History of the Lewistown Carnegie Public Library

The following is a compilation of information gathered from the Lewistown Evening Record (Nov. 20, 1935), The Carnegie Library in Illinois (1991), Board of Trustee meeting minutes, and miscellaneous library records.  If you have or know of any additional or contradictory information, please contact us for correction/inclusion of information.

On July 23, 1897, a small group of Lewistown residents met in the Presbyterian Church Chapel to discuss the community’s need for a public library.  This meeting was chaired by Mrs. H. W. Masters (mother of noted poet Edgar Lee Masters), and Miss Cora Phelps served as secretary.

A second meeting quickly followed the first.  On July 28, 1897, the group adopted the name of the Lewistown Public Library and Reading Room Association, and began their work by electing officers for their organization:

                                    General L. F. Ross                   President

                                    Mrs. H. W. Masters                Vice-President

                                    Miss Cora Phelps                    Secretary

                                    Mrs. Emma Worley                Treasurer

                                    Rev. C. M. Williamson            Corresponding Secretary

Starting with no books, no building, and no funds to buy either, the officers went to work searching for answers.

They held meetings in the church chapel, private homes, and even store rooms.  Agreeing that money was the primary answer to buying books and obtaining a room in which to house them, the group held their first “fund raiser.”  They paid a $6.00 room rental fee at the local opera house, and an additional $3.00 to rent a piano.  At the end of 1897, a New Year’s Eve concert by the Ottawa Quartette gave the Association $20.75 towards their goals.

Association meeting minutes reflect continued efforts to obtain funds, materials, and library space, but nothing truly noteworthy happened until a letter from Andrew Carnegie was read at the January 24, 1900 meeting.  He made the community an offer of a $1,500 donation for the construction of a library building, if Lewistown citizens would raise the remaining needed funds.  Total cost of the building was projected to be $6,500, which left $5,000 to be raised by the town residents.

Although membership of the Association changed over time, its efforts to raise the necessary funds were unrelenting.  The death of General Ross and the relocation of Rev. Williamson were recorded in the January 19, 1901 meeting minutes, and new members were solicited from the city council.

The following month, the Association requested John W. Ross (who was serving as a commissioner of the District of Columbia) to intercede with Mr. Carnegie.  The Association inquired if Mr. Carnegie could agree to a “dollar for dollar” donation if the city council would guarantee the first $500, and then raise $1,000 annually thereafter.  Again, the meeting minutes reflect that on March 16, 1901 a city ordinance was drawn up to this end, should Mr. Carnegie agree.

In December 1901 while awaiting a reply, School Superintendent B. C. Moore offered the Association 500 volumes from the school library and a 14 square foot room in the old high school for use as a public library.  His offer was noted as “accepted” in the February 19, 1902 minutes, and Lewistown’s first Public Library was opened in what is known as the “old Baldwin High School.”

Finally, at the February 3, 1902 meeting, letters from John W. Ross and a Mr. Bertram (secretary to Mr. Carnegie) indicated a change of donation plans.  Smaller towns were being accorded a different arrangement than previously offered.  It was possible that Lewistown could qualify for a Carnegie grant based on the census of the community, at $2.00 per person.   Mr. Bertram’s letter suggested a city council ordinance regarding taxation for a public library maintenance fund.  The city council prevailed, and the ordinance was signed by Mayor H. R. Masters.

In 1904 while the city awaited Mr. Carnegie’s decision, the library (housed at the high school) had to endure relocation to rooms above the G. M. Blakeslee jewelry store (on North Main Street).  Although this would be the second place for the library, it would ultimately prove to be a temporary one.

On December 16, 1905, Lewistown was notified a $5,000 grant (later increased to $5,400) would be forthcoming from the Carnegie Corporation.  The following year a lot site was purchased for $450 from Amelia and Daniel Talbott, a building design by Paul O. Moratz of Bloomington, IL was created, and T. M. Mercer was contracted for the construction of the Lewistown Carnegie Public Library.  The library materials were moved once again; but, this move has lasted more than 100 years.

The building’s cornerstone bears the inscription “Carnegie 1906.” It not only serves as a testament to the generosity of Andrew Carnegie but also to the untiring efforts of the Lewistown Public Library and Reading Room Association and the Lewistown community.

Many changes have been made over the course of the last century.  To the building, the furnace and the front steps have been replaced, air conditioning has been added, carpeting and magnetic storm windows have been installed, lighting fixtures have been converted to fluorescent tubes, and the card catalog is now found in a computer rather than on index cards.  In 1970, the Children’s Department opened in the remodeled basement area, with a new side entrance.

The community the library serves has changed as well.  In the mid-1980s, the library’s service area changed from “city” to “district.”  This expanded the library services to approximately 5,700 people.  In an effort to offer patrons a much large collection of new books, the library joined the Western Illinois Library System in 1966.  Although this library system was changed into the Alliance Library System in the mid-1990s, it continues to offer library patrons talking book services and a very frequently used inter-library loan program.

One aspect of the Lewistown Carnegie Public Library has not really changed…the dedication of the individuals who have served as Librarians.

Carrie Zoll was hired in March 1902, at $5.00 per month, as the first Librarian.  She worked at both of the library locations prior to construction of the Carnegie building.

 Edna Belts became the Librarian upon Miss Zoll’s resignation (due to health issues), and served as the first Librarian at the Carnegie Building in 1906.

 Mary McCumber diligently served as Librarian from 1912-1959, a period of 47 years.  She was very highly regarded by the Lewistown community.

 Garnet Workman succeeded Miss McCumber in 1959, and initially retired in 1982.  She returned to assist the newly promoted Librarian in 1986, and then retired (again) in 1988.

Marilyn Lynch was chosen as the first Children’s Librarian in April 1970 and worked diligently to open the newly remodeled department in November 1970.  She remained there until July 1981.

 Ann Wilmert began a short tenure upon Miss Workman’s retirement, working as Head Librarian from 1982-1986.

 Deborah Jacobus was hired as the Children’s Librarian (1984-1986), and was promoted to Head Librarian in 1986.  She remained in that position until 1989.

Marilyn Martindale worked as the Children’s Librarian in 1988.

 Rebecca Shumaker was hired as Head Librarian in August 1989, and greeted old and new patrons until December of 2012. She returned in April of 2014 as the part time library clerk.

Janet Hoffman became the Children’s Librarian in October 1989, and remained vigilant in her pursuit of library materials and programs that benefited the children until her retirement in April, 2012.

Rarely does an employer find the longevity detailed in this list of Librarians.  Even more rarely can a community claim such benefit of the consistent service of such women.

Elizabeth Wiegers worked as an interim children’s librarian from May until August, 2012.

v Kelly Embry was first hired in August, 2012 as the new Children’s Librarian.  She moved into the Director’s position in December of 2012 where she remained until October of 2013.

v Jaime Grove took the reins of the Children’s Librarian in January of 2013.  In October 2014 she became the library director.

v Throughout the years, Kathy Hedrick as served the community as a Library Assistant on a part-time basis.  Her smiling face has greeted patrons since 2000.  In December of 2013 she became the Adult librarian.

V Shirley Kline joined the library in April 2014 as the substitute library clerk.