A chapter in history: Point’s Carnegie Library
By Chelsey Pfiffner
A favorite historic focal point for many small idyllic Wisconsin towns is their Carnegie Library. During the early years of the 20th century, 63 free public libraries were built throughout Wisconsin using funding from Andrew Carnegie. Few remain in use as libraries today, but many have been preserved as museums or historical society headquarters. Sadly at least 14 have been razed.
Locals may not realize that Stevens Point once had its own Carnegie library downtown since the land is now a blacktopped commercial driveway and nothing remains to signify it ever existed. As with several other of Stevens Point’s prominent historic buildings, the public library met the fate of the wrecking ball over 50 years ago.
The history of the public library in Stevens Point reaches as far back as 1853 when the editor of the only newspaper in town at the time, The Wisconsin Pineries, made a call for a lending library on the paper’s front page. By the late 1860s a Library Association, founded from early reading circles, began to hold dances, dinners, and bake sales to fund the city’s growing need for reading materials. One of the earliest public lending libraries was kept inside the White School which was located on the corner of Arlington Place and Water Street, where the Lincoln Center stands today.
In 1874, the association had raised enough money to rent a room above HD McCulloch’s Drug Store on the corner of Main and Third Streets. This was the first set of rooms devoted solely to the purpose of a public lending library furnished with proper shelving and space for patrons to sit and enjoy the books they could borrow.
However, book borrowing came at a cost. Only those that could afford the $3 yearly fee could enjoy borrowing privileges. With an average yearly income of around $400 for laborers in the lumber and paper industries in Wisconsin, library membership might not have been a priority, but the need was certainly still there. Later, in 1885, after a free library reading room was set up in a local ice cream shop, the Library Association dropped the fee to a more reasonable $1 a year, which would equal in value to $30.64 today.
As the library collection grew and reading popularity continued, space became limited and the books were moved to the high school building on corner of Clark and Church Street in 1887. Tragically half of the collection was destroyed when the building caught fire on a cold night in February 1892. The remainder were salvaged and stored for a bit, before finding new shelves.
Continued next week
This story is being used courtesy of Chelsey Pfiffner, research historian and proprietor of Primary Source Investigations. For more by this author, visit the “Historic Stevens Point” Facebook page or www.historicstevenspoint.wordpress.com. Contact Pfiffner at email@example.com.