History

Beginnings

Compiled and Appended by Robert E. Hafeman

1989, updated 1997

To understand the beginnings of the Stinson Memorial Library necessitates pre-dating it by eighty-some years to the birth of its benefactor, Robert Burns Stinson.

Stinson was born in Montogomery County, Pennsylvania on December 6, 1830 and died in Anna, Illinois on October 11, 1903. Anna had been his home for 54 years, as he had moved there in 1849 with his parents. Prior to this, the Stinson’s had migrated to the Mariposa Valley, in California, during the years of the Gold Rush. As the ‘Rush’ gradually waned, the Stinson’s decided to join their close friends, the Phillip H. Kroh family, in returning to the Midwest. Kroh was originally from Anna, and Robert Burns Stinson, arriving there as a young man, remained the rest of his life (Census 1883).

In the Census of 1860, Stinson is listed as a laborer, although as in what capacity, there is no direct reference. In 1862, he is enrolled in Company F of the 60th Infantry of the Army of the Republic under the command of Colonel Silas C. Toler of Jonesboro, Illinois, the neighboring County Seat and the town which borders Anna.

Enrolled as a 2nd Lieutenant, Stinson fought in the Civil War Battle of Corinth in 1862 and was promoted to Captain. Battles in Mufreesboro, Nashville and Chattanooga in Tennessee, and in Dalton, Georgia (southwest of Chickamauga) followed. In 1864, he participated in the Atlanta Campaign which included the bloody conflicts of Dallas, New Hope Church and Kenesaw Mountain, earning a commendation for his gallantry at Jonesboro, Georgia on September 1st of the same year.

The 60th Infantry again battled in Chattanooga as the campaign moved on in the ‘March-to-the-Sea’, proceeding to Atlanta and, finally, into Savannah on December 21, 1864. Stinson had marched there with General Sherman, and he returned to Anna at the conclusion of the war, a local hero.

By the years 1877-1880, Stinson was Treasurer of the Commission operating the Anna State Hospital, the second such hospital in the State of Illinois. (The hospital was changed to a Mental Health Center in the mid-twentieth century, as the ebb and flow of the fashionably and politically correct descriptions shifted from the phrase ‘State Hospital’ to this more acceptable connotation. Even the town name is no longer used, as then Governor Jim Thompson of Illinois rededicated the facility as the Clyde Choate Mental Health and Developmental Center, re-named after a long-time local politician. He made the announcement in the town of Steelville, Illinois; a safe distance from the protestations of the Anna townsfolk.) By the 1880’s, Stinson is Alderman of the Third Ward and a successful business man, owning a barrel factory that could produce up to 500 barrels per day (Perrin 1883). Being a member of the Presbyterian Church may very well have influenced Stinson in his attitude toward philanthropy. A certain Mr. Willard, an ancestor to a future Stinson Library assistant (who is unceremoniously relieved of her duties in the year of 1918) (Alden 1918), was a leading citizen and had richly endowed both the church and the Union Academy, which was the county high school. Perhaps because Willard had beaten him to the punch with contributions to the high school and the church, Stinson was moved to find another ’cause’. However, the argument might be made that he was in fact a well read man, and, from all accounts, a well liked and community minded soul, and may have intended to bequeath a library to the town of Anna and the people of Union County long before he had drawn his his last Will and Testament. The Will, however, was made only a short time before his passing, which leads to speculation. Nevertheless, in an apparent unexpected turn of events, Robert Burns Stinson bequeathed $50,082.00 to the City of Anna for the establishment of a library in 1903 (Stinson 1903.) Stinson’s wife had preceded him in death and they had been childless, leaving the library as the main recipient of his fortune. According to an informal and speculative conversation with an economist (who shall remain nameless) from theUniversity of Illinois, the sum of $50,082.00 would be worth somewhere in the vicinity of 2.5 to 3 million dollars today, using a conservative multiplier to adjust for inflation. Consequently, although a prominent citizen of the community had passed away, there was reason for joy in Anna.

A handwritten copy of Stinson’s will (1903) was found in a conglomeration of newspaper clippings, handwritten notes and library correspondence, stuffed in a drawer of what may be the original card catalog, hidden behind stacks of yellowing paperbacks, in the intended Librarian’s Room. The actual military and governmental commissions of Stinson were sent to the library in 1936 by his great niece for preservation (Annual Report, 1936), and were located in and around the same area.

