Coastal Voices: Library marks 100th anniversary

March 06, 2007 11:00 pm

The year 2007 promises to be an historic year for the Del Norte County Public Library. The library will be marking its centennial year and special observances are in the offing.

The earliest I recall of visits to the local library was when it was located in the Masonic Temple and Odd Fellows Hall at Second and G streets. It was not well lighted, and you entered on wooden floors. At that time, the library contained an encyclopedia, a large dictionary, the two weekly newspapers and shelves of mainly non-fiction books.

Most importantly, there were rare books tracing Del Norte County history. Probably the most valuable was the "Del Norte County" history book by A. J. Bledsoe. The original is now carefully preserved by the Del Norte Historical Museum, by the Del Norte County Historical Society, in the former courthouse on H Street. Copies have been printed and are on sale at the museum.

Mildred Duffy was the librarian, and I would find her in the summer wearing a knit wool dress with her feet on the fender of a woodburning stove. She would be reading the Crescent City News and the Del Norte Triplicate, now our daily paper.

Mildred was one of the Duffy sisters who ran the original Blue Roof Restaurant. If one left the library, one could walk a block and a half to the restaurant for lunch. There on a high shelf was their wonderful layered prune cake or you could order the avocado and lime Jello molded salad. If it was a late breakfast, one could cross the street to Shap's Kitchen, owned by the Shapiro's, and enjoy their buttermilk pancakes, or later, the delicious date and walnut pudding topped with whipped cream.

Years of growth

But "Libraries are not made, they grow," Augustine Birrell once said.

According to research done by Kelley Nolan, the acting library director, growth was part of the local library history. She found that the "The Ladies' Library" opened in 1906 with donated books and a volunteer staff.

The library was located in the Del Norte Records building at Fifth and H streets. In 1906 to 1907, the library became the John L. Childs Library located where the Crescent City News was printed. The Williams building at 937 Second Street, later known as the Central Hotel, was the new home in 1907, then known as the Crescent City Free Library. In 1908, the library site was the south side of Second Street in buildings containing the John L. Pevelers Star Motion Picture building, the McLaughlin building and the Mason and Odd Fellows Hall. Still it was on the move.

The county courthouse became the home of the Crescent City Library in 1958 until 1978 when the voters of the county, by a margin of 1,582 to 1,328 agreed to form the Del Norte County Library District. The District boundaries are the same as the Del Norte County boundaries.

From 1978 to 1983, the library remained in the Courthouse complex at 450 H Street, but plans were underway to obtain revenue sharing monies and citizen donations to construct a new building to contain the expanded library collection and services. Land was purchased from the Crescent City Redevelopment Agency, and my trackers tell me the cornerstone for the new edifice is dated 1982. On Feb. 12, 1983, the new Del Norte County Library District building was dedicated at 190 Price Mall, its present location.

There have been 12 library directors since the opening of "The Ladies Library" in 1906. They are: Agnes Maxwell, 1906-1924; Florence Patty, 1924-1926; Mildred Duffy, 1926-1959; Edna Cadra, 1959-1976; Janis Huggett, 1976-1978; John Clarkson, 1978-1980; Pattie Bailey, 1980-1983; John Coultas, 1984-1985; Christine McCollum, 1986-1997; David Cismowski, 1997-1998; Liz McCumsey, 1998-2002; and Patricia Hector, 2003-2006.

Library's purpose

A walking tour would find it hard to locate all of the former library locations as many of the buildings no longer exist. The library today accommodates an expanded collection and services and the internet age still holds much promise. A library's purpose is "to preserve the cultural history of mankind" and great strides have been made locally.

The Library Board and the independent Del Norte Library Foundation are instrumental in advancing the library's service to the community and are looking ahead in the 2007 centennial year.

Leona Pike Hammond is a retired College of the Redwoods-Del Norte instructor and former Del Norte Triplicate staff member.