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Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Home / Even in 19th century, new Cedar Rapids library was contentious, funded from out of town
The library at the corner of Third Avenue and Fifth Street SE (now the Art Museum), was built in 1905. The new library might be across Greene Square Park from there.
The Carnegie foundation donated $75,000 for the old library, which was really Cedar Rapids' first. Adjusted for inflation, that's $1.8 million today. Not clear if that was the full cost of the building, but we know the city council bought the land for the library, after what sounds like a fairly contentious political process in the City Federation of Ladies Literary clubs. Clubs apparently did a lot of heavy lifting back then. The background is interesting.
Here's an excerpt from the book "Tales of the Town: Little-known anecdotes of life in Cedar Rapids," by Ralph Clements, published in 1967 by Stamats.
Like most cities and towns in the late 19th century, Cedar Rapids showed considerable apathy toward a public library. In the 1870's a subscription library was ventured but soon was forced to discontinue through lack of funds.
Had it not been for Mrs. C.D. Van Vechten, president of the City Federation of Ladies Literary clubs, organized in 1895, the Cedar Rapids Public library might have been a long time coming. Mrs. Van Vechten insisted that one of the objectives of the new federation should be the establishment of a free library, and its constitution so state. She was the moving spirit in the campaign to enthuse citizens toward such a project. Her group staged dinners and other money-raising activities to help the cause along. Finally an election was scheduled for March 2, 1896, and it carried by a slim margin -- yes 1,105, no 1,046. (Adam here. I'm assuming the election was to adopt a free library as an objective for the literary ladies.)
A room in the Granby building (that's on Second Street betwen Second and Third Avenues) was fitted out as the first free public library, and opened to the public January 15, 1897. The patronage was so great that soon additional space was needed. In May 1900 the library was moved to the Dows auditorium, on the northeast corner of Second Avenueand South Third Street. The library leased the space for $1,250 per year, and later sublet the rear portion to the First Church of Christ Scientist.
The continued demand for books made it obvious that larger and more permanent quarters should be obtained. The library board voted to purchase two lots on the corner of Third Avenue and South Fifth Street, then known as the Ely corner. (I'm going to bring that back. From now on, I will refer to my workplace as the Ely corner.) The city council approved this request, set up a levy of 3/4ths of a mill to finance it, (we'll call that a property tax increase) condemned the land and paid for the purchase early in 1903.
About that time the Andrew Carnegie foundation was donating money to many cities for library buildings. Thomas H. Simmons, secretary of the Commercial club, became active in seeking a grant for Cedar Rapids. The Carnegie foundation donated $75,000 for a new building, dedicated June 23, 1905. When the library opened, a total of 1,325 books represented its collection. By 1909 the total inventory was 19,505; book circulation was 94,078. By 1966 inventory was 165,000 and book circulation was 873,334.
Thanks goes to library board member Hilery Livengood for digging this up.