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History of the Cresco Public Library


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Cresco Public Library Centennial


      The Cresco Public Library celebrates the centennial of its dedication on February 10, 2015.  The original Carnegie Grant was issued on February 13, 1913 and a great deal of the building construction took place in 1914.  But the library’s story actually started earlier than that.  The following story is a shortened version of events taken from the pages of the local newspaper—the Howard County Times.  There is an attempt to give the reader a chance to do further reading by indicating the source of the information in the local newspaper [e.g. How Co Times; 12/15/1910].

     The city of Cresco was platted in 1866 at the time the railroad was expanding into the area.  In the last quarter of the nineteenth century, donations of books and magazines resulted in a reservoir of materials for public sharing an Augustus Beadleconsumption.  As early as 1895, under the leadership of Augustus Beadle, a home entertainment lecture system was organized.  Profits realized from these events provided money for the Cresco Free Library Association.  By the turn of the century, additional reading materials were being gathered through showers and donations.  [How Co Times; 12/15/1910]  A nine-member Board of Trustees was established.  The trustees found a home for the library in the back room of city hall.  This new library opened on January 30, 1904.  Additional funds for the library came through rummage sales, lecture courses, a benefit supper, and ticket sales to a community play {entitled Bibi}.

     W.L. Converse, director of the library’s magazine department, was appointed to bring the matter of a “city” library before the people in the election in 1905.  The measure passed and the library came under the city’s jurisdiction—funded through tax dollars.   The city library was moved from city hall to the E.R. Thompson building in May. E.R. Thompson Building“The ‘Free Public Library’ was turned over to the city and the ‘Cresco Public Library’ was organized under section 727 of the Code of Iowa, the City Council allowed a tax of ½ mill which was raised to 1 mill and then reduced  to ¼ of a mill.  The library was now carefully classified according to the decimal system used in all large libraries and the A.L.A. catalogue adopted as a guide for the library committee.  Miss Tyler, state librarian from Des Moines, assisted the Board in this important work.  In March 1905, Mrs. Edith Morton was elected regular librarian.”  [How Co Times; 12/15/1910]  This same article ends with a summary that could be repeated in any newspaper article today about the library.  “The library occupies an important place in the community.  Its influence reaches all classes.  The children whose literary tastes are being formed, the high school pupil seeking supplementary material for school work, the woman with a club paper to write or a study topic to discuss, the student of economy, the worker seeking refreshment and entertainment in the novel or current magazine, turns to the library for the satisfaction of their needs.  The Cresco Public Library is an educational force whose interests should be as sharply looked after as are those of our public schools.”  Abby Converse became director of the Cresco Public Library in 1912 and will hold that position until 1948. Abbie Converse

     In January, 1913, the library board began to discuss the possible construction of a new library building.  J.H. Howe, a member of the board, and also an architect, drew up plans for a new library building.Discussions were held by the Board of Trustees to apply for funds from the Carnegie Foundation to help with the construction of the new building.  Dr. D.T. Robertson, secretary of the library building committee, made a trip to New York to meet with the secretary of the Carnegie Foundation.  The secretary had one objection to giving funds for the purposed project.  He questioned the number of people in the Architectural Drawing of CPLcommunity who would use the library.  Local library trustees suggested extending the service territory to townships of Vernon Springs, Albion, Howard Center, and New Oregon in Howard County and the townships of Freemont and Orleans in Winneshiek County.  “Dr. Robertson circulated a petition among the business men asking the city council to increase the levy for library purposes from 1 mill to 2 mills, the revenue from the 2 mill levy being sufficient to meet the requirements of Mr. Carnegie.  There were 235 signers to the petition, only six refusals.”  [How Co Times; 1/28/1913]  The Cresco City Council passed an ordinance for a 2 mill tax levy for the support of the library.  A certified copy of this ordinance was forwarded to the office of Andrew Carnegie.  [How Co Times; 2/4/1913]  With the addition of these population centers and the increased millage, Robertson came home with the $10,000 grant [dated 2/13/1913] necessary for the construction of the library.  The Carnegie Grant to Cresco is unusual among all other Carnegie libraries because Cresco joined with six additional townships to receive its grant.  A description of a Carnegie Library in Longmont, Colorado, and published by The Times by Dr. Robertson was an attempt to share with the citizens of Cresco what they can expect in their new library. [How Co Times; 2/11/1913].                                                                                                                                                                            

