PUBLIC LIBRARIES, OLD AND NEW.
IN 1839 THE CITIZENS MOVED FOR A COLLECTION OF BOOKS - LIBRARY PROGRESS FROM THAT DATE TO THIS HAS BEEN ALONG A DEVIOUS PATH OF HARDSHIP AND DISCOURAGEMENT - LADIES MANAGED THE LIBRARY FOR YEARS - MR. WATKINS TELLS OF YEARS OF DEVOTION TO THE IDEAL OF A PUBLIC LIBRARY - ANDREW CARNEGIE, A LIFE MEMBER, SENDS MONEY FOR A NEW BUILDING
Pictures included with this chapter are: Public Library, Davenport - Post Office, Government Building - The Reading Room Davenport Public Library - The Desk, Davenport Public Library - Children's Room, Davenport Public Library.
By Mrs. Maria Purdy Peck, President Davenport Historical Society
Before Iowa had assumed the dignity of statehood, before the contest over the location of the county seat had been decided in favor of Davenport, an effort had been made to establish a public library in the town.
At the beginning of the year 1839 the total population of the county was 1,000. Liberal estimate would place about one-third of this number as residents of Davenport. These citations are made to call special attention to the quality and character of the pioneers who laid the foundations of our city and gave thought at the outset to its spiritual and intellectual as well as material needs.
If the reference to the early endeavor to found a public library rested upon a newspaper report, some allowance would be made for the constitutional desire of reporters to make a good story. But as it is copied verbatim from the first book of records ever used in Scott county, no allowance for reportorial imagination is required.
From Journal A, page 48, the following is trascribed:
"At a meeting of subscribers at the Davenport Hotel on the sixth day of April, 1839, in the County of Scott, Territory of Iowa, for the purpose of organizing a Library Association for said town of Davenport the following subscription paper was read with the names thereunto subscribed, as follows, to wit: For the purpose of establishing a public library in the town of Davenport, we, the subscribers, agree and bind ourselves to pay for every share set opposite our names the sum of $5.00, as soon as we may be called on for that purpose by the officers to be elected, so soon as 20 shares are subscribed: Andrew F. Russell, R. Bennett, Frazer Wilson, Richard Price, A. W. McGregor, W. H. H. Patten, John Forrest, J. W. Parker, Jno. D. Evans, Thos. Dillon, James Hall, David Wilson, Wm. H. Conway, Geo. L. Davenport, James McIntosh, Andrew Logan, Antoine LeClaire, A. C. Donaldson, Duncan C. Eldridge, Wm. B. Watts, M. Hummer and Wm. Nichols. The above named individuals had signed one share each, except Antoine LeClaire, who had two shares. Two-thirds of the above named subscribers, to wit: A. Russell, R. Bennett, R. Pierce, A. W. McGregor, W. H. H. Patten, T. Dillon, J. Hall, F. Wilson, D. Wilson, D. C. Eldridge, W. B. Watts, W. Nichols, J. McIntosh, A. Logan and John Forrest, being present at said meeting. James Hall was viva voce chosen chairman and James McIntosh clerk. An election by ballot was held and the following named persons chosen: Andrew F. Russell, Frazer Wilson, Alex C. Donaldson, Antoine LeClaire, M. Hummer, James Hall and Jonathan W. Parker. On motion it was unanimously Resolved, That this Association be called the 'Carey Library Association of the Town of Davenport.'
"The number of subscribers present at said meeting was 15, the amount subscribed $115.
"Subscribed and sworn to before me this 2d day of May, A. D. 1839.
"Recorded May 4, 1839, 1 o'clock.
HENRY W. HIGGINS,
If Andrew Logan, one of the subscribers to the library stock, and editor of the first newspaper published in Davenport, ever told his readers what became of the Carey Library association so auspiciously launched, the information has not been handed down, for beyond the original recorded document it is to us as though it had never been.
It is not too far fetched to suggest that a direct connection may be traced in the establishment of a reading room supplied with all the leading newspapers of the country, some forty in number, on the ground floor of the new $35,000 LeClaire House the following year by D. C. Eldridge, one of the library incorporators.
The tradition that our present public library is directly descended from the Young Men's Library association founded in 1854 seems to be supported by facts.
In a communication to LeClaire Fulton of this city under date Nov. 5, 1905, M. M. Price writes: "I was the founder and first president of the Young Men's Library association and collected the first 2,000 volumes of its library, which collection was inherited by its offspring, the Library association."