The first library board was formed in January, 1904, and agreed to abide by the terms delineated in Stinson’s will. The initial board members were appointed by Mayor W.M. Eddleman and were:

The Reverand Dr. H.L. McGill (later elected president)
John Spire
Oliver Alden ( a relative of a future Stinson librarian)
H.F. Bussey
John T. Jackson (president of the National Bank)
A. Ney Sessions (owner/operator of Anna Gazette Newspaper)
E.E. McLaughlin
Jessie E. Lentz
Charles H. Otrich

 

After McGill was chosen president, A Finance Committee was set up to invest the principal (Minutes 1904).

Among the initial investments made were stocks and bonds, the Illinois Central Railroad, the Anna Ice and Cold Storage Company, personal loans to community members which returned a percentage profit and various and changing interests as the library board deemed fit. Also, to note, in 1917, the library board fought for a tax-exemption on its investments and principal by retaining an attorney and pleading its case before the Illinois Supreme Court. They lost (Annual Report 1904-17).

In 1913, approximately ten years after the Stinson bequest, the board had nearly $25,000 in its coffers. This was determined to be the figure for library construction. In his will, Stinson had designated that the library be “fire-proof”. When the Great Chicago Fire occurred on October 8, 1871, Stinson was forty years old, and just at the beginning of his public career. The stipulation that the library be “fire-proof” may have been a result of the memory of the Chicago Fire. On the other hand, it may have been just the built-in protection most wealthy businessmen tend to make for their investments. Perhaps it was simply due to the material involved – books and paper – and Stinson was following the rules of common sense that would warrant the use of non-burnable materials to construct the building. Finally, it may have just sounded good to Stinson at the time. (Although, there was probably very little that sounded good to him at any time during the making of his will in that it was drawn up two weeks before he died, as he had fallen to ill health while at a gathering of veterans in Carbondale, Illinois (Gazette 1903). Whatever the reason, this stipulation of “fire-proof” may have been a determinant in the choice of architect, and it is this choice that has had the greatest impact on the uniqueness and importance of the Stinson Memorial Library as an architectural structure.

On Thursday, January 30, 1913, a Mr. Mangold (later to become a Board member) was appointed by the Board to report on the preparation of the lot designated for library construction, and in a special meeting on February 14, 1913, reported that a bid of $275.00 had been put forth “orally” by A.A. Crowell for purchase of the house and barn located on the proposed grounds. The designated property is located at the junction of Main and High Streets, and is a prominent corner piece of land, flanking the town’s main thoroughfare. No documentation has been discovered which clearly delineates how the library fell claim to this property, but it may have been one of its investments from the original endowment. The Board agreed to Crowell’s bid, stipulating that he remove also the building’s foundation stone and generally clean up the area (Minutes 1913).

To give a feeling of the place in time that we are dealing with, liberty has been taken to denote some events that were taking place during the same period of time, on a somewhat larger scale:

During the year 1913,

§         in Annapolis, Maryland, the Turkey Trot is forbidden, and partners must keep a three-inch space between them

§         the first telephone line is inaugurated between New York and Berlin

§         Jim Thorpe, Native American Track and Field wonder, is stripped of his Olympic   honors because of his played in a professional sport

§         Richard Nixon is born

§         New York’s Grand Central Station Terminal is opened

§         British suffragettes destroy the London-Glasgow telephone line

§         the New York Commission in Albany reports widespread violations of child labor laws

§         and as a last resort, a Michigan surgeon implants a dog’s brain in a man’s skull

Back to Anna, and back to the future in 1912.

Although brief mention of securing an architect was brought up in the Board minutes in the spring of 1912, these motions were either tabled or somehow not moved upon in the official documentation until September 10, 1912. At a special meeting of the Board, Walter Burley Griffin is nominated by Board member Jackson (President of the Anna National Bank), and seconded by Sifford (a town merchant), to be employed as the library architect. Closed door sessions may have brought this about, but another explanation, common in small rural communities seems more plausible, and is even hinted at in a note found while rummaging through records at the library, namely, the ‘good-ol-boy’ network. Incidentally, the motion carried.

C.E. Kirkpatrick, successor to E.E. McLaughlin in 1905 as a Board member, had a son who had attended the University of Illinois from 1895-1899. At the same time, Walter Burley Griffin was a student of architecture at the same institution. In a typed square of paper found on the back of a dilapidated notebook next to the librarian’s desk under a pile of newspaper, was a note stating that Walter Burley Griffin was appointed architect of the library project because he was a friend of Harlo Kirkpatrick, C.E.’s son. Whether either of the Kirkpatrick’s realized how good Griffin was, what his style of architecture might be, or of his dedication to the construction of “fire-proof” buildings is not clear. What seems apparent is that, as luck would have it, this manner of selection worked. There is no other mention of any design competition or other competing architects, and, as a result, Griffin’s only public library was in its first stage of development, as was one of his last American designs.

