The St. Cloud Library Got Its Start – On ‘This Date In Central Minnesota History’
ST. CLOUD – June 8th, 1865 – The Library Association was formed. This would lead to the formation of the St. Cloud Public Library.
On this date 146 years ago, eight women met at the house of Mrs. Z.H. Mores house to discuss the allocation of recently donated books to the new town of St. Cloud. This was the very first meeting of the Library Association, then called the Reading Room Society. The formation of this group was the stepping stone for the creation of a public library for the town. At the very first meeting dues were set to ten cents a meeting and that money would go to the purchase of more books. On that day a counsel was also elected. It was decided that Mrs. Charles Bridgman was to be the president and Mrs. L Cramb was to be the vice president.
The ladies met every other Thursday at various members’ homes in the early afternoon and their husbands would join them for supper and discussions after the workday was over. The women of the library association had emigrated from the East coast and had gone to the best boarding schools around. The group wanted to bring their educational backgrounds to the small pioneer town of St. Cloud. After dinner the association read from their own personal libraries and gave prepared talks to continue their education and their pursuit of building a public library where everyone could come and read.
The Reading Room Society was known for their outstanding fundraisers such as outdoor readings, concerts and art shows. With these great skills of fundraising, the Reading Room Society gathered nearly two hundred books – all for public use. The next question was where to put all of these books. The books traveled from home to home for a period of time. It was not until 1883 when the Reading Room Society found the perfect spot for “The St. Cloud City Library” on Fifth Avenue and St. Germain in the back corner of the Edelbrock Building. The St. Cloud City Council adopted this resolution in April of 1883: “That a public library under the provisions of the general law of the state, be established to be known as the St. Cloud Public Library. This was the 7th public library created in Minnesota. On Friday, May 11, 1883, the Directors of the Library Association met to turn their library over to the new city board and then the Library Association adjourned permanently. After only seven years, the room in the Edelbrock building had grown too small for the growing number of books which had reached over 7,000 books. By 1894 the library had moved to three very open rooms in the West Hotel on Fifth Avenue and First St. Sadly, on February 8th, 1901, a fire started and consumed the West Hotel, along with many of the library books and records.
This great tragedy did not stop the Reading Room Society. The day after the fire Mr. Alvah Eastman, the husband to the current Society president, wrote a heartfelt and urgent letter to the well known philanthropist Andrew Carnegie asking for his help to rebuild the library and replace the lost books. Almost immediately, Mr. Eastman heard back from Carnegie who wrote that he would put up $25,000 for the building of the library if the city of St. Cloud could come up with $2,500 annually for maintenance. The work to find the land and raise the money was done in great haste and on October 3rd, 1902 the Carnegie Library was erected on Fifth Avenue and Second St., where the current Wells Fargo building now sits.
The library stayed in this location until moving to a new building downtown St. Cloud in 1979. This location served the community for nearly 30 years until the newest St. Cloud Public Library building opened its doors in 2008. This beautiful building and the long history of the library in St. Cloud speaks volumes for the importance citizens of Central Minnesota place on literary education.
This story in our “This Date In Central Minnesota History” series was written by Stearns History Museum Volunteer Kate Kaluza.