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.

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Capitol Fire of 1904

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Two of Wisconsin's most significant libraries were dramatically impacted by the fire that began in the late evening of February 26, 1904 and destroyed most of the State Capitol in Madison. Stanley H. Cravens article "Capitals and Capitols in Early Wisconsin" in the Wisconsin Blue Book for 1983-1984 contains an excellent account of the 1904 fire. A pdf version of that article is located HERE. The first library impacted was the Wisconsin State Library (now the Wisconsin State Law Library). Through quick action the library's collection was mostly saved.  Cravens describes the rescue as follows:
 
"University students continued to arrive to aid in the rescue and fire-fighting efforts. Because of thick smoke filling the building, they were unable to use the stairways and several ladders were secured and raised to the windows in the north wing, which contained the State Law Library. Once inside, they began throwing volumes out the windows to snow banks below; others below began stacking the books haphazardly until State Supreme Court Justice R. D. Marshall arrived and organized the students into lines to pass the books hand-to-hand to nearby stores and later, to waiting wagons. According to Solon J. Buck (who later became archivist of the United States), then a senior attending the University of Wisconsin, this effort grew to five to six hundred people 'and it began to get too crowded to work'."
 
The second library impacted, the Wisconsin Free Library Commission, did not fare nearly as well. Henry E. Legler, Secretary of the Commission, described the impact in the Fifth Biennial Report of the Commission. Legler wrote:"The Commission sustained a severe loss by reason of this fire, not only as regards the records, but in the books and material then on hand, and manuscript copies of important publications contemplated.... The Document department [later the Wisconsin Legislative Reference Bureau] which had acquired an exceedingly valuable collection of pamphlets and books, was entirely destroyed.  Much of the destroyed material cannot be replaced, inasmuch as, prior to the fire, most of the state departments had transferred to the Document department the accumulated files gathered for years past.... During the eight years of the Commission's existence, large and useful collections had been made of plans, photographs, and half-tone engravings of library buildings throughout the country, bibliographies, books on library economy, bulletins, reports, blanks, collections of children's books, sample bindings, library devices, and technical tools of every sort.  All of these collections, many of which were thought to be the best extant, were consumed. Of the traveling libraries, 28 were destroyed." Legler continues:  "Libraries throughout the country responded most generously to the request for material.  To the Carnegie library of Pittsburgh, the Commission is indebted for a set of printed cards for 1,000 children's books.  The New York state library sent complete files of its own publications and other library literature.  The public libraries of Cleveland, Providence, Cincinnati, and many older cities supplied valuable publications.  The library of the University of Wisconsin made large contributions of library literature."
 
About the postcard shown above, Cravens writes:"One of the first Madisonians to awake to the sight was 15 year-old Joseph Livermore, who had the presence of mind to use his vest-pocket Kodak to take a most spectacular, if not the only, night photograph of the Capitol fire. Livermore later made copies of the photograph to sell for 10 cents apiece to earn enough money to purchase a bicycle; his father, however, felt the price too exorbitant and made Joseph reduce the price to 5 cents. One of Livermore’s customers was a postcard printer, who ran off and sold hundreds of the postcards, without sharing any of the profits with the boy."
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  • Ginny Moore Kruse says #
    I've never known about this fire. Thank you for such a comprehensive and yet brief report.

WLA Members Meet in Chicago in 1893

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Due to the unfortunate resignation of Klas A. Linderfelt as president of the Wisconsin Library Association (WLA) in 1892 it did not meet formally in 1892 or 1893. However, twelve members of WLA attended the meeting of the American Library Association (ALA) in Chicago in 1893, and they gathered for an informal meeting which is considered to be the second conference of WLA.  As a result of that meeting Reuben G. Thwaites assumed the presidency of WLA. The 1893 ALA Chicago meeting was in conjunction with the World’s Columbian Exposition or World’s Fair. Members of the WLA delegation undoubtedly visited ALA’s library exhibit in the Government Building of the exposition (see postcard above).  They also probably visited the Woman’s Building Library which housed a collection of books written by women from around the world. WLA held its next conference in 1894 in Beaver Dam. Except for 1903 WLA has held a conference every  since 1894. 
 
