A history of the Shelton Library 1887-1924

By Terry Nelson

City Hall Dedication 1914

Council rooms of the town hall were opened as a reading room for men in connection with the library. The reason was simple. “Men could come and read the books and newspapers and would be unmolested by children in the library.”

-February, 1920, The Journal

Apparently the librarian didn’t shush children in 1920. The change mentioned above came after the new town hall and library opened August 1, 1914. In a photo taken that day a crowd of people surrounds the building; on the left is a horse and buggy and on the right an automobile. The building that attracted so much attention that day now houses the Mason County Historical Society, but in 1914 it was Shelton’s first public library (though there is some evidence the library did not fully open until 1916). You can still see automobiles around the museum, but a horse and buggy, like a separate reading room for men, is a thing of the past.

But that was not Shelton’s first library. The 1914 library, like the automobile, was something for a new age. In looking at the history of libraries in Shelton we see how they grew and what libraries meant to the community.

In 1887 James Tusten brought books to Sheltonville, the town’s name at the time. On January 6th, 1888, Grant Angle 0f the Journal was lending books to the public; the books being housed at the Journal’s office. At the time Sheltonville had less than 400 citizens, but there was a growing interest in books.

In 1890 more books arrived. A subscription fee of $3-keeping in mind that would be around $82 in today’s currency-entitled a member to buy three additional books from a catalog to add to the library, but they could keep those books for one year before they became a permanent part of the library. The books, around eighty at the time, then belonged to all members.

Whether this was successful is unknown, but in 1904 the Ladies Library Association announced plans for a library to open in a corner of O’Neil’s store. Anyone could become a member for $1 (about $30 today). But one still had to pay a 25 cent deposit for the checked out book, though a higher deposit was charged based on the book’s value and you were also charged 1.5 cents per day. You could check out a book for one week, but the library was open only on Saturday afternoon. People donated books from their libraries to help the cause. Today Friends of the Library also takes donations, not for the library, but books to sell to the public to raise funds in support of the library’s budget for children and teen programs.

According to the granddaughter of David Shelton in a Journal article of October 12, 1972, her mother, Mary Shelton Cypert, housed the library in her home in 1904 and that Henry Clay also housed a circulating library. Mary may have housed the library before it opened at the O’Neil store.

At the July 4th celebration of 1904 a benefit baseball game was played and $128 (about $ 3,500 in today’s dollar) was raised for the Ladies Library Association, a clear indication of community support for books and libraries.

The library continued to grow and moved to a small office in the back of the Lincoln School on Cota Street. And moved again with their over 600 books to the back of A.L. Insurance office on the corner of 3rd and Railroad in the AOUW building. It was open from 2 to 4:30 on Friday.

Then we came to the 1914 opening. The town hall opened in August, but the library did not open until March 4, 1916. At the 1914 dedication of the new town hall and library it was suggested by Mayor Reed that citizens donate any books they had for the library and many did, and some donated money to buy books. By 1917 the library had 1, 316 books plus magazines. A Borrowers card entitled a patron to one work of fiction and a “reasonable” number of non-fiction for two weeks. Some books could only be checked out for one week and were not renewable. A fine was imposed of a penny per day for overdue books.

The difference from earlier libraries was that the 1916 library was public, not membership driven. The building at 5th and Railroad was, of course, multi-purpose. It was also the town hall and had a fire truck in the rear of the building. The city’s first librarian, Sara Philben, had an office; there was a ladies restroom and two reading rooms separated by folding doors that could be pulled apart for large meetings.

By 1922, the library was growing so fast that the city council authorized funds for a new building on 2nd and Franklin and when the building was finished in 1924, council meetings, as well as American legion meetings, met in the new building, thus affording the library to better serve the public with larger space. So, in a sense, the library kicked out city government. The power of books.

What is apparent through the decades is the support of the public, for if it were not for the power of what books can do to enhance knowledge, education, and entertainment, and people thirsting for what the library offered, it could not have developed and grown.

You no longer have to buy membership, just fill out a form, get a card, and check out a book. In this century, like the automobile, the library is still a big part of our life.

Library interior,1930

The Library circa 1930.

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