdsale; and Dr John Goff.

In 1953 Mrs. Leah Reef (who had been library board president from 1922-52) left $38,000 to the library. By 1965 the facility was again inadequate and various alternatives were explored. The Board acquired the Bradley House just west of the library to allow for the expansion.

The Library built in 1957 at 304 West Walnut Street. cplBW1

In January 1973 when Mrs. Rath retired, Charles Perdue was appointed head librarian. Between 1974 and 1977 the Board considered innumerable ways of funding a new library facility, including the possibility of combining the library with a new city hall. In December of 1978, Mr. Perdue resigned, and Mr. Ray Campbell was hired at head librarian. Under his direction the board renewed its interest in acquiring a new facility. After much effort the Board bought one half of the Brush school property in October 1980 from, the Carbondale Elementary School district at a cost of $100,000 with an option to buy another quarter for $50,000 (which was done later). In November 1980, the Board asked the Carbondale City Council to approve a referendum for a new building; in December 1980, the council gave its approval. The referendum (for $1,725,000) in February 1981 passed by a 3-1 margin.

In April 1982 ground was broken for the new building at 405 West Main, the Brush school site. The architect for the building was Harry Weese Associates. The library moved in to the new building in July 1983.


(From “Carbondale: A Pictorial History,” pp 102-103 by Betty Mitchell, 1991 ~977.3994 MIT~ Photos courtesy of the Southern Illinoisan)


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