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Happy 125th Birthday WLA!

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On this date 125 years ago a group of individuals gathered in the office of the State Superintendent of Public Instruction (located in Wisconsin's second Capitol, shown above) for the purpose of establishing a state library association.  At that meeting, a constitution was adopted and officers were elected.  The officers included K. A. Linderfelt, president; R. G. Thwaites, vice-president; and F. A. Hutchins, secretary-treasurer. By this action the Wisconsin Library Association became the sixth state library association created in the nation.  The 125 years of library leadership and support by the association has had a positive impact on all types of Wisconsin libraries and on the library service delivered by those libraries to the people of Wisconsin. As Wisconsin libraries look to the future, it is also a time to acknowledge the tremendous library growth and development that has occurred in the last 125 years. Through good times and hard times Wisconsin libraries have persevered in meeting the information and knowledge needs of the state's residents, and they will continue to do so long into the future.  That's something to celebrate, and WLA along with Wisconsin libraries will be doing this throughout 2016.

Some Libraries Sharing Municipal Facilities

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Appleton Public Library
In the previous blog post I discussed some newly completed “stand alone” library buildings in Wisconsin in 1904.  Libraries, however, often shared a facility with another part of municipal government. This often preceded a separate library building. For smaller communities this was more common.  One example of a larger community where this occurred is the public library in Appleton, WI (see postcard above). Appleton dedicated a new municipal building in 1900. The public library occupied the first floor of the building and the City Hall was located on the second floor. This arrangement continued until 1939 when the City Hall moved out of the building, and the library occupied the entire building. 
Clinton Public Library
The Clinton Public Library (above)shared a building with the city hall and the fire department. The library was located on the left side of the building and the fire department on the right side with the City Hall in the middle. Note the fire lookout tower behind the fire station.
Portage Public Library
The Portage Public Library (above) shared a building with the armory (for Company F) and the city hall. The library was on the left, the armory in the middle, and the city hall on the right.
Stoughton Public LibraryThe Stoughton Public Library shared a building with the city hall and an opera house. 
These are only a few examples of public libraries that shared a municipal facility.

Library Postcards Revisited

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on Friday, February 27, 2015
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Manitowoc Public Library
 
Ripon Public Library
 
Postcards depicting libraries are wonderful souvenirs and also serious historical artifacts. The “golden age” of postcard production and collecting was from 1898 to 1918. That period coincided with the construction of large numbers of library buildings as a result of the philanthropy of Andrew Carnegie and others. These new libraries were the pride of their communities and were the frequent subject of postcards. This was certainly the case in Wisconsin and there are hundreds of different postcards depicting Wisconsin libraries. Many of these have been featured on this website. Pictured above are two of the more unusual postcards featuring Wisconsin libraries. The first depicts the Manitowoc Public Library and is made of aluminum. The second depicts the Ripon Public Library and is made of leather. Both libraries were Carnegie libraries and both postcards were mailed during the first decade of the 20th century. It was during this period that a variety of novelty materials were used for postcards.  Images of Wisconsin library postcards can also be found on Judy Aulik's website "Library Postcards: Civic Pride in a Lost America" and the website of Sharon McQueen and Richard Douglass.

Wisconsin's Library Lions

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on Friday, October 26, 2012
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Oshkosh postcard

By far the most famous library lions are those that grace the front entrance of the New York Public Library's building at Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street. The Oshkosh Public Library in Wisconsin also has a pair of library lions and, like those in New York, they have provided an important visual symbol of the public library. Also like the lions of the New York Public Library, the library lions in Oshkosh are named. They were named Harris and Sawyer in 1977 for two of the prominent early donors to the library.  Earlier this month the Oshkosh Public Library celebrated the 100th anniversary of the installation of the lions in front of the library in 1912. The celebration included a variety of activities including a "Lion's Pride" mini sculpture contest. The lions sit in front of the library that was built in 1900. A major expansion and renovation of the building took place in 1994. The Oshkosh Public Library has a commemorative history of the lions as well as an overall history of the library on its website. The website of the New York Public Library has a page on its lions. There is also a good printed history of the New York Public Library lions titled Top Cats: The Life and Times of The New York Public Library Lions by Susan G. Larkin (Pomegranate, 2006).