     “At a meeting in the court house Monday evening, March 10, the vote was unanimous in favor of the lots known as the Park hotel property as a site for Cresco’s new Carnegie library building.” [How Co Times; 4/8/1913]        Park Hotel    At a meeting held on March 11, 1913,  “one of the subjects discussed at the meeting was Dr.  Kessel’s offer of the donation to the city, free of charge, of six acres of land south of the hospital for park or school purposes, provided that the city buys and pays for the library site without resorting to the subscription of funds from the businessmen for that purpose.  Dr. Kessel’s idea is to reimburse the city for the expense of buying the library site, giving Cresco a valuable piece of land for public use and thus do without begging.  The cost of the library site would be about $1,500 but no action on this will be taken until later, when the citizens of Cresco will be given a chance to vote on the subject.  If they vote for the purchasing of this site by the city, Cresco will have a fine new park, or perhaps a place for a new school building.  If the vote is against it, the money will have to be subscribed by the businessmen and Cresco will loose the park.  It is now up to the voters.”  [How Co Times; 3/11/1913] 

     The tentative plans for the library building prepared by Mr. J. H. Howe, were submitted for an opinion to Miss Ailee Tyler, secretary of the Iowa State Library Commission.  She not only approved the plans but declared them “superior to other plans submitted.” (How Co Times; 6/17/1913]  When bids were let, it was discovered that the building could not be built for the amount allotted.  The City Council then voted to increase the library tax from two to three mills, which would raise about $1,500 annually for the maintenance of the proposed building.  This action followed the decision of the library board that the building as planned could not be built for $10,000, the amount donated by the Carnegie corporation.  By making this additional one mill tax levy for maintenance, $5,000 more can be secured from Carnegie, which will cover the total cost of building according to the original plans.  [How Co Times, 9/2/1913]

     There is an interesting article about the History of Our City in the newspaper. [How Co Times; 11/25/1913]  Finally, the building committee for the Cresco Public Library received word that the Carnegie Corporation was increasing their appropriation to $17,500, which made it possible to complete the building on the original plans drawn by J.H. Howe.  [How Co Times; 5/19/1914]

     Sealed bids for constructing a brick and stone library building in Cresco, Iowa, is to be received by C.W. Reed, Chairman of the Building Committee up to seven o’clock p.m., June 9th, 1914. [How Co Times 5/19/1914]  As reported by the newspaper, the board of trustees of the Cresco Public Library awarded the contract for the new building to L.F. Parkinson of Iowa City on a  bid of $12,990.

Floor Plan:  First Floor

 Floor Plan:  Basement

     The Trustees of the Cresco Public Library discussed the issues surrounding the building of the new Carnegie Library.  It was decided that the Masonic lodge would be in charge of the cornerstone laying ceremony.   They decided to invite E.G. Cooley of Chicago to deliver the address.  “Twenty-five years ago while Mr. Cooley was principal of the Cresco public school he established a small library in the high school.  This, it is said, was the first circulating library in Cresco and some of the first books placed on the shelves, or rather shelf, of that modest little institution are now to be found in the splendid large collection in the present public library located in the Peterson building.” [How Co Times; 7/14/1914]  The Cornerstone ceremony was in August, 1914.

 CPL Cornerstone

     “The cost of the building complete will be $17,500 which sum will be donated by the Carnegie Corporation.  A tax of about $2,000 a year will be levied for maintenance.  Of this amount about $1500 will be raised in the city of Cresco by a three mill levy and the balance will be raised in the townships of Vernon Springs, Albion and Howard Center, the trustees of those townships having voted a half mill tax, which entitles residents of these districts to all the privileges of the library.” [How Co Times; 8/25/1914]  The newspaper goes on to say that work on the library and opera house was delayed because building materials did not arrive on time.  The library was  specifically delayed because cut stone was not delivered. 

