Written by library staff member Carolyn Branch for the 1984 History of Callaway, published by the Kingdom of Callaway Historical Society. Transcribed by library staff member Kris Breid, April 2004. The photograph at left was taken in 2003.
On February 25, 1907, the Fulton Women’s Club met at the home of Mrs. J. K. Smith. The program for the day included a “most interesting lecture” presented by Professor Willis Kerr of Westminster College. The Professor’s topic was “Books.” It must have been an inspiring speech, because one of the club ladies immediately made a motion to “consider the matter of forming a public library.” The motion carried, launching the Fulton Women’s Club on a major project, which culminated only four years later with the erection of the present library building. Such impressive results in a short period of time were possible only because the whole community became involved in the planning, hard work, and excitement of the “library movement.”
The library first opened on July 2, 1908, in two rooms at the northeast corner of the Odd Fellows Building. While the library flourished in these temporary quarters, the Library Association, led by Mrs. D. R. Kerr, Mrs. W. Ed Jameson, and Judge D. H. Harris, continued to campaign for a permanent library building.
They knew there was a possibility of receiving the donation of a building from Andrew Carnegie if public support could be assured. In order to gain that support, a library tax proposal was placed on the April 1910 ballot. When the tax passed, correspondence with Mr. Carnegie began immediately. In April 1911, he made an offer to provide $12,000 for a library building if the city would “agree by resolution of council to maintain a free public library at a cost of not less than $1,200 per year, and provide a suitable site for the building.”
The city council moved quickly to meet Mr. Carnegie’s requirements. A special election was held May 24. The $4,000 bond issue, which passed with a vote of 280 to 11, provided funds to buy a lot at 709 Market Street. Local architect M. F. Bell, working with Carnegie’s New York representative, soon completed plans for the new building. In September 1911, W. R. Odor was awarded the building contract.
The cornerstone was laid on November 2, 1911, and the library moved into the completed building in July 1912. The library continued to grow with the strong support of many active community clubs. For example, in 1917, the Music Club led a movement to have a wooden floor installed over the cement in the basement meeting room. Eventually, several clubs joined together to pay $61.50 for a new wood floor and stage installed by W. B. Williamson.
Although the library started with less than 500 books, by 1931 the collection had grown to include 8,080. Through the years, this growth continued, and many changes were made to the building’s interior to accommodate the increased number of books and library users.
Several of those changes took place during the 1950s. For the first time, a telephone was installed. In 1951, a hand railing was added to the front steps of the building. Not enough money was available for two railings, one on each side of the steps, so a compromise was reached by placing the one handrail down the center at a cost of $34. 18.
On December 14, 1955, the Fulton Sun Gazette, noting that the population of the city had more than doubled, ran a brief editorial urging that “the city council consider a campaign to enlarge the library’s facilities.” Interior remodeling done three years later, in 1958, included, for the first time, a room set aside especially for children. Regular story hours began the following year.
In 1960, the Fulton Library Board of Trustees and the Fulton City Council entered into a one-year contractual agreement with the Callaway County Library, a unit of the Daniel Boone Regional Library, and in October 1961, the Fulton Free Public Library merged with the Callaway County Library District. A steady growth in the number of people making use of the library over the next five years proved the wisdom of the merger. In 1960, 28,520 books were checked out. By 1965, the number had grown to 44,972.
In 1967, the Callaway County League of Women Voters led a campaign to remodel the library building and expand library services. The remodeling which followed that successful campaign included sacrificing the basement meeting room to make room for a children’s library, and removing two interior walls upstairs to provide a larger reading area for adults. Those closely involved with the library, however, realized this second remodeling was really only a rearrangement of already overcrowded conditions.
The library became a NRC Licensed Public Document Room in 1974. Since no other space could be found for it, the valuable, but voluminous, collection of materials relating to the Callaway Nuclear Plant were housed on top of the card catalog.
Use of the library continued to climb. In 1976, 110,601 books were checked out; circulation had more than doubled since the 1967 remodeling. Seating was becoming an increasingly serious problem. Librarians often noticed students sitting on the basement steps, or on the floor between bookshelves.