It is difficult to determine, and even more difficult to imagine, that Griffin did not visit the southern Illinois site prior to rendering the design. He may very well have visited the area while still a student at the University. However, there is no record of this occurrence. The only known documents relating to Griffin’s activity are his acceptance of the architectural commission which is recorded in the Board meeting minutes (Minutes 1912), and rare correspondence with his letterhead on the stationary (Byrne 1914).

Why then, is this building historic?

A brief examination of Griffin, and later of the building will hopefully illuminate the idea.

An advocate of using materials indigenous to the area, Griffin’s use of limestone is one of the compelling features of the structure. In the late 1800’s, the Presbyterian Church of Anna was constructed using limestone, but with neatly cut blocks and butter-style tuck pointing. Griffin’s limestone usage may have been derived from this, but the rocks are neither cut square nor do they exhibit much joint work. They rather look as if they had been stacked according to natural size and texture, conveying a feeling of mass and authority.

Griffin was born on November 24, 1876. He attended Oak Park High School near Chicago, and, as was previously mentioned, graduated from the University of Illinois in 1899 with a degree in architecture. He also became intrigued with landscape at this point and it remains a mainstay in his later architectural work.

Upon graduation, he moved to Chicago and Steinway Hall in the Downtown area in order to establish a practice. The following year, he went to work in the office of Frank Lloyd Wright.

Griffin worked as the Office Manager for Wright, and, as was the custom in Wright’s firm, ideas were openly discussed and projects worked upon jointly. However, Wright’s name was the only one to appear upon the finished drawings (Birrell 1964).

In 1905, Wright and Griffin part ways over money owed to Griffin by Wright, and it is not until 1910 that Griffin’s work is again linked to Wright’s in the landscaping of Milliken Place in Decatur, Illinois. The year 1910, also found Griffin in the international competition for the design of Canberra, the Australian capital city. In 1912, the same year Griffin is appointed the architect for the Stinson Memorial Library, he wins the competition in Australia. He had, at this point, completed projects for over twenty domestic residences and was engaged in two projects that would mark the end of his domestic career – the Stinson Library and the J.G. Melson home in Mason City, Iowa. It is presumed that the Melson house is his last American work (Johnson 1977).

Again, the question, why is this historic?

First, as Griffin’s legacy grew, so did his maturity as an architect. His designs are shown to be distinctly different from those of Wright. Griffin viewed the blending of architecture with the environs, combined with the slight lift of verticality and the massing of sheer walls of concrete, the preferred mixture of functional design and organic aestheticism. Wright did not employ the verticality, but envisioned his structures as horizontally rising from the ground. In the design of the Stinson Library, as is stated by Paul Spraque, Architectural Historian and Architect from the University of Chicago, Griffin surpasses Wright in expressionism:

With the bold expressionistic forms and textures of the Stinson Library, Griffin moved ahead of his master, Frank Lloyd Wright, whose developed expressionistic style did not appear until late in 1913 with his design for Midway Gardens in Chicago. Thus the Stinson Library stands as a pivotal work in the evolution of early modern architecture in the United States (Sprague 1977).

This statement was written in 1977, the same year that the Stinson Library was nominated for the National Register of Historic Places. In June of 1978, the library was included in the National Register.

Structural History

Compiled and Appended by Robert E. Hafeman

Architecturally, the Stinson Library, as was mentioned earlier, was made from limestone. This was quarried on the farm of Dr. Rich near Jonesboro, 1-1/2 miles to the west and home of the County Seat. Jesse Parker was the stone cutter, and the limestone was transported to the construction sight on sledges pulled by oxen (Notes 1978).

The exterior parts of the library which are not limestone are reinforced concrete, with the entry steps being faced with Tennessee marble. Inside, the scheme uses heavy fumed oak beams as room dividers, and the rough plaster walls that were originally painted olive and yellow greens are now painted a light shade of yellow. The original floor covering was cork, and the band of stained glass which encompasses the building almost entirely, adds color to the natural light. Indirect electric lighting fixtures, sunk into the oak beams, were the majority of interior illumination sources with at least two ceiling fixtures, located near the front entrance, designed in stained glass by Griffin. The style of the stained glass anticipates the later style of Mondrian, with parallel and perpendicular rectangles and boxes combined to add interior color, without sacrificing theme.