      The board of trustees of the Cresco Public Library held their first meeting in the new library building in January, 1915.     The Howard County Times:  Dedication

     Dedication events were held on Wednesday, February, 10th, 1915.  Scheduled activities for the day of the library dedication included an invitation to school children to visit the library building for Story Hour.  Grades 1 and 2 were invited to visit at 11 a.m.  Grades 3 and 4 were invited at 2 p.m.  Grades 5 and 6 were invited at 3 p.m., while grades 7  and 8 were invited at 4 p.m.  That evening everyone was invited to attend a dedication ceremony at the Methodist Church at 8 p.m.  The evening began with a Mixed Quartet consisting of Mrs. Swenson, Miss Hughes, Mr. C.C. Burgess, and Mr. J. Burgess.  The Invocation was given by Rev. Will Kirwin.  The presentation of the library keys to the City of Cresco was made by Dr. Robertson.   Mayor Baker accepted the keys on behalf of the city.  Miss Robinson gave a congratulatory address and Miss Cannon sang a solo.  The major evening address was made by Dr. Kessel, President of the Library Board of Trustees.  Another solo was sung by Mrs. Swenson and the Benediction was given by Rev. John Murtagh.  At the close of the exercises the public was invited to inspect the library building.  The librarian report at the time of the dedication indicates that there were 4,143 total volumes in the library.  380 books were being added each year.  There were approximately 1000 patron cards and the Cresco Public Library was open 155 days per year—11 hours per week.

 Front Page of Dedication BrochureInside Page of Dedication Brochure

A Synopsis of Dr. Kessel’s Address was written up in the newspaper.  [How Co Times; 2/16/1915]

Facts and Figures About CPLThe article, shown above, giving the “Facts and Figures Relating to the Cresco Public Library, says:  “The lot on which the building stands is 100 feet long along Elm street and 70 feet along Fourth avenue.


The main portion of the building is 36 feet by 64 feet, with a projection to the rear of? feet by 27 feet, which contains the lecture room entrance and a portion of the stack room; a projection to the front 4 feet by 18 feet with a Grecian pediment covering a tiled entrance; a tiled porch 7 feet by 7 feet at the northwest corner covering a grade entrance to the lecture room; a stone stairway at front entrance covering the storage vaults and occupying a space 11feet 8 inches by 15 feet and a stone stairway at southeast corner to City Clerk's office.


The total width of the building including the front stone stairway is 59 feet 3 inches and the length from out to out 69 feet.

The outer walls rest upon concrete footings 12 inches thick and 30 inches wide and these are founded upon rock or very hard clay.


The walls from concrete footings to grade line are Cresco limestone rubble. From


grade line to first floor level they are of Mason City hollow block faced with 5 inches of Rustic No.1 buff Bedford or Indiana limestone with planed face.


From first floor to cornice the walls are above-mentioned hollow block faced with Twin City "Golden Rod."


It is rough or matte surface brick served variegated and is laid in Flemish bond with half inch raked joints and reddish brown mortar.


All walls are furred out and lathed and plastered to form a dead air space.


The caps, steps, buttresses and other details of stone trim are Bedford or Indiana limestone.


The two columns at sides of front entrance are of Rockford, Minn., Granite, the shaft and all mouldings being polished and bases and capitals unpolished.


The roof is covered with medium green Ludowici Tile, German style. The box gutters, downspouts and flashing are of copper.


The basement contains besides the necessary halls and stairways a lecture room


33 feet by 39 feet, capable of containing 200 chairs and at present equipped with 150 chairs, a double fireproof vault, each side being 4 feet 6 inches by 13 feet 3 inches. A city clerk's office 11feet 3 inches by 18 feet, a fan room 4 feet 10 inches by 6 feet 4 inches, a packing room 5 feet 2 inches by 10 feet and a toilet room 4 feet 7 inches by 10 feet.


The basement is finished throughout in quarter sawed red gum finished natural. The basement floors are on concrete but in lecture room, toilet room and packing


room are covered with 4-inch pine flooring.


