Joliet Public Library
Main Library Building Centennial
Celebrating the Past
Looking Confidently to the Future
The History of the Main Library Building
The area that is now Joliet was first settled in the 1830s. According to historian Robert Sterling, "the most significant commercial development . . . was the opening of the I & M Canal in 1848." In 1850, the population of Joliet was 2,659, and in 1852 Joliet was officially incorporated as a city. By 1870 the population of the city had reached 7,263.
On September 1, 1875 the City Council, taking advantage of a state law enacted 4 years earlier, passed an ordinance establishing the Joliet Public Library. On March 7, 1876, the Joliet Public Library opened in the Cagwin Building located at 102 W. Jefferson. Miss Charlotte Akin was the first Librarian, in charge of an approximately 750 volume collection. According to the Joliet Herald News, Miss Akin "administered the library's affairs for three years." In 1879 the Library was moved to the Akin Block, owned by Miss Akin's father, and located on Jefferson between Chicago and Ottawa Streets. It is interesting to note that the lease for the space in the Akin Block stated that "there shall be no drilling, drumming, marching, running or other military or callisthenic exercises or unusual or disturbing noises in the rooms over the above leased premises during the time the lease is in force, until after the hour of nine o'clock p.m. of each and every day this lease is in force." In 1898 the library was moved to the Gorman Building on Van Buren Street, where it would remain until it moved to its present location in 1903.
A New Building is Needed
On August 9, 1898, the Joliet Daily Republican reported that "plans are under way by which Joliet is assured of a new city hall and library building. The paper noted that the Library Board had nearly $50, 000 available for this project and that that "the members are desirous of starting the improvement without any unnecessary delay. The same article noted that "many sites have been under consideration by members of the directory but the one which was deemed most favorable at the present meeting is the quarter block situated on the northeast corner of Clinton and Ottawa streets." On January 26, 1899, the Library Board authorized the purchase of that property.
On May 24, 1902, the Library Board selected the Chicago architectural firm of D. H. Burnham & Co. to design the new library building. The Daily Republican noted that the firm's senior member, Daniel H. Burnham "will be remembered as the famous architect of the White City at Jackson Park, Columbia Exposition". On June 5, 1902, the Daily Republican reported that architects in Joliet were displeased with the selection of the Burnham firm. The paper noted that "it does not look fair to the people of Joliet, and it certainly looks disrespectful to it's architects to have the members of the library board go out of the city and engage a man to do the work several of the local men can do just as well as outsiders can do it."
John Lambert, a prominent industrialist and member of the Library Board made a donation of $42,000 to the building fund.
On September 3,1902, the Joliet Daily Republican reported that "it has been know for a long time by those most interested that with all available funds it would be almost an impossibility to attempt to build a structure to accommodate both city hall and library. Realizing the condition of affairs, the city council agreed to relinquish what claim it had in the proposed building upon the payment to the city of $25,000 by the library board." The paper further noted that it was understood that the $25,000 would come out of the Lambert gift and that "at least two of the members of the board had talked informally upon the subject with Mr. Lambert, and it was their impression that no trouble would ensue regarding the payment of the money to the city council for the relinquishment of its claim.
On April 24, 1903 the cornerstone was laid on the southwest corner of the building approximately 5 feet above ground level. A document in the files of the library states that the following items were placed in a box in the cornerstone.
1. Present Catalogues, supplements thereto, bulletins and forms.
2. History of the Joliet Public Library.
3. Financial Statement as to this Building.
4. Autographically inscribed photographs of the members of the
present Board of Directors of said Library and of the
present Staff operating the same.
5. Copies of the Joliet "News" and of the "Joliet Daily Repub-
lican" dated April 23, 1903.
6. Copy of the Stone Cutters' Journal for April, 1903.
7. Copy of the Joliet City Directory for 1902-03.
8. List of Sub-Contractors under the General Contractor, Mr.
9. Program of Excercises at laying of said Corner-stone.
The names of the Board of Directors of the library are engraved on the
outer surface of the stone.
On December 14, 1903, the new library building was opened to the public. The Daily Republican noted that the first books were taken out by Mrs. George A. Buck. The paper further noted that "the building is entered through a commodious vestibule and the visitor steps at once into a spacious corridor running to his right and left, terminating to the south in the children's room, and to the north making a right angled turn opposite the librarian's office and terminating finally at the reading room to the west." The paper reported that "just opposite the door is the long oak delivery desk, while the back of the desk open arches to the stack room which runs from north to south and where the books rest in the latest and most modern pattern of stacks or cases."
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This history of the Main Library Building was originally written in 2002 and 2003 by Jack Tegel using material gathered from microfilm and paper copies of stories printed in the Joliet Herald News and its predecessors located by Jack Tegel. Also included is material adapted from previous histories of the Joliet Public Library written by present and former JPL staff, particularly Darlene Bull. Special thanks to Associate Librarian Roger Gambrel (deceased) and Anneta Drilling-Sowa for locating scrap books of articles, and other documents from which material has been taken for this report.
Additional information about the early history of the Joliet Public Library and the building of the Main library building can be found in a thesis titled Joliet Public Library, written at the University of Illinois by Mabel Katherine Davison.
This Publication was funded in part by the U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service, Illinois, and Michigan National Heritage Corridor Commission.