Point’s Carnegie Library: A growing need
By Chelsey Pfiffner
Continued from previous week
After the fire, the remaining library collection found its way to new shelving above Taylor’s Drugstore on Strongs Avenue. Well known by locals, the space was eventually acknowledged as the public library and listed in the 1901 city directory as the “Public Library,” with Librarian Catlin at their service. Officially known as the city’s first paid librarian, Miss Frances Catlin, called “Fanny,” was paid $16 monthly to manage the library. When Fanny left the position in 1898, her sister Molly took her place, and Mrs. Mary Dunegan joined as assistant librarian.
Catlin and Dunegan not only ran the small city library above Taylor’s, but also traveled across Portage County to rural communities setting up “traveling libraries” which consisted of small book collections. The pair placed the small collections of books in homes or businesses for a period, allowing locals to browse and borrow easily without having to come to Stevens Point to use the main library. Even with the traveling libraries and the new home above the drugstore, Stevens Point still had a great need for a dedicated free public library building.
Libraries were not typically free to use anywhere in the United States, let alone the world, during the 19thand early 20thcentury. Many, such as the Stevens Point’s library, had yearly or monthly fees – fees which some just could not afford.
Philanthropist and steel mogul, Andrew Carnegie, believed in free self-education to a high enough degree that he made it a point to create a foundation. Starting in 1881, thousands of Carnegie Libraries were built across the United States. A community just need write and request the donation, but it wasn’t as easy as it sounded. The people would have to come up with their own funding as well. Carnegie required that each city who received library funding guarantee an annual contribution of support consisting of 10 percent of the original donation before they would be considered.
By January 1902 a few Stevens Point community members had written to Carnegie in hopes of being gifted the funds for a new library building. One of those people was the city physician, Dr. Frank Southwick. Civic-minded Southwick had come to Stevens Point from Maine in 1889 and was best known for helping to eradicate diphtheria among the city’s children through immunization. He had managed to gain the attention of Carnegie when others had not, and he had managed to receive a reply stating that consideration would be given to the matter.
Shortly after, it was announced by local media that Carnegie wanted to know “how much the city will guarantee” in support of the library. Specifically, he wanted to know the amount of yearly taxes paid that went currently in support of the library and how much will be guaranteed annually, if the building is obtained. At the time, the city had $925 in the annual library tax fund and would need to raise $575 more yearly to support a request of $15,000 from Carnegie, an amount previously suggested.
With a few local donations, some from members of the building committee, the library board and common council decided to ask for larger sum. At the end of April 1902, Southwick received a letter written by Andrew Carnegie’s secretary letting him know that Mr. Carnegie would be donating $20,000 – approximately $613,000 today – towards the completion of a free public library building in Stevens Point.
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.com. Contact Pfiffner at [email protected].