Other authorities give quite a little time between the inception of the Young Men's Society and the acquisition of the 2,000 volumes. In a published report it was credited with having acquired 500 volumes in the early part of the year 1855.
At this time General George B. Sargent, a leading banker and enterprising citizen, offered to donate to the society $500 on condition of the organization of an incorporated library society the privilege of which would be accessible to all inhabitants of Davenport and vicinity, at a charge not exceeding $3.00 per annum. Accepting the conditions, the title Young Men's Library association was assumed. And a public library was opened.
That such institution was not yet established on a firm and sure foundation may be judged by a contribution to the library chapter from the pen of C. S. Watkins covering a period of exceptional library storm and stress as well as a period of prosperity.
Mr. Watkins says: "The original 'Library association' collapsed during the winter of 1857-8. At the close of that season the rooms were vacated and the books, shelving, furniture, and so forth, were placed in storage in the basement of the Cook and Sargent banking house. In the following October Mr. F. H. Griggs assumed the responsibility of removing the entire properties to a room on the second floor of Merwin's - now Fulton's block - on Perry street. He had the shelving properly arranged, and then invited me to assort and place the books. Their total number then slightly exceeded 1,000 - Patent Office reports and other public documents made up about one-third of the whole. After a few weeks the books had been consecutively placed and numbered, and properly catalogued. Mr. Griggs then engaged a young man - one of Luse, Lane & Company's employes - as librarian and the rooms were opened two evenings each week. The membership fee was placed at $1 per annum. This arrangement continued about two years when the library was moved to the northwest corner room on the second floor of Griggs' block, Perry and Third streets. During the following year, 1862, the 'Associated Congress,' a debating society organized by the young lawyers and doctors of the city, made a formal proposition to assume control and care of the library and continue its public usefulness. This was agreed to and during the ensuing ten years the 'Congress' remained in control. Early in 1872 I was notified that I had been elected president of The Library association. On enquiry, I was told that the concern was dead and that I was expected to give it proper burial. I found the remains in a room on the third floor of Cutter's block, Second and Brady streets, and under the care of Miss Sarah Allen, as librarian. The Academy of Sciences, which was then struggling for existence, had its specimens and exhibits arranged on a few tables and shelves in the library room. Evidently the library had, during the past year, been continued in existence solely by the efforts of Miss Allen in canvassing the city for subscriptions and sale of membership tickets. The books had diminished in number and had decidedly deteriorated in condition. At first view the outlook was certainly discouraging. Mr. B. B. Woodward was nominally treasurer, but he mournfully admitted that many months had passed since he had been able to show a satisfactory balance of his accounts.
"After much consultation, it was decided to make a direct appeal to each one of several prominent citizens, for a donation of $50. The response in each case was prompt and compliant, and the treasury was enriched by nearly $400. Part of this was applied to closing the floating indebtedness; part went to the rebinding of all such books as were deemed worthy of such repair; and the remainder was used in the purchase of several sets of standard works, and an assortment of more recent publications. The improved condition of the library was soon made known, and the attendance rapidly increased until the library was at least self-sustaining. Encouraged by this, the management began looking for more commodious and convenient quarters. The old Methodist church building, Fifth and Brady streets, was just then being remodeled, and an option of a five years' lease at $300 per annum, was obtained. Everything was now in readiness for the grand culmination toward which all these movements had been aimed. This was the placing of the future of the library in the entire control of a board of lady managers. Mrs. W. F. Peck, whose interest in and friendship for the library had always been active, was requested to arrange a meeting of prominent ladies and present the new propositioon. This finally resulted in the election of a board of lady directors, who at once took control, stipulating, however, that the rental during at least five years should be provided for by the retiring management. General subscriptions to this end were esaily secured and faithfully paid during the occupancy of the church building."
Mr. Watkins, it may be said, was one of the few men of Davnport whose abiding faith in the beneficence of such an institution as a good public library caused him to invest his capital freely together with his time and effort in the maintenance. He and Mr. Griggs were of the few who enrolled their children as life members and then when necessity for funds again arose enrolled them over agian. Mr. Watkins always kept in mind a future time when Davenport would have a library supported by a tax; consequently when the acceptance of the Clarissa C. Cook donation was under consideration, regarding it as postponing the date for a public library in fact as well as in name he hesitated before acceding to the conditions imposed.
Miss Sarah Allen, the faithful librarian, eulogized by Mr. Watkins, continued in her position during the five years the assocication was officered by women, then under the new regime until 1884. On October 29th of that year she passed from life almost literally with the harness on.