By 1977, the problem of overcrowding could no longer be ignored. The board adopted a building program calling for a new county library building and hired Kenneth E. Wischmeyer and Partners to begin its design. The League of Women Voters of Callaway County conducted an in-depth study of the library’s problems and endorsed the building plan the following year.
The Callaway County Board had secured an agreement with the Daniel Boone Regional Library Board that provided that tax revenues generated directly form the Callaway Nuclear Plant would be placed in a special building fund. In the spring of 1980, the board decided to use this money to begin purchasing the property necessary to erect an addition to the library building. By November, the library owned the two lots south of the building on Market Street and the two directly behind it on Court Street.
In 1981, the Friends of the Library and the League of Women Voters of Callaway County led a campaign for a 20-cent library building tax levy. Despite the best efforts of all involved, the levy was rejected by the voters. After a second attempt to pass the levy also failed, the board began to work with the architect to revise the building plans to fall within the scope of the tax levy finances generated from the Union Electric Nuclear Power Plant.
In July of 1983, as the library marks its 75th anniversary, the building program is at last underway. Construction of an addition to the west side of the building will begin in the spring of 1984.
Through the years, the library has flourished because of the faithful and devoted services of librarians, board members, and concerned citizens. Although we can’t list everyone, we hope the following will be useful to future generations.
Gretchen Yates Sapper, 1917
Sallie Coons, 1917-1944
Myra Sharp Deaver, 1918-1919
Grace Patton, 1944-1958
Freida Mittwede, 1957-1978
LaDonna Justice, 1978-present*
Mary Beckham Brown, 1919-1931 and 1944-1955
*present = 1984
Members of the Board
Judge David H. Harris, 1908-1911
Mrs. W. Ed Jameson, 1908-1932
Elizabeth Kerr, 1908-1944
Walter F. Henderson, 1908-1954
Don P. Bartley, 1908-1950
Mrs. E. N. Tuttle, 1908-1948
J.Tandy Bush, 1908-1954
Ada Bush, 1908-1948
Dr. Martin Yates, 1908-1912
Millard Thurston, 1910-1939
R.A. Wells, 1910-1912
Mr. Hales, 1912-1915
Dr. Gage, 1912-1920
J.H. Atkinson, 1915-1916
Baker Terry, 1922-1926
J.B. Reeves, 1923-1946
Dr. Herbert Day, 1930-1933
Harry Fisher, 1935-1956
Frances Dieter, 1939-1944
Arthur Norris, 1941-1943
John Westbrook, 1943-1957
Mrs. Carl Wishmeyer, 1944-1946
Anna J. Tait, 1944-1961
Homer Larsen, 1946-1956
Thelma Dahl, 1948-1953
Mrs. Harold Slusher, 1948-1956
Mrs. W. W. Marshall, Jr., 1951-1965
Carl Lorenz, 1951-1954
Mrs. K. Alfred Danuser, 1952-1960
Mrs. John Randolph, 1954-1960
Rev. Wm. R. Sengel, 1955-1959
Hazel Tutt Long, 1956-1961
Dr. Leon Wilkerson, 1956-1965, 1982-present*
Mrs. Robert Maddox, 1960-1970, 1976-present*
Overton Harris, 1957-1961
Judge John Cave, 1958-1961
Ben Freiberger, 1960-1968
Mrs. H. W. Craig, 1960-1963
David Horton, 1960-1961
Mrs. Joe Grant, 1960-1961
AlR. Maune, 1954-1960
Jewell Renfro, 1963-1965
Raymond Fountain, 1965-1967
Malcolm McDonald, 1965-1970
Mrs. John Wehmeyer, 1965-1971
Mrs. Clay Books, 1967-1972
Elsa (Mrs. Hugh P.) Williamson, 1970-1972,1976-1979
Shirley (Mrs. Ross) Kidwell, 1975-1976, 1979-present*
Lawrence Schell, 1971-1982
Maurice Stack, 1972-1976
Ernest Wagner, 1972-1973
William Wilson, 1972-1973
Walter Herring, 1973-1976
Karen (Mrs. Marty) Wagner, 1973-1976
Pearl (Mrs. H. C.) Ward, 1971-1982
Bernard Simcoe, 1975-1976
Monroe Hopkins, 1975-1983
Joy (Mrs. Carl) Block, 1980-present*
Peggy (Mrs. Andy) Smart, 1981-present*