The main floor contains a vestibule 6 feet by 8 inches by 10 fee 9 inches; a general reading room 21 feet 7 inches by 26 feet; a children's reading room 22 feet by 24 feet; a delivery room 11feet by 14 feet 6 inches; a stack room 18 feet 6 inches by 23 feet 3 inches; a reference library room 12 feet by 19 feet 8 inches and a librarian's private office 10 feet 9 inches by 13 feet 9 inches. This is provided with a built in wardrobe and with toilet arrangements.


The main floor is covered throughout with quarter-inch thick cork carpet, natural


color. The vestibule floor is of white mosaic tile.


The main or library floor contains at the present time 1017lineal feet of shelving disposed around the walls and capable of holding 10,170volumes without recourse to book stacks.


The present library consists of 4,340 volumes. There are also some public documents. The inside trim of library floor is quarter sawed oak in fumed finish.


The side walls through the building are finished in light brown flat wall finish and the ceilings in cream color. This finish will stand washing with soap and water or gasoline.


The children's room contains a brick fireplace laid with golden rod brick in black mortar and with a hearth of 6-inch square red promenade tile.


At the south end of the children's room are three art glass windows representing respectively "Little Miss Muffet," "Little Bo-Peep" and "Ride a Cock Horse to Banbury Cross."

Ride a Cock Horse To Banbury CrossLittle Bo PeepLittle Miss Muffet

These were contributed by the ladies interested in the library at a cost of $350.00. All glass doors are glazed with bevel plate.

The building is wired in metal conduits. Direct lighting fixtures are used in basement. The main floor is lighted with semi-indirect fixtures with veluria shades and cast brass metal trimmed with Adam brown.

All principal lighting on main floor is wired to a switch board located in the registration desk directly in rear of the librarian's desk and is therefore under her immediate control at all times.

The electroliers at each of main entrance were donated by the electric light company and the stone cutting necessary to set them in place was donated by Claude Weatherford.

The hardware throughout the building is finished in dull brass. All windows are provided with shades hung on "Simpoli" adjusters which permit lowering from the top.


The building is heated by a single pipe steam system, using vacuum vents on radiators and a side feed Thatcher boiler which will be thermostatically controlled. The basement radiation is colonial wall; on main floor the ordinary floor radiators.


The building is provided with a ventilating plant capable of supplying three thousand cubic feet per minute of fresh air to all parts. This air may be heated to seventy degrees Fahrenheit in any weather before entering the rooms.


The ventilating is on the plenum system, the apparatus being capable of maintaining air pressure n the rooms equal to a static head of 5/8 inches of water.


M          The ventilating layout is of the "draw through" type; the air first being drawn through Vento Stacks located in a housing over the boiler. These impart the necessary heat. The air then reaches the blower which is a Sirocco, multivane type, driven by a one horse power electric motor. This fan or blower forces the heated air into a plenum chamber from which various ducts of necessary sizes distribute it to every room in the building.


A corresponding system of ducts conveys the foul air off from the floor of each


room and discharges it through the roof by means of a 30-inch cupola or by other special outlets, which have been provided.


A system of dampers controls the passage of air through the ducts and these are operated from a switchboard located in the librarian's private office. The motor which operates the fan may be started or stopped from the registration desk as well as from the fan chamber.


The toilet rooms are provided not only with ventilating fixtures, but are connected to the ventilating system with independent ducts.


It is believed that the headache, drowsiness and stupor frequently experienced in the reading rooms of libraries will be entirely absent from this building if the plant is properly operated.


The Women's clubs of the city are raising a fund for suitable pictures and statuary


for the reading rooms.


While the building is not entirely completed it is nearly so. There remains considerable work on the walks, drives and grounds when the weather will permit.


The general contract was awarded to L.F. Parkinson & Co. of Iowa City.


The heating, plumbing and fan installations to M. 0. Swenson of Cresco.


The ventilating ducts, housing, cupola, etc., to the Queen Cupola Co. of Cresco. The furniture not covered by special drawings was furnished by local dealers,


Messrs. Meverden, Fields, and Huber, while Miller Bros. furnished window shades and carpet.


The electric light fixtures are furnished by the local company.


The total cost of the building when completed will be practically $18,000.00 of which $17,500.00 is being furnished by the Carnegie Corporation of New York




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