Leadville Library Hosts Open House On Thursday
Many grand events were held during Leadville’s heyday. Elaborate balls were staged in the famous Ice Palace, an underground banquet was held in the Wolftone Mine and U.S. President Harrison’s visit to the Cloud City was a huge fanfare, just to name a few.
Still, it’s hard to believe that one of the most memorable galas was held back in 1904 . . . in the library! More on that story below, but first, the good news about libraries is that they constantly adapt to meet the needs of the public. And the great news about the library in Leadville Today is that this staff has been able to do that, in addition to preserving Lake County’s heritage in a way that is a model of good stewardship.
So if you haven’t been in the building on the corner of 12th and Harrison in a while, take note as the Lake County Public Library is holding an Open House this Thursday, Jan. 19. It’s a great time to check out all of the new digital resources the staff has made available in recent years. Explore their digital resources, learn about the services they offer, it’s a time to ask questions, give feedback and chat with staff. Free refreshments will be provided and attendees will have a chance to play “Learn About the Library Bingo” to win a prize. Perhaps this history of Leadville’s library will help!
The Stacks History of Leadville Library
Right from the very beginning, Leadvillites liked a good party in the stacks. And they had good reason. After all, bringing literature and culture to a rowdy mining town was no easy feat. But thanks to some women’s reading circles (today’s book clubs), together with a woman by the name of Mrs. Mary Louise Stickley, and a generous donation from Dr. Andrew Carnegie, the first public library in Leadville opened its doors on January 8, 1904.
Some years before that, the Leadville Public Library Association was incorporated on August 20, 1897. However, it would be seven years before the structure to keep the books was built; the fundraising campaign for the public library progressed slowly. And while the standard bakes sales and other efforts were well-received, in the end there still was not enough money to lay down the brick.
It was Mrs. Stickley who thought to write a letter to Andrew Carnegie. At this time in history, Carnegie’s dedication to public libraries was legendary. He was often heard to say that it was “the responsibility of rich men to regard surplus wealth as held in trust for public benefit.” The local committee figured why not spread a little of that wealth in the form of literacy for some hard rock miners. Unfortunately, the first two letters to the esteemed philanthropist went unanswered.
In the end, it was a man of the cloth, a Rev. Fleming of Saint George Church who stepped in and helped the funding request “through the friend of a friend,” who knew Carnegie. The third time was a charm!
This lover of libraries eventually responded with a $30,000 donation. As was his style, Carnegie added a stipulation that the public budget would include $3,000 a year for maintaining the new building and its contents – is that still valid? On October 25, 1902 at 1:30 p.m. the cornerstone of the Carnegie Public Library was laid in Leadville at the northeast corner of Harrison and 9th Street. The event was a big to-do, including a request from Mayor McDonald suggesting that businesses closed down from 1:30 – 2:30 that afternoon in order that as many people as possible would have an opportunity to attend the dedication.
People showed up and watched the dedication curiously as the following items were encapsulated into the building: the written correspondence that passed between the local library committee and Dr. Carnegie, a set of coins, newspapers and other documents. The entombed box continues to await the discovery by a future generation as the former library building is presently the home to the Heritage Museum. Next time you pass by, note the Carnegie name displayed on the building.
On January 8, 1904 the library officially opened with a reception for Leadville’s youngest readers. It’s widely reported that the children were so excited by the new books and building that they wore out the library committee during the two-hour party.
But that didn’t stop the adult celebration later that same night, when the grownups got to take in the same stack-tacular sights. The following day’s newspaper declared the evening event as one of the best ever held in the Cloud City. Women wore grandiose gowns; men were in black evening dress . . . in the library!
While the bar was set pretty high for that first “Open House,” the public is enthusiastically invited to this Thursday’s event from 6 – 8 p.m. at the Lake County Public Library! And while you’re there, check out The Leadville Room which houses some of Lake County’s most interesting historic books and documents. Be sure to note the donors plaque on the wall. It has a few empty spaces for contributors. Hey, why not become the next Carnegie in Leadville Today?!
Kathy Bedell © Leadville Today.