 This post was previously published in The Library History Buff Blog.

 

Elroy's Public Library and the Ice Storm of 1922

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I've lived in Wisconsin for 32 years and I've never experienced a serious ice storm. I missed the devastating ice storm of March, 1976. In February of 1922 Wisconsin also experienced one the worst ice storms in its history. During that ice storm ice accumulations ranging from one inch to as high as four inches brought down over 15,000 communication poles and caused $10 million in property damage (an enormous sum at that time). Interruptions in power and communications because of the storm ranged from 2 to 15 days. Elroy, WI was one of the communities that was hit hard by the ice storm. I recently acquired the postcard shown above which documents the impact of the storm around the Elroy Public Library.

Lutie Stearns and the Woman's Congress at Tower Hill, WI

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This article was also posted on The Library History Buff Blog.   

For Women's History Month I thought I would post a story about Lutie Stearns, one of Wisconsin's greatest library pioneers. As often happens, a piece of postal librariana was the stimulus for my engaging in some library history research. I was delighted when I researched a picture postcard depicting the Ann Mitchell Library at Tower Hill, Wisconsin (shown above) to find that there was a link between Tower Hill and Lutie Stearns. Tower Hill is now the Tower Hill State Park, but was originally the summer retreat of Jenkin Lloyd Jones, a prominent Unitarian minister. As is explained in the first issue of La Follette's Weekly Magazine (January 9, 1909), Jones sponsored an annual Woman's Congress at Tower Hill. The guests at the Woman's Congress were limited to twenty-five invited individuals, and the speakers and topics for the Congress were selected by a committee which Lutie Stearns chaired for several years. Stearns at the time was on the staff of the Wisconsin Free Library Commission which she helped to found in 1891. In addition to her advocacy for free public libraries and traveling libraries, Stearns was an outspoken advocate for women and their role in society. Library Journal (October, 1916) reported on on a Library Congress held at Tower Hill in August of 1916. This Congress was also chaired by Lutie Stearns. Librarians from Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan, and North Dakota participated in this informal gathering to discuss library issues and to relax. It is in that Library Journal article which was written by Stearns that mention is made of the Ann Mitchell Library.  It notes that: "The afternoons during the week were given over to informal conferences and visits to the Ann Mitchell Library building on the Tower Hill grounds, which was found to be well supplied with the classics as well as the better part of latter-day literature." I have been unable to determine the identity of Ann Mitchell. Jones was a promoter of women in the ministry so perhaps she was a minister. The library and the building that housed it no longer exist. I also have a blog post about Lutie's speech impediment and her proposal for a book wagon. I highly recommend a book about Lutie for young people titled Books in a Box.

Reedsburg Public Library Carnegie Exhibit

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reedsburg-carnegie-plans.jpgThe first exhibit of library memorabilia sponsored by the Wisconsin Library Heritage Center this year is at the Reedsburg Public Library. It will remain there for the month of January. The exhibit focuses on the Wisconsin library legacy of Andrew Carnegie. This is very appropriate since Reedsburg's Carnegie library building is 100 years old this month. Although the public library now occupies a new building located across the street from the Carnegie building, the Carnegie is still used to house the library's archive collection. I was delighted to find that the library has preserved and framed the original plans for the Carnegie building which were approved by James Bertram of the Carnegie Corporation on March 11, 1911.

