Our historical records tell us that West Chicago had a library as early as 1879, back in the day when the town was informally known as Turner Junction. Like many things in our community, the first library had the railroad to thank! A railroad excursion trip from Turner Junction to Lake Geneva, made up of eight cars, raised money for the early reading room, which was housed in an old office building on North Street (today’s Washington Street).
The early library struggled though and by 1886 had turned its holdings over to North Side School for safekeeping.
In 1894, a committee of eight residents came together and formed the Turner Reading Room & Library Association, renting two rooms in the Bolles Opera House. In return for the rent paid, Mrs. Bolles put all the proceeds back into the library, purchasing books and donating them. Fundraisers were held to help raise money for the Association, all with the hope that the township would pass a tax to fund the library in the spring of 1897. Sadly, the vote of 258 against to 148 in favor, showed the community was not quite ready to pay for free access to books.
The library effort finally got a new champion in 1929 when Harriette Hills helped the Woman’s Club open a small library in a corner of the City Council Chambers in the Town Hall at 132 Main Street (today’s City Museum). Money was donated to fund the volunteer library by the West Chicago Woman’s Club, DuPage Soft Water Laundry, the Lions Club, the Garden Club, and the Young Mother’s Club.
In 1934, the City took over the library, collecting a small tax to fund the operations. The following year, the City opened a rented space for the library on the first floor of 102 Main Street. Miss Helen Hartman was appointed the first librarian by a City appointed Board that included Mrs. T.L. Jones, Mrs. A.H. Almendinger, Mrs. R.B. Bond, John Elliott, Miss Helen Isherwood, George Murphy, Paul Dempsey, and William R. Tye under the presidency of Miss Harriette Hills. A story hour for children was started and quickly became popular enough to be scheduled every Saturday morning throughout the year.
The City purchased a lot at 332 E. Washington Street in 1948, and broke ground on a new library building on May 15, 1953. A second wing was added in 1958.
In 1986, the West Chicago Public Library District was formed as a result of a successful referendum converting the library from a municipal library to a district library. Plans were soon put in place to put a new referendum on the ballot to provide monies for a new, and much needed, larger building. On November 5, 1991, West Chicago voted yes and $3,825,000 was designated for a new building. A groundbreaking ceremony was held on August 15, 1992, at 118 W. Washington Street and the new library opened on October 9, 1993.
Join the City Museum in helping the West Chicago Public Library District to celebrate their 25th Anniversary in their building on Friday, October 5th from 5-8:30pm. Stop in the Library during open hours to see the City Museum’s display about what came before the current library building at 118 W. Washington Street and starting in November you can purchase your own piece of West Chicago library history with the Friends of the West Chicago City Museum’s latest holiday ornament commemorating the 25th Anniversary of the current library building!