Miss Ella Webb succeeded Miss Allen as librarian and then Miss Sophia Billon. She retained her position as long as the assiciation existed.
After a long period of financial embarrassment, a short period of renewed life and activity as sketched by Mr. Watkins, the passing of the library from a single room in the third story of the Cutter block in the spring of 1874 to commodious apartments comfortably fitted up on the second floor of the old Methodist church on the corner of Fifth and Brady streets, then in less than five years further up Brady Street hill into a permanent home of its own marks a distinct epoch in library history.
All the events which conspired to bring these changes about cannot be told in the short space of one chapter allotted to this history. The principal event was the passing of the official control of the library from a board of men to a board composed of women at the annual meeting of the Library association in April, 1874.
By tacit agreement it was understood that the ladies would assume the management of the library as a sort of experiment for a period of five years, the gentlemen mostly of the retiring board pledging that they would assume the responsibility of the rent. It is needless to add that both parties were faithful to the compact.
The first board of officers was Mrs. John F. Dillon, Mrs. William Renwick, Mrs. W. C. Wadsworth, Mrs. J. F. Barnard, Mrs. Geo. H. Ballou, Mrs. James T. Lane, Mrs. H. M. Martin, Mrs. D. S. True, Mrs. Edward Lounsbury and Mrs. W. F. Peck. Mrs. Thomas McCullough was appointed chairman of the auditing committee and in this way became a member of the original board.
The gentlemen retained their membership in the organization, attended the meetings, were always ready to serve on special committees or in any other capacity when their services were desired.
Mr. B. B. Woodward, the retiring president, furnished at his own expense the magazine table. Mr. E. P. Lynch, the retiring treasurer, furnished new book cases; the press of the city gave unstinted praise and helped the movement along in the truly generous manner characteristic of Davenport newspapers. General interest was stimulated and the management could get anything it asked for. If the entertainment committee wanted a set of window cards to advertise an attraction they slipped into J. H. Harrison's drug store, made their wants known and later called and found a package neatly wrapped containing a set of hand executed cards ready for distribution.
The lecture committee existed primarily to provide a "star course" of entertainments for the purpose of raising a revenue for the purchase of books. A resulting benefit was that through this channel men and women of national repute were introduced to the Davenport public who would not have been heard in any other way. Prof. David Swing made his debut on the lecture platform under the auspices of the library lecture committee. It was about the time that the reverend gentleman had preached himself out of his church pulpit and made himself the most talked-of man in the country. When asked to come to Davenport and open the lecture course, a ready response came, saying that "it had not occurred to him to lecture, but as his daughter was soon to be married the remuneration offered would help to defray extra expenses." The lecture specially prepared for Davenport was afterward delivered in hundreds of other towns. The course opened by Prof. Swing netted the library $712 for the purchase of books.
At each annual meeting during the five years that the ladies had the exclusive management of the library large gains in books and patronage were noted. A free reading table was early provided for and no expense was spared to make this feature a special attraction.
On July 6, 1877, a communication from Mrs. Clarissa C. Cook was transmitted to the executive board of the Library association, through Mrs. John F. Dillon, offering to donate the sum of $10,000 for the erection of a library building with the stipulation that a suitable lot be purchased by the citizens, and that such alterations in the constitution be made as would be satisfactory to J. W. Drury, her representative; sixty days' time being given for the acceptance or rejection of the proposition. It was further communicated that Mrs. Cook wished to make the gift in memory of her husband who had in his lifetime cherished the desire to found a public library in Davenport. Not having executed this plan he had in his will bequeathed the sum of $10,000 to the existing library to be paid at his wife's death. That the library might have the benefit of the bequest while the ladies had it in charge Mrs. Cook anticipated the time of its payment.
On July 28th, at a regular meeting of the association the amendments to the constitution required by Judge Drury were presented by Judge Dillon. Members present at the meeting were Mrs. W. F. Peck, president, presiding; Mrs. J. B. Young, secretary; Dr. W. D. Middleton, Geo. P. McClelland, Edward Russell, S. F. Smith, J. H. Harrison, C. S. Watkins, John F. Dillon, J. B. Young, Dr. C. H. Preston, Dr. E. H. Hazen, Mrs. S. F. Snith, Mrs. Geo. E. Hubbell, Mrs. Daniel Gould, Mrs. Geo. Wing, Mrs. W. C. Wadsworth, Mrs. Thomas McCulough, Mrs. H. M. Martin, Mrs. E. M. Worley, Mrs. Geo. H. Ballou, Mrs. B. Ruch, Mrs. Geo. P. McClelland, Mrs. Geo. H. French, Mrs. S. P. Bryant, Mrs. M. E. Churchill, Mrs. J. F. Dillon, Miss P. W. Sudlow, Miss Margaret Renwick, Miss E. M. Gould, Miss Celestine Fejervary, Miss Harriet Rogers and Miss Mary Raff.