One of Seven Sisters in Merrill, WI

Posted by Larry Nix
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merrill-frieze-detail-72.JPGMy wife and I installed the exhibit "Andrew Carnegie's Wisconsin Library Legacy" early this week at the T. B. Scott Free Library in Merrill, Wisconsin. The exhibit is sponsored by the Wisconsin Library Heritage Center. This year is the 100th anniversary of the opening of the Carnegie library building in Merrill. A major addition to the building was completed in 2001. The integration of the older building with the new addition has been done remarkably well. The original Carnegie building was designed by the
architectural firm of Claude & Starck in the Prairie School style pioneered by Louis Sullivan and Frank Lloyd Wright. The Claude & Starck firm which designed over 40 libraries employed the Prairies School style in a number of them. Seven of those library buildings have been referred to as the "seven sisters" because they share as a design element an ornamental frieze designed (or based on a design) by Sullivan. Wisconsin is the location of four of the seven sisters (Barron, Evansville, Merrill, and Tomah). The others are located in Rochelle, IL, Detroit Lakes, MN, and Hoquiam, WA. The T. B. Scott Free Library has conducted a number of activities to celebrate the centennial of its building during 2011. On Nov. 6, Ellsworth Brown, Director of the Wisconsin Historical Society will make a presentation at the library titled "Andrew Carnegie: The Great Library Benefactor's Life & Mission". It's really great to have the Carnegie exhibit in a Carnegie library building. The exhibit will continue through the end of the year. (This post is also being published on the Library History Buff Blog)

Eau Claire's Early Public Library Buildings

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The public library in Eau Claire (now named the L.E. Phillips Memorial Public Library) has benefited from the generosity of several benefactors over the years. An online history of the early years of the public library can be found HERE. In 1894 the library was given rent free space in the new Ingram Building by lumberman Orin H. Ingram. The Ingram Building is shown in the first postcard above. In 1902 a grant of $40,000 was obtained from Andrew Carnegie for a new library building and the grand opening of the building was held on April 21, 1904, just over 106 years ago. A copy of the letter requesting the grant from Andrew Carnegie is located HERE. The second postcard shows the exterior of the Carnegie building and the third postcard shows the interior.


Wisconsin's Early Seminary Libraries

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Two of Wisconsin's oldest libraries are connected to seminaries that date back to the 1840s. The Nashotah House Library is part of the  Nashotah House Episcopal Seminary that was founded in 1842. It is pictured in the first postcard shown above. It is located in Nashotah, Wisconsin which is off of I-94 25 miles west of Milwaukee. The Salzmann Library is affiliated with the St. Francis de Sales Seminary, a Catholic seminary, located in St. Francis, Wisconsin which was founded in 1845. The Salzmann Library, shown in the second postcard, serves a larger community which include anyone who works or volunteers at the parishes, schools, and ministries in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee.


Angie Cox's Library

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pc-wi-pardeeville-72.jpgIn 2010 the Angie W. Cox Public Library in Pardeeville will celebrate the 100th anniversary of the gift of books from Angie W. Cox that eventually evolved into the public library that exists today. The history of the library is chronicled by Thomas A. Reinbeck and Steve Thompson on the library's website. Angie Williams Cox (1870-1955) played a continuing role through financial contributions to the development of the library that bears her name. A major milestone in the library's history was its legal establishment as a corporation (but not as a public library) in 1925. The Articles of Organization for the library were signed by the library board on October 24, 1925 and the State of Wisconsin granted it corporation status on November 5, 1925. A major controversy developed over a provision in the Articles of Organization that prohibited Catholics from serving on the library board. The controversy led to a legal battle over the support of the library by the City of Pardeeville. The legal issue was finally resolved by the Wisconsin Supreme Court in 1929. It determined that the provision prohibiting Catholics on the library board did not prevent support by the City as long as the library was open to all members of the public. In 1985 when Columbia County became a member of the South Central Library System, the Division for Library Services required that the Pardeeville library be established as a public library under Wisconsin Statutes in order to become a member of the library system. It complied with this requirement. The building shown in the postcard above was dedicated on August 26, 1934. It was the result of a major remodeling of an existing building which was accomplished with contributions from Angie Cox. The library continues to occupy this building today.


