Part I: Build a Library
The paper trail for our story begins on November 13, 1903, when the Snohomish County Tribune reported that the application form for a Library bequest from Carnegie’s New York City office had arrived in town.
The recently established Public Library Association shared the exciting news with editor Gorham who in turn wrote an editorial titled “Build a Library.” Not one to waste words, Gorham wrote, “Snohomish stands a good prospect of having a Carnegie library building.” More than hometown boosterism, however, this optimistic view was based on the inspirational efforts of the Women’s Book Club, keeper of the books donated in 1876 that established the Atheneum, a frontier literary society known throughout the territory.
In 1901, the club purchased an old residence on the present site of the Carnegie and the famous Emma Patric was appointed the first librarian. C. F. Jackson, owner of this property, canceled the mortgage and the library property was transferred to the city and Snohomish’s leading businessmen formed the Public Library Association. This is when the cherry tree was planted that dominates our historic image.
With the site on the city’s books, and available for a free library, one requirement of the Carnegie application was met. Another, for the city to provide the Library board with an annual allotment equal to 10 percent of the Carnegie bequest, was heartily endorsed by the editorial, stating that for a $5000 bequest a “very creditable building could be put up [… and that an annual levy of $500] by council would be justified.”
It seems the requirement of the application to demonstrate the community’s need for the library ran into trouble. The paper trail disappears with this editorial and it’s not picked up again until 1909, which by then, the Woman’s Book Club (later to become the Cosmopolitan Club) had raised $2,673.39 for the new library, often going door to door.
A quaint carbon copy of a letter in the (current) library’s vertical files dated January 16, 1909, from Carnegie’s private secretary, James Bertram, is addressed to the Honorable Sam Piles, U. S. Senator from Washington. Piles was a young lawyer in Snohomish in 1885 when he went up against city father Ferguson by advocating that some 18 Chinese residents leave on the next steamship going downriver; but now, both men are working together to shake the Carnegie money tree.
U.S. Senator’s Help.
At Ferguson’s urging, and we imagine his help with the talking points, Senator Piles writes a two-page letter to Bertram, explaining that the old family residence being used as a library “was old when I first saw it in 1883. The rooms as I recall them, are small and badly cut-up. I think it would be a waste of money, and I doubt very much if the people could be stimulated to the point of subscribing funds, to undertake to install a proper library in that old building. What they desire is a to have a first-class building within the limits of $10,000 constructed there, and then proceed among their own people to greatly increase the number of their books.”
(Another mystery of the six-year news blackout around the Carnegie application: the amount of our request doubles!)
Carnegie’s Bertram Replies.
Bertram’s reply reads in part, “If the community of Snohomish were very anxious for a Library as distinct from in a fine new Library Building, they would have shown it in utilizing the present accommodation available.” The short letter goes on to list the sizes of the five rooms to support his argument and concludes, “Mr. Carnegie does not see his way to consider the matter further just now.”
Senator Piles encloses this letter, along with his own featuring an oversized signature, to Ferguson dated January 20, 1909, advising, “In order to induce Mr. Carnegie to take any steps to assist us, we shall have to fix up the old building and put in a good supply of books.”
Astonishingly, a year and one day later, the Tribune publishes the architect’s rendering of the new library along with a detailed story. Based on the intriguing but scant sources presented here, our Carnegie library is a building that shouldn’t be!
But it is.
The formal opening was reported in the May 27, 1910, issue of the Tribune. The ladies of the Public Library Association served tea and wafers on Thursday afternoon; only children were invited on Friday afternoon; and Saturday was the first day of business. Reading room hours were from 1 to 9pm, while the “book hours” were from 2:30 to 5:30pm, everyday except Sunday. Curiously, there were around 3,500 books in the collection, just about one for each Snohomish resident counted in the 1910 census.
(The story of our Carnegie library building will continue next month with a look at what else was going on around town in 1910.)
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Published May 26, 2010, in the Snohomish Country Tribune