By 1875, a small lending library was established above Hitchcock’s drug store in town; when a fire started in the building one of the first thoughts of the people in the community was to save the books.
By 1875, the idea of helping educate and entertain the people of Redwood Falls through books provided via a circulating library was well established through what was known as Watson’s library. A small lending library had been established above Hitchcock’s drug store in town by 1895, and according to history when a fire started in the building one of the first thoughts of the people in the community was to save the books. In the early years after the turn of the century, discussions picked up regarding the establishment of a library in the community, and the city council was having conversations with Charles D. Gilfillan about funding for a library building. Another philanthropist, Andrew Carnegie, also got involved.
Gilfillan had proposed providing a library for the community. His death in 1902 took place before the final plans had been developed, which then led local leaders, including Julius Schmahl, to pursue a different prospective funding source. In the end, Carnegie did provide an allocation of $10,000 to the City of Redwood Falls for the establishment of a free public library. In a letter to Schmahl dated Dec. 10, 1903, a Jas. Bartram, personal secretary for Carnegie, assured if a site could be secured the money would come. As a caveat, the city had to commit to providing no less than $1,000 per year for the maintenance of the building. In February 1904 an architect was hired, and the pro-ject bid of $8,557.80 was approved in May of that year. As a result Red-wood Falls joined the list of more than 1,600 Carnegie libraries across the United States. The new library building was formally dedicated Nov. 11, 1904. While the Gilfillan family was not involved in the funding for the building itself, an allocation of $3,000 was made to the library. That funding was used to help with some of the furnishings, as well as books for the library. When the building was officially opened it was the Women’s Club that was appointed as the temporary librarians, with Mrs. Florence Bowers as the lead. The group served in that capacity until May 1905 when the first librarian was hired. Arabel Martin was named the librarian. Her salary was $35 per month. The commission heading up the library project and maintaining its services over the years did its best to maintain fiscal efficiency, as was indicated early on in the project. The board in November 1904 paid a bill to C.H. Hardy for labor on the grounds. For 64-and-a-half hours of work, Hardy was paid $12.90. The Carnegie library served the community very well for decades, but as issues began to arise for the 32,000 square foot structure many in the community began talking about erecting a new building. In 1991 it began raising funds, and in May 1994 an anonymous donation of $250,000 came in with a challenge for the community to raise another $250,000. “Those were very exciting times,” said Jude Jensen, who served as the head librarian during the construction of the new library building. “The donation from Martin Ehlers (the anonymous donor) really lit the candle for the project.” Jensen said she always considered it the people’s library because it was the community’s support that led to the building of the new facility. “I still get such a warm feeling when I go into that building,” said Jensen. “I love being there and seeing the people. The new library was the right thing to do at the right time.” It was in January 1996 when the move from the Carnegie building to the new facility was done. Jensen remembers a cold January day when the ribbon was cut, and even though it was cold the people came out to celebrate. Jeanne Schneider, who served as the head librarian in the early 1980s, recalled with fondness the old days of the library and the great staff who she worked with over those years. This year the library celebrates its 110th anniversary. The library has definitely changed over the years, as there is so much more than just books to offer. Yet it still maintains its role as the place for a community to learn and have fun doing it.