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Chicago Public Library
Life Span: 1872-1874
Location: southeast corner of LaSalle and Adams streets
Chicago Tribune, January 2, 1873
The Free Library of the City of Chicago, which was yesterday formally opened to the public, is in many respects the most satisfactory of all the gains which which have resulted to Chicago by reason of the fire, since it is not, as is the case with many other things, marred by the recollection of a loss. We have better buildings than those before the fire, and and still we regret those which were destroyed, but we had no public, no free library, and there was no immediate likelihood of the foundation of one. Willing as our citizens generally are to aid in advancing scientific or literary objects, but few of them seemed to recognize the importance of a great public library, and when the first step was taken it was in England, and not in Illinois.
PRIOR TO THE FIRE
the demand for books was partially met by the library of the Young Men’s Association, and that of the Young Men’s Christian Association, while the Historical Society had a large and valuable collection, though not of a very general character. But these were all swept away, and there was but little probability of their restoration for a long time to come, so that, while the need of a library was as keenly felt as ever, the city was the only instrumentality that could speedily supply the want. Immediately after the fire, several English authors and other gentlemen of prominence determined, instead of aiding Chicago in money or supplies, to send relief in a more durable form, by getting together a collection of books which should serve as the nucleus of
THE FREE LIBRARY OF CHICAGO
books valuable in themselves, but made especially so by the autographs of their writers. The news of the intention was received here with great gratification, and, at a public meeting held Jan. 8, attended by the best citizens, it was determined to get through Legislature such a bill as would enable the city to establish its library and receive this donation. The Mayor and other gentlemen gave the matter their earnest attention; and, finding that a bill had been introduced into the Legislature, early in the year, to enable cities and villages to establish free libraries, they made that the basis of action, and, after undergoing some slight modifications, it became a law.
ACTION OF THE COUNCIL.
Early in April, 1873, the Common Council, under the provisions of this law, passed an ordinance providing for the establishment of a public library, and a few fays after the Mayor nominated Messrs. Thomas Hoyne, D. L. Shorey, Julius Roesenthal, William Woodard, S. S. Hayes, Herman Rasier, R. F. Queal, Elliott Anthony, and J. W. Sheahan as the members of the Board, which organized on the 23rd of April, and elected Mr. Hoyne President.
The next question which arose was, as to where the books were to be stored. It was at one time suggested that the General Government should turn over the site of the Post Office to the city in exchange for that portion of Quincy street which it required for the new Custom House, but that project was finally abandoned, and it was decided to fit up the tank of the old reservoir on Adams streets, around which the temporary City Hall had been built. Before the work, was completed, the original scheme was modified, and provisions was made for the erection of a reading room, immediate adjoining the library, which was to be provided with with the prominent daily, weekly, and monthly publications of the world.
THE OPENING YESTERDAY.
Although the notion of the intended opening of the rooms had been very brief, a large number of gentlemen were in attendance, and began reading the periodicals and papers. Owing to the fact that the covers for many of the unbound periodicals have not yet been received, many of them cannot as yet be handed over for the inspection of the of the public. At 11 o’clock the audience which had assembled in the capacious and comfortable reading room was called to order by the Hon. Thomas Hoyne.
The fifth City Hall, which was built around a water tank on the SE corner of Adams and LaSalle streets. The first Chicago Public Library was housed in the water tank.
AMONG THOSE PRESENT WERE
Superintendent of Public Schools Pickard; Inspectors Wilce and Richburg, of the Board of Education; Commercial Prindeville, of the Bard of Public Works; Aldermen Otis, Cannon, Sherwood, Cosy, McGennies, Bailey, Stone, and others; ex-Alderman C. C. P. Holden; William Henry Smith, Agent of the Associated Press; Thomas Moran, Robert Harvey, Colonel Hammond, Judge Tree, Dr. Wickersham, John Lyle King, Cyrus H. McCormick, David A. Gage, General Stiles, Judge Goodkins, Rev. Robert Laird Collier, Rev. W. N. Powers, Judge Rogers, and the Hon. Artemus Carter.
Chicago Public Library
The Land Owner
Excerpted from Hon. Thomas Hoyne’s Address at the Dedication on January 1, 1873:
The invention of the Mayor came to our aid. And it was found that by his co-operation, with the Board of Public Works, library quarters might be improvised out of the abandoned, and, for some years, useless
built some years ago on this lot as a distributing reservoir for the South Division of the city. Being 60 feet in diameter, 30 feet in height, circular in shape, and constructed of iron, it was capable of becoming a fire-proof rotunda, with room to arrange 1,800 volumes of books on shelves; and, as such, it has been transformed into a library by roofing and shelving. If the objection be made by some that that it is placed too high up into the air for convenience—standing as it does upon a solid brick and stonework of rather ostentatious masonry; about 35 feet high,—yet it towers above the city hall, a stern and dark-looking dome of no means proportions, and when considered in connection with its object, it may be regarded as a beacon light upon a hill; a new reservoir of knowledge, instead of water, shedding light and wisdom upon the counsels of the City Fathers. Taking it, however, as it is—a really safe fireproof receptacle or vault for the keeping of books, and in connection with this large room of 54×50, also constructed for us by the Board of Works—we have every reason to be thankful for the present temporay quarters.
In May, 1874, the books were moved to the Herrick Block at Madison and Wabash, where the first circulating library was established. A year later, the library was moved to the southwest corner of Lake and Dearborn streets, which it remained until the summer of 1886 where it found a new home in City Hall.