Wisconsin Library Heritage Center

The Wisconsin Library Heritage Center is a program of the Wisconsin Library Association Foundation promoting understanding and appreciation of the history of libraries and librarianship in Wisconsin.

Library Heritage Trail


The purpose of this section of the Wisconsin Library Heritage Center website is to serve as a guide to important places and artifacts in Wisconsin library history. It's intended for anyone who might be traveling through the state and is interested in libraries and their history.

Suggestions for other places to add to the Wisconsin Library Heritage Trail are welcome, submit to This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. "> This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

Southeast Wisconsin

Kenosha: Simmons Branch of the Kenosha Public Library
This building was designed by D. H. Burnham in the neoclassical revival style and is located in Library Park.  Built in 1900, it has been fully restored and was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1974. It is a great building and well worth a visit. See pictures of the branch. See pictures of the rennovation of the Children's Room.

Milwaukee: Milwaukee Public Library, Milwaukee, Wisconsin
The 1898 central library of the Milwaukee Public Library is a must see in exploring Wisconsin library history.  Because of its historical prominence, the building has often been featured on various kinds of library memorabilia.  The library has a great permanent display of the office of a librarian.  It's rare book room has examples of the custom designed metal bookcases for the library.


South Central Wisconsin

Beaver Dam: Williams Free Library (now home to the Dodge County Historical Society)
This building was built in 1890-91in the Richardsonian Romanesque Revival style which was inspired by architect Henry Hobson Richardson. It is an outstanding example of this style, and is well worth a visit. The Williams Free Library (now the Beaver Dam Public Library) was one of the first public libraries in the nation to have open stacks. Click here to see a blog entry on the Williams Free Library.

Columbus: The Columbus Public Library was dedicated on November 1, 1912. It was funded with a $10,000 grant from Andrew Carnegie. It was renovated 78 years later in 1990 to increase space and provide a handicapped accessible elevator. The library was added to the National Register of Historic Places and the State Register of Historic Places in 1991. The building was designed by the archictetural firm of Claude and Starck who designed more than 40 libraries in the Midwest including 25 of Wisconsin's 63 Carnegie public libraries. The building, although overcrowded, has been well maintained and is well worth a visit.

Madison: Wisconsin State Capitol
The state capitol building has played a significant role in Wisconsin library history.  The current capitol is the second one built on this site.  During its history, it has housed the State Law Library, the Legislative Reference Library, the Wisconsin Library Commission, and the Cooperative Children's Book Center. It is one of the most beautiful state capitol buildings, if not the most beautiful, in the nation and is well worth a tour.  The Reading Room for the Supreme Court is still housed in the capitol and contains some of the old shelves from the State Law Library when it was in the capitol. These shelves are made out of cast iron and steel and are the same as those designed by Bernard Richardson for the 1897 Library of Congress building (now the Thomas Jefferson Building). In the Assembly chambers there is a plaque honoring Charles McCarthy, the first librarian of the Legislative Reference Library.   

Madison: Wisconsin Historical Society Library
The Library of the Wisconsin Historical Society was established in 1848 making it one of the oldest libraries in the state.  The building in which it is located was built in 1900 to house both the WHS library and the library of the University of Wisconsin at Madison. The library is home to one of the nation's great North American historical collections.  It has a fabulous reading room. One of the most notable artifacts housed in the building is the bookcase that house the original small collection of the Society.


Madison: Memorial Library of the University of Wisconsin - Madison

Stoughton: Opera House and Carnegie Library

The City of Stoughton, Wisconsin has the distinction of having preserved two historic library buildings. An elaborate multi-purpose building which housed the public library in the basement was completed in 1901.  The stone signage on the building says "City Hall 1901 Library".  In addition to the City Hall and Library, the building contained a large city auditorium which became the City Hall Opera House.  The building has been restored and serves as an active cultural and entertainment venue.  More on the building's history can be found here.

Wanting a larger space for the public library, the City sought and received a Carnegie grant of $13,000 to help build a separate public library building which was dedicated in 1908. The building was designed by architects Claude and Starck.  A referendum was passed in 1988 to significantly expand the building. The wrap-around addition preserves the original building.  Recently, the interior of the Carnegie building was restored. More on the library's history can be found here.

Information about the location and hours of the Stoughton Public Library can be found here.

Madison: The University of Wisconsin - Madison
School of Library and Information Studies

Waupun: Waupun Public Library (now home to the Waupun Historical Society)

Northeast Wisconsin

Menasha: Menasha Public Library
This library is worth a visit because it contains a very interesting library artifact, a Tabard Inn Library bookcase.

Plymouth: Plymouth Public Library

The Carnegie library building in Plymouth, Wisconsin has been incorporated into an expanded Plymouth Public Library building. The Carnegie building is preserved in its entirety with a major 1988 addition at the rear of the building. The City of Plymouth received its $10,000 Carnegie grant in 1908, but the building was not completed until 1915. The addition was added to the building in 1988. The main entrance to the expanded building is located at 130 Division Street but the Carnegie building faces E. North Main Street. The Wisconsin Historical Society has determined that the building is eligible to be added to the National Register of Historic Places.


Wabeno: Wabeno Public Library

  • The Wabeno Public Library is located in a log building that was listed on the National Register of Historical Places in 1993. The structure was completed by the Chicago Northwestern Railroad as its land office in 1895 and was given to the City of Wabeno in 1923 to be used as the public library. The building is located at 4556 North Branch St. in Wabeno.  

    Northwest Wisconsin

Cable: The Forest Lodge Library in Cable, Wisconsin has been housed in the same log building since its founding in 1925.  This unique public library facility is certainly worth a visit if you're in northwestern Wisconsin.  The library is located on highway County M in Cable right next to the Cable Natuaral History Museum.

Menomonie: Mabel Tainter Memorial Building (former home of the Menomonie Public Library)
This building was built in 1889 to house a public library, meeting rooms, and a theater.  Like the Williams Free Library in Beaver Dam it is built in the Richardsonian Romanesque Revival style.

Menomonie: The Russell J. Rassbach Heritage Museum in Menomonie is home to one of Wisconsin's most important artifacts - the bookcase which housed Traveling Library #13.  This is one of the original 32 traveling libraries established in Dunn County by Senator James Stout in 1896. Traveling libraries were small rotating collections of books. This first demonstration of the traveling library concept in Wisconsin expanded until there were hundreds of traveling libraries throughout the state. Find out more about Wisconsin's traveling libraries. 


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