We're celebrating the 90th birthday of our beloved library today with a walk down memory lane!
As early as 1888 the Ladies Literary and Social Club saw a need for a public library in Eureka. The club, which was formed in 1887, had 39 members and included many familiar surnames such as Allen, Callender, Crawford, Darst, Davidson, Dickinson, Johann, Major, Meek, Pifer, and Radford. The women contributed $1 each to buy books to form a library. However, their motion was tabled as there was no place for the library to be housed. In 1897 the organization was renamed the Eureka Woman’s Club.
It was not until 1930 that the club signed a two-year lease for a building in the 100 block of South Main Street. In the April 10 edition of the Woodford County Journal, the club made their announcement of the coming library.
The first library was indeed a community effort with donations of money, time, books, and furniture from local businesses, organizations, community members, and local high school students. The club held a benefit dinner and a plant, seed, and bulb sale to raise funds. Donations were accepted during the months of April, May, and June in preparation for an opening in early July.
The library officially opened 90 years ago today on July 5, 1930. The initial collection featured 1,548 books, and the library hours were 2 to 5 pm and 7 to 8 pm Tuesdays and Saturdays, and 2 to 5 pm on Wednesdays.
That first summer and fall, the Eureka Woman’s Club public library committee and Librarian Nora Radford regularly updated the community through the Woodford County Journal about children’s story hours and additions to the collections. On September 25 it was noted that Carolyn Keene’s A Hidden Staircase, “a mystery story for girls,” was added. Happy 90th birthday to Nancy Drew too!
On Thursday, September 25 and Friday, September 26 at the Eureka High School auditorium, a special fundraising event was held for the library. It was a play titled “West of Broadway” and cast with local talent. Admission was 50 cents for adults and 25 cents for children.
Catch a familiar name in the cast list? Ronald “Dutch” Reagan! President Reagan contributed his acting talents to support the library while a student at Eureka College. As a student, he was active in the college drama society and performed in 14 college plays during his time in Eureka between 1928 and 1932.
The library functioned under the jurisdiction of the women’s club for six years. On June 1, 1936, the library was placed under city jurisdiction, became tax supported, and was run by a mayor-appointed board. It moved twice: to the Kellogg building and to the Klaus building. It found a permanent home in 1944 when charter Eureka Woman’s Club member Annie Davidson (1862-1944) passed away.
Davidson's stately two-story brick home, which her maternal grandfather (Albert G. Ewing) had built in 1858, at 200 S. Main Street was willed to the city for use as a library provided the citizens could raise a $10,000 endowment for maintenance of the structure. The funds were raised within 10 months, and the library opened in its present-day location on December 9, 1944.
An addition to the building was built in 1977, and the library district was expanded to include all of Olio and Cruger townships in 1990.
In 2016 and 2017 community businesses, organizations, and residents rallied to support the library, much as it did in 1930 and 1944, to raise funds to install an elevator to provide full accessibility to the basement-level children’s library. A total of $80,000 was raised in just a few months!
Our 90th anniversary has brought new challenges to the library’s mission of serving the community during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Our original plan was to host a big, open-house birthday event as part of our summer reading programs. Even though this was not possible, we are happy to celebrate our 90th birthday virtually with our community with this walk down memory lane.
Happy Birthday, Eureka Public Library!!
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Librarian Cindy O'Neill loves researching local history! She has extensive experience in historical research, genealogy, and archival resource management. She previously worked in the archaeology and museum fields and has Master's degrees in both history and library science. Recent local history projects include a history of the Eureka Pumpkin Festival, the creation of a digital archive of festival photos and memorabilia on the Illinois Digital Archives website, and an architectural history of the Eureka Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).