With a number of important modifications the amendments proposed were unanimously adopted and Mrs. Cook's donation accepted. It is worthy of note that at the same meeting Andrew Carnegie was elected to honorary membership in the association.
Public-spirited citizens responded to the calls for money from Mrs. Dillon and Mrs. Peck to puchase a lot, and on Nov. 7, 1877, the corner stone of the Cook memorial library building on the corner of Sixth and Brady streets was laid under Masonic auspices, Judge Dillon delivering the address.
Under date Chicago, Nov. 6, 1877, Judge Drury wrote the following letter to the Library association:
"Mrs. W. F. Peck, President Davenport Library Association.
"Under and by virture of the power reserved to me in the amended articles of incorporation of the Davenport Library Association, I hereby appoint the following persons the first Board of Trustees: B. B. Woodward, S. F. Smith, Edward E. Cook, F. H. Griggs, Mrs. John F. Dillon, Mrs. Geo. H. French, Mrs. T. McCullough, Mrs. W. F. Peck, Mrs. W. C. Wadsworth.
"You will determine by lot in such way as to the Board may seem best which of the parties shall hold five years, which ten and which fifteen.
(Signed) MRS. CLARISSA C. COOK
per J. W. Drury,
In July, 1878, the Library building was dedicated, James T. Lane delivered the formal address. Mayor Thompson spoke for the city; Dr. Farquharson for the Academy of Sciences, R. O. Lindsey for the Young Men's Christian association, Prof. J. B. Young for the board of education and the schools, Mr. Edward Russell fo rht epress and the Rev. Dr. Nott for himself. Judge Drury delivered the keys and deed of the building to Mrs. Geo. Wing, president of the Library association, who made a very graceful speech of acceptance.
Before the building was fully completed it was found that the sum originally donated was not sufficient to cover the expense and Mrs. Cook added $1,000 more, making her gift $11,000.
The library was by far the finest structure used for library purposes of any in the state at the time it was occupied. The number of books was 7,000 volumes.
Of the 100 or more women who labored for the success of the library during the period that it was under their exclusive management living today in Davenport are Miss Phoebe Sudlow, Mrs. W. C. Wadsworth, Mrs. John C. Bills, Miss Alice French, Miss Ellen M. Gould and Mrs. W. F. Peck.
Mrs. John F. Dillon served as president one year, Mrs. Geo. Wing one year and Mrs. W. F. Peck three years.
Did space permit the writer of this sketch would be glad to mention in detail the services of each individual who contributed to the exceptional success of the management, whereas only two can be thus distinguished.
Mrs. Geo. Wing served as chairman of the library committee for three years and bestowed upon this department the most intelligent and conscientious care. Under her supervision voluntary helpers made a catalogue of the library which answered its purpose for a number of years.
Mrs. Thomas McCullough,, most useful perhaps in guarding the treasury, was good in any place, discharging any and all duties with the greatest ability and fidelity. As an appointee on the board of trustees her work for the library was continued until the time of her death in 1888.
With the record back of them thus briefly indicated the ladies on May 5, 1879, surrendered their duties to a board of officers composed in part of the same men who had given the library into their custody five years before with Mr. Watkins as president.
While the utmost good feeling prevailed it was soon manifest that the restrictions imposed by the acceptance of the Cook gift, leaving in the hands of the trustees sole control of the finances, took away the incentive to individual initiative among the officers and members of the association, and library interests, if they did not languish, were at a standstill. In the public mind the sentiment prevailed that the institution was amply provided for, and the keen interest that had been almost universal waned. Later the trustees acting also as officers of the Library association, assumed entire control and though the institution was not the fashion as it once had been, it held its own and served the public very acceptably.
In January, 1891, Mrs. W. F. Peck, the president, presented to the board of trustees a proposition from the Hon. Hiram Price offering to donate $1,500 for the purpose of endowing the free reading room. The proposition was accepted, and Mr. Price paid the money advancing $135 so that the donation could be made available at once without encroaching upon the principal. In addition Mr. Price paid for the furnishing of the room which was called the Price Free Reading room.