WLA 119 Today

Posted by Larry Nix
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pc-wi-madison-capitol-72.jpgOn February 11, 1891 (119 years ago today) a group of librarians and educational leaders gathered in the office of the State Superintendent of Public Instruction for the purpose of organizing the Wisconsin Library Association. At that time the State Superintendent's office was located in the State Capitol.  Among those in attendance were K. A. Linderfelt, Librarian of the Milwaukee Public Library; R. G. Thwaites, Secretary of the State Historical Society; Frank A. Hutchins, Township Library Clerk of the Department of Public Instruction; E. A. Birge, Professor of Zoology at the University of Wisconsin; Minnie M. Oakley at the State Historical Society and formerly Librarian of the Madison Public Library; and Issac S. Bradley, Assistant Librarian of the State Historical Society. Theresa West Elmendorf, Assistant Librarian of the Milwaukee Public Library, played an important role in bringing the meeting about but was not present at the meeting. At the meeting Linderfelt was chosen as President, Thwaites as Vice-president, and Hutchins as Secretary-treasurer.  The first conference of the Association was held in Madison on March 11, 1891. The State Capitol building shown above was where WLA was born. That building was destroyed in a fire in 1904.


Former De Pere Public Library

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Thanks to Paul Nelson's Retiring Guy's Digest Blog I recently became aware of a story in the Green Bay Press Gazette about the former De Pere Public Library building. I have a postcard of the building which is shown above. I found out more about the building and its history from a survey of Wisconsin's historic public libraries which was conducted by the Wisconsin Historical Society in 1999. According to the survey the building was designed by the Green Bay architectural firm of Foeller, Schober, and Berners and was erected in 1936 but because of some delays it wasn't opened until 1937. The building is described as a one-story Colonial Revival building that is C-shaped in plan, wrapping around a courtyard garden. It is finished with random, coursed limestone. Below is more about the historic timeline for the De Pere library. The source for some of this information is a paper by Michael C. Vande Hei written in 1985 and entitled "History of the De Pere Public Library 1896-1968".


Public library service in De Pere, Wisconsin dates back to 1878 when a public library was established in the Congregational Church by Reverend E. P. Salmon. In 1889 a public library board was organized to oversee the Salmon collection. The City of De Pere acquired the collection in 1896. In 1937 the public library opened in a new building which was partially funded by the Public Works Administration, a federal program. An addition was added to the building in 1963. In 1968 the De Pere Public Library became part of the newly created Brown County Library. The 1937 building was closed in 2003 and the library was moved to the new Kress Family Branch Library.


Milwaukee Soldiers Home Library

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The postcard above shows the historic Wadsworth Library which was built in 1891 and is part of the National Soldiers Home complex in Milwaukee. It is also now part of the Northwestern Branch, National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places. The Soldiers Home complex was like a village and included, in addition to the library, residential buildings, a post office (Wood, Wisconsin), a recreational hall, and a chapel. The Milwaukee Soldiers Home Foundation has been established to help preserve and restore the buildings in the complex. The Wadsworth Library is designated as Building #3 in the complex and was named for a member of the Board of Managers of the National Homes for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers. At one point the library which served those living at the home had as many as 23,000 books. On June 30, 1998, a fire heavily damaged the library and its contents. The historic district is part of the Milwaukee Veterans Administration Medical Center complex on Milwaukee's west side.


Addendum:


Patricia Lynch provides this additional information about the Wadsworth Library:


The Wadsworth Library continues to serve patients of the Clement J. Zablocki VA Medical Center. It is open year-round on a regular basis and receives special attention during Reclaiming Our Heritage, the annual veteran tribute and living history event at the VA Medical Center the weekend after Memorial Day. During the event it is open to the general public and is filled with displays on the history of the library and other exhibits. The West Side Soldiers Aid Society supports, among other worthy causes, the Milwaukee VA patient libraries. Information on Reclaiming Our Heritage is available at www.forohmilwaukee.org.


 
 


Recent Comments Show all comments
  • David Pilgrim says #
    Hello, My name is Dave Pilgrm. My great great grabdfather fought in the civil war for the 29th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry. He d...
  • Larry Nix says #
    Thanks Patricia for this very helpful information.
  • Patricia A. Lynch says #
    The Wadsworth Library continues to serve patients of the Clement J. Zablocki VA Medical Center. It is open year-round on a regular...

