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Cresco Public Library History

Read how this library was established and how it has evolved to become such an important part of our community.


Struggling Library Receives Carnegie Funds


In 1885, the first major step toward incorporating a library for the residents of Cresco, Iowa, was made.  Community members collected books and wanted to circulate these to area residents.  This planned circulation of materials did not work and, therefore, were turned over to the Cresco Free Library Association.  Ten years later, Augustus Beadle, the founder of Cresco, organized a home entertainment lecture system.  An admission was charged to those listening to the lectures and the money collected went into the library fund.

Cresco's Main Street

This is a picture of the Howard County Court Square looking along Elm Street in Cresco.  It is a reprint of an original two-fold postcard which is on display at the Cresco Public Library.  It has a copyright and was published by F.J. Bandholtz, Des Moines, IA, in 1908.  (A number on the front of the card is 12843.)

Additional books were gathered through a book shower on November 13, 1903.  This is the date listed of the actual birth of the Cresco Public Library.  A nine member Board of Trustees was established.  The trustees found a home for the library in the back room of city hall.  Shelving, furniture, committees, and rules were prepared.  Ladies clubs donated additional books and magazine subscriptions.  A room in the city hall was ready to open its doors as the new library on January 30, 1904.  Women in Cresco volunteered to serve as librarians.  Additional money was raised for the new, free library through rummage sales, lecture courses, a benefit supper, and even ticket sales from a community play.

During the following year, W.L. Converse, director of the library’s magazine department, was appointed to bring the matter of a city library before the people at the election in 1905.  The favorable vote by citizens brought the library under the city’s funding.   The Cresco Public Library was organized and was funded through tax dollars.

The new public library moved from city hall to the E.R.Thompson building in May 1905.


About 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 interview 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 community who would use the library.  George S. Bobinski wrote in his book, Carnegie Libraries:  Their History and Impact on American Public Library Development  (American Library Association, 1969 p. 45), "Small towns, particularly those under 1000 population, were not eligible for Carnegie library grants, since separate library buildings were not considered a necessity for such localities.  However, it was possible, and, indeed, urged by Carnegie officials that such small communities join together with townships so that their officials could request funds for a joint or a county 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.  With the addition of these population centers, Robertson came home with the $17,500 necessary for the construction of the library.  Construction of a new ‘Carnegie Library’ began in 1913 and was completed in 1915.  Dedication of the new Cresco Public Library was held on February 10, 1915.

                                                               Cresco Public Library Architectural Drawing

The Howard County Times Newspaper of Tuesday, March 9, 1915, reports on "Facts and Figures Relating to the Cresco Public Library."  The article states that "the children's room contains a brick fire place 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'....These were contributed by the ladies interested in the library at a cost of $350."

                                                        Little Miss Muffet Sat on a TuffetLittle Bo PeepRide a Cock-horse to Banbury

On the anniversary of Andrew Carnegie’s one-hundredth birthday in 1935, the Carnegie Corporation sent to all the libraries that had received Carnegie funds to build a city library, a framed portrait of Andrew Carnegie.

It has been written that by 1950, Cresco’s library had a reputation of being one of the best equipped in the state.  During the 1960’s, improvements were made on internal features of the library.  In 1961, a meeting room in the basement was converted to the Children’s Library.  In 1964, the main floor was refurnished with funds from the Kinney-Lindstrom fund.  Dr. and Mrs. W.D. Kinney who once operated a clinic in Colfax, Iowa provided these funds.  They had purchased land in Texas where they were going to build their retirement home.  The land turned into an oil well and much of this money went into the Kinney-Lindstrom fund for public improvements.  Many libraries in Northeast Iowa benefited from this fund.  The Cresco Public Library acquired new carpeting, furniture, and air conditioning from these monies.

Further improvements to the library occurred in 1975-1976.  The Children’s Library in the basement was converted to the Youth Library.  Kinney-Lindstrom Foundation funds and Federal Revenue Sharing funds were used to finance this project.


In 1991 the library experienced a major renovation and addition.  After seven years of planning, a new, historically accurate addition was added to the south side of the original Carnegie Library.  This new addition doubled the size of the library building and was funded through a federal grant, local donations, fund raising, and many volunteer hours by local residents.

                                                           Cresco Public Library


Additional resources:

  • History of the Cresco Public Library as told through the local newspaper.  Chick here
  • A much longer, in-depth accounting from the local newspapers about the 1914 Carnegie library.  Click here
  • A much longer, in-depth accounting from the local newspapers about the Addition to the Cresco Public Library.  Click here
  • Those interested  in reading more on the history of the major new addition to the Cresco Public Library as told through the local newspaper.  Click here
  • There is a picture page linked here.  See how many of the pictures you can identify that relate to the Cresco area.  Click here
  • Additional information about the historical pictures.  Click here
  • The Directors of libraries in Cresco.  Click here
  • List of Carnegie libraries in Iowa.  Click here
  • John M. Witt wrote, "The Carnegie Libraries of Iowa" in 2005.  In it he writes about  the Carnegie libraries in Iowa.  Click here
  • Carnegie libraries in Iowa Project  Click here
  • Carnegie libraries in Iowa.  Click here
  • Carnegie Libraries in Iowa Project (CLIP) Collection:  At the beginning of the twentieth century many Iowa communities sought and received funding from the Carnegie Corporation, resulting in the building of 101 public libraries.  The Carnegie Libraries in Iowa project (CLIP), a partnership between the University of Iowa's School of Library and Information Science and Iowa's librarians, is charting changes in Iowa's Carnegie libraries through digital images, documents and statistical data.  Click here
  • Library Postcards:  Civic Pride in a Lost America  (Carnegie libraries in Iowa cities--A - C)  Click here
  • Library Postcards:  Civic Pride in a Lost America  (Carnegie libraries in Iowa cities--D - L)  Click here
  • Library Postcards:  Civic Pride in a Lost America  (Carnegie libraries in Iowa cities..M - O)  Click here
  • Library Postcards:  Civic Pride in a Lost America  (Carnegie libraries in Iowa cities--P - Z)  Clcik here
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This resource is supported by the Institute of Museum and Library Services under the provisions of the Library Services and Technology Act as administered by State Library of Iowa.