In the spring of 1892, Mr. F. H. Griggs, Mr. E. E. Cook, Mrs. W. C. Wadsworth and Mrs. W. F. Peck, all original appointees of Mrs. Cook, retired from the board of trustees, also Miss Phoebe Sudlow who had been elected to fill the vacancy caused by the resignation of Mrs. Geo. H. French.
Members of the reorganized board were D. N. Richardson, S. F. Snith, Mrs. W. D. Petersen and Miss Alice French, old members; A. W. Vander Veer, the Rev. A. M. Judy, Mrs. C. A. Ficke, Mrs. M. C. Smith and Miss Alice Kimball, new members. A. W. Vander Veer was elected secretary, a position filled by him until the library ceased to be.
With the exception of the election of J. H. Harrison as president of the association, the board pursued the same line of policy with regard to electing trustees to the various association offices that the old board had found necessary to adopt.
An entertainment in which many of the citizens participated added the sum of $801 to the treasury. The bequest of Nicholas Kuhnen of $1,000 and another from Mrs. J. M. Parker of $500 available at this time enabled the board to undertake some much needed repairs on the building. Eventually the books were arranged in alcoves in the main library room which was thoroughly renovated and made attractive. An expert was engaged to catalogue the library at an expense of $500. However no amount of ingenuity or personal effort on the part of the directors could make the revenues and expenses balance, and history repeated itself, inasmuch as the management sought to replenish the treasury by soliciting donations. A casual examination of the old association book of records revealed the forgotten fact that Andrew Carnegie was an honorary member of the Davenport Library association. It was just at the beginning of Mr. Carnegie's career in founding libraries, and it was though that a mere reminder of his connection with the Davenport library might bring a handsome donation. Instead of a cash donation, in January, 1900, an offer of $50,000 to found a public library in Davenport upon the same conditions uniformly adopted by him was made. At the April election the question of a public library tax was submitted to the people and carried. Women were permitted to vote and with few exceptions favored the measure.
In May, Mayor Heinz appointed the first board of public library trustees. They were Judge Nathaniel French, Charles Beiderbecke, Miss Clara Holmes, the Rev. A. M. Judy, Mrs. J. J. Richardson, the Rev. J. P. Ryan, Edward Kaufmann, Mrs. J. P. Van Patten and George Wolters. Judge French declined to serve and Judge C. M. Waterman was appointed in his place. Miss Holmes declined to serve and S. F. Smith was appointed.
In March, 1901, Mr. Carnegie increased his donation to the building fund to $75,000.
By a decree of the court it was decided that the books of the old library were not a part of the Cook trust and the directors were at liberty to pass them on to the new library board. In June, 1903, the Free Public library took possession of the rooms and opened its doors to the public in the Cook Memorial building pending the completion of the New Library building on the southeast corner of Main and Fourth streets, the site selected by the board and purchased by the city.
By order of the court the Cook trust was dissolved. The building was sold, the proceeds going to the Clarissa C. Cook Home for the Friendless and the Diocese of Iowa as residuary legatees under the will of Clarissa C. Cook.
These transactions consummated, the Davenport Library association became a thing of the past.
The magnificent Public Library building was completed and ready for occupancy in the spring of 1904. On May 4th, dedicatory services were held in the Grand Opera house, Judge John F. Dillon delivering the address. Seated upon the platform beside the city officials and the board of trustees, who had in addition to supervising the erection of the building accomplished much of the necessary organizing work, were a number of Davenport citizens who had kept the library faith alive in the old days.
Through the efforts of volunteer workers, except for the brief period noted by Mr. Watkins, library privileges had been furnished to the citizens of Davenport for nearly a half century. They were not always adequate, but they served the purpose fairly well, and it may be added that the different groups of officials as they succeeded each other ever regarded the library as a trust for the people.
The present public library represents the fully developed expression of the idea held by the would be founders of the Carey public library in 1839, of Geo. B. Sargent, Ebenezer Cook, Hiram Price, B. B. Woodward, C. S. Watkins, F. H. Griggs, D. N. Richardson, E. E. Cook, B. F. Tillinghast, A. W. Vander Veer and a host of others who have contributed to its growth and advancement.
Miss M. W. Freeman was the first librarian of the new public library and served until February 1, 1905. She was succeeded by Miss Stella Seybold, who was in charge one year and then the present librarian. Miss Grace D. Rose came to Davenport and has given expert assistance to the people of the city in finding the worth while to read.