Clarence S. Hean, Agricultural Librarian

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alaconfpc2-72.jpgA postcard mailed in March of 1911 to announce the American Library Association Conference in Pasadena, California provides a link to one of Wisconsin's longtime special librarians. When Clarence S. Hean received this postcard he had been the Agricultural College Librarian and the University of Wisconsin for three years. He didn't complete his service in that position until June, 1952, a span of 44 years. The library he directed is now the Steenbock Memorial Library. A group of letters exchanged with Nobel Laureate Joshua Lederberg relating to Hean's retirement is located here. The 1911 ALA Pasadena Conference was the conference at which Theresa West Elmendorf was elected the first woman president of the American Library Association. Elmendorf is a member of the Wisconsin Library Hall of Fame.


WLA 1905 Conference

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The postcard above was mailed to the Public Library in Galena, Illinois on February 14, 1905. The picture side of the postcard shows the Beloit Public Library and has the written message: "You are cordially invited to attend the meetings of the Wis State Lib. Asst. on Feb. 22-23 -". It is signed  M. W. Bell.  The postcard is part of a postcard collection that was collected by Anna Felt, a trustee and benefactor of the Galena Public Library.  "M. W. Bell" was Martha W. Bell, the Library Director of the Beloit Public Library. The Wisconsin Library Association meeting was the 15th annual meeting of the association which was established in 1891, and it took place in Beloit on February 22 and 23, 1905. The announcement of the meeting was made in the first issue of the Wisconsin Library Bulletin which was published in January, 1905. A report of the meeting was included in the second issue of the bulletin. Attending the conference were 29 representatives of free public libraries which included both trustees and librarians, four representatives of school and college libraries, one representative of a subscription library, and one representative of a traveling library. H. P. Bird, President of the Association, made the following opening statement: "The one purpose in view friends is to enlarge the understanding, widen the intellectual view, and so increase the happiness, the usefulness and the capacity of our citizens, one and all."  H. P. Bird was a State Senator and had incorporated a library in the recreational center which he had built in Wausaukee for lumberjacks. All the sessions of the conference were held in the new Beloit Public Library which had received a grant from Andrew Carnegie. Conference attendees were also able to visit two other Carnegie financed libraries in Rock County - the Beloit College Library and the Janesville Public Library.


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  • Joan Goertz says #
    I have a postcard of the Beloit College Library, Beloit, Wis. dated November 9, 1905, sent to a Mrs. J.S. Campbell in New Have Con...

Milwaukee Public Library Postcards

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As might be expected, there is a direct correlation between the grandeur of a library building and the number of postcards that have depicted the library building. So it is not surprising that the Central Library of the Milwaukee Public Library which was completed in 1898 is depicted on a great many picture postcards. In my personal collection, I have over 20 different Milwaukee Public Library postcards. The year 1898 is significant in the world of postcards since this is the year that Congress authorized Private Mailing Cards that could be mailed at the one cent rate. Previously postcards required postage of two cents. This was the beginning of what is considered to be the golden age of picture postcards which lasted until the beginning of World War I.  There is nothing special about the view of the Milwaukee Public Library on the postcard which is shown above. However, the address side of the postcard shows that this card was carried on the LZ127 Zeppelin air ship from Lakehurst, N. J. to Friedrichshafen, Germany and back. This make the postcard very special to philatelist who collect mail that has been flown on Zeppelins. The postcard below is an unusual double postcard which is twice the size of a standard postcard.

 


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Historic Library Buildings That House Museums

Posted by Larry Nix
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Any library building that is older than fifty years is considered to be historic. Some historic library buildings continue to serve as libraries usually with additions.  Others are razed so the lot they stand on can be used for a new library or for another use. Still others survive as buildings but are used for other purposes.  One of the more positive alternative purposes for these buildings is to serve as a local history museum. Historical societies realize the importance of preserving historic buildings and they make them accessible to the public. There are several of these in Wisconsin. The Carnegie library building in Darlington which is pictured on the envelope above now serves as the home of the Lafayette County Historical Society Museum. The Antigo Carnegie library building shown on the postcard below serves as the home to the Langlade Historical Society. Other historic library buildings  occupied by museums that I am aware of include those in Beaver DamRacine, WaupacaWaupun, and Wisconsin Rapids. A down side to these buildings is that they are often not fully accessible to those with disabilities.



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  • Andy Barnett says #
    South Wood County Historical Museum is the former TB Scott Library. http://www.swch-museum.com/ (with museum photo) http://www.mcm...

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