There have been few alterations to the building, but those that have occurred, have had an impact. The indirect lighting was insufficient and was replaced by fluorescent lighting. An ornate wrought iron balustrade has been added by the steps on the exterior. Air conditioning was added in 1968, and the ducts were placed atop the oak beams. This has effectively blocked the light from the clerestory windows, which were intended to provide natural illumination from room to room. The air conditioning keeps the library cool, but the ducts give the library an unfortunate cave-like effect. The cork flooring has been replaced by cushioned vinyl. The auditorium was carpeted for the first time in 1988. A new circulation desk was added in 1990.

The main entry leads to either a lower auditorium or upstairs to the library proper. The original circulation desk is directly in front of the upstairs entry, and gives an adequate view of the four reading rooms. The new circulation desk is in front of the back wall of windows in the main room.

In the front are the adult and children’s reading rooms, each being 24 feet square. The reference room and magazine room are in the rear, each measuring 16 feet square.

The auditorium measures 28 by 40 feet and is located on the lower level and meant for community use. It has a capacity of 75-100 people.

The library purportedly houses 25,000 books. The library, at present, has numerous uncataloged selections that are generally relegated to the early twentieth century.

History of the Library Proprietors

Compiled and Appended by Robert E. Hafeman

The first librarian was Lueva Montgomery from Wheaton, Illinois, and she began her duties in June of 1914 (Minutes 1914). The library was officially opened (and dedicated) on August 14, 1914, and by this time, the annual report states that she had organized the entire library according to the architectural suggestions, and her own sense of function (Annual Report 1914). From what can be discerned, that organization has remained for 80 years, with no apparent reorganization attempted. (Note: In reference to the August 1914 dedication, a copy of the original printed program describing the dedicatory activities, was discovered behind the backing of a framed photograph of R.B. Stinson sent to the library in 1936 by his niece).

In 1918, Lueva has retired or been ‘canned’, it is not clear, though in some correspondence prior to her hiring there is a ‘hot and heavy’, albeit mannerly, discussion of the amount of salary she is requesting and the amount the Board of Directors is willing to pay. There is also note to a Miss Lucy Willard, on August 1918, that it had been decided by the committee:

…that in the interest of the harmonious working of the Library, your service should be dispensed with…realizing the conditions have not been pleasant for you…(Alden 1918).

Why was Lucy let go? Was she an assistant to the librarian? Possibly, there was a problem between she and the Board or the previous librarian or the public in general. Who knows, and, after all, what does it matter? Presumably not much, unless one is pursuing Stinson Library trivia, or happens to be of blood-line.

Miss Mary Pomerene, who resides in Chicago and works at a branch of the Chicago Public Library, was suggested in a letter from the State Library Extension Commission as a fine librarian for the job, but, before the Stinson Library can hire her, the Detroit Public Library offers her a position, and she accepts (Letters 1918). Again the Commission recommends another upstate librarian, Miss Ivae Walker, who was seemingly well qualified. The Board of Directors, however, pick a hometown favorite, Miss Helen Louise Grear. It is unclear as to when she begins working, however, as the first recognition of her presence is recorded on a monthly report in January 1919. Miss Grear holds this position for approximately eight years, giving way for reasons unclear, to one Corita Spann Alden around 1927. Miss Alden remains librarian, from all indication, until 1942, when Miss Mary Bacon was appointed caretaker of the collection. She remained in this position until 1990 when she retired. The current librarian is Mr. Robert Hafeman. Therefore, in all likelihood, the Stinson Memorial has had but five librarians in the eighty years of its existence.

As far as lasting contributions, perhaps this is what their contributions has been (at least for two of them) – they lasted. This is a quality not to be taken lightly in an age of upward mobility, corporate raidings and general professional nomadicism. The decision to remain in the same area, let alone the same profession, is not always a matter of stodginess. It can as readily be recognized as the quality of dedication.

One significance can be noted in regards to the Stinson Memorial Library’s early innovativeness, however. Around 1917, a ‘book wagon’ was introduced. This was apparently a horse drawn buckboard that caddied books around the neighboring communities within the county. In a letter from a Michigan librarian, who was compiling information on trends in library circulation, there is a request for greater details on this inventive idea (Annual Report 1917).

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