The Library from 1904-1974
The following is a reproduction of a brochure published by Sheboygan County Landmarks, Ltd. in May 1974
For 70 years, the building standing on the northeast corner of North 7th Street and New York Avenue has housed the Sheboygan Public Library. This structure owes its existence to two benefactors, Andrew Carnegie of national prominence and James H. Mead of local prominence.
Library service began in 1872 with a small collection at the Congregational Church, which was transferred to the Sheboygan Library Association in 1880. This collection, in 1897, became the nucleus of the first public library service supported by a Common Council appropriation of $1,316 and was located in rented rooms in the Foeste building on North 8th Street.
At the turn of the century, Andrew Carnegie‘s philanthropy on behalf of libraries was well known. In March, 1901, F. A. Dennett, mayor of Sheboygan and one of the early local library leaders, wrote to Mr. Carnegie, asking for funds for a library building. The original request, for $25,000, was found to be insufficient, so Mr. Carnegie was asked to increase his gift to $35,000. This he agreed to do in March, 1902. To qualify, the Council agreed to provide the site and to support the library with an annual appropriation of ten percent of the gift, or $3,500.
While these negotiations were underway, the Council in July, 1901, approved $3,500 for acquisition of the site located on Lot 7, Block 308, original plat, the location of the old Opera House, from its owners, Ernst Lohman and the J. M. Kohler estate. The architects Patton and Miller of Chicago, designers of many Carnegie libraries in the Midwest, submitted plans for the building which were accepted in July, 1902. Bids for the building were opened September 10, 1902, and the contracts let a few days later.
The following quotation from the Sheboygan Herald, September 27, 1902 gives the details. "The work of constructing the new public library was begun Wednesday and the work will go on as rapidly as possible. The building is to be of Bedford (Indiana) colitic (limestone), of Corinthian architecture, 45 by 90 feet, two stories high and will contain children's and adults' reading rooms, general study and reference rooms and a museum. On the second floor will be a large lecture room. The building will be equipped with all modern conveniences including hot water heating and electric lights. The capacity of the library room is 60,000 books. The Library Board has devoted considerable time and attention to details and the Board is confident that the library will be one of the finest and most practically arranged buildings of its kind in the state."
Other interesting architectural details included the deep, rich, green stained glass panels above the windows on the front, north and south sides, and the large stained glass window on the second floor above the entrance. Several Doric columns graced the main lobby, supporting a wide decorative molding at ceiling height. Fireplaces of oak and marble, complete with mantels and ornamented corners, were placed in each reading room. Terrazzo flooring was used in the lobby. To the east was the stack area in a large, three-sided alcove.
The formal opening and reception of the new library was held on Saturday, January 30, 1904. Newspaper articles that day described local reaction as follows: “The new library building has been crowded today with a critical public looking over the features of the building and it goes without saying that all visitors were more than delighted with the handsome new building.”
“The visitor to the new library is most of all impressed with the subdued magnificence of the interior. The dull finish of the woodwork, with its plain and simple ornamentation and its restful coloring gives a homelike feeling...”
The building with furniture and book stacks cost only $500 more than the amount given by Mr. Carnegie. The total cost including site and construction was $39,500.
Serving on the Library Board of Directors at the time were A. W. Pott, Paul Reuther, O. B. Joerns, Carl Zillier, Thomas McNeill, H. F. Leverenz, Henry Schilder, Francis Williams, Ernst Aldag, and W. H. Gunther.
James H. Mead, president of the local German Bank and a community leader, was the second benefactor whose long-delayed donation resulted in the renovation and renewal of the building.
The steps involved were explained by Library Board President, George Currie. "The legal history of the James H. Mead Trust bequest for library purposes presents one of the most unique and interesting stories in the annals of Wisconsin jurisprudence. The case is unique because of the fact that, although Mr. Mead died on September 22, 1891, it wasn't until the final decision by the Wisconsin Supreme Court rendered on April 12, 1938, that it was definitely determined that the trust legacy bequeathed for library purposes by Mr. Mead should be carried out and the money of the trust fund expended for library purposes for the benefit of the citizens of the City of Sheboygan."
Forty-seven years spanned the time between the bequest and the use of the fund, which had grown from $20,000 to over $100,000. The bequest had been contested.
Events moved rapidly after the decision. In March, 1939, a survey of the library was made by consultants from the American Library Association. Their recommendation was, that to provide library facilities and services "in keeping with the times," the Mead Trustees adopt a plan whereby part of the Mead money be invested in expansion of the building.
Miss Marx resigned as Chief Librarian in June, after 38 years of service, and Miss Marie W. Barkman was selected as her successor, assuming her duties in October.
Representatives of the Common Council, the Mead Trustees (C. E. Broughton, Charles Voigt, F. H. Schlichting), the Library Board, and Miss Barkman held many meetings and by December authorization was given for drawing up of architectural plans.
The plans of the architect, Edgar A. Stubenrauch, of Sheboygan, were accepted in January, 1940 and Mr. Stubenrauch commented: "The present building is a Renaissance type of architecture, which has rather delicate moldings, quite complicated details, and a large overhanging cornice. The planning of the addition also required a study in architecture which would be in keeping with the style of the present building. The South side of the building is lined with Indiana limestone and the East and North sides are covered with brick. Window details and stone details are the same as the present building with the exception that the large overhanging cornice is omitted, but the general architectural design of the addition and present building make a very pleasing harmony of architecture and construction."
The addition, 29' by 91 1/2', was to be two story, mezzanine and second floor, whereas the original building is a first and second floor. Consequently, the addition, to house stacks for 80,000 books, storage of periodicals, and a large Children's Room, is slightly higher presenting a pleasing appearance on the exterior and interior as well as providing an efficient and functional building. The interior of the old building was extensively remodeled and the exterior modernized by removal of the stained glass panels and by design of a new entrance with aluminum doors and grill work. Jacob Houmes of Sheboygan was selected as general contractor as bids for contracts were awarded in March and the ground broken in April. The cost was $50,000 plus $10,000 for renovation, and $4,000 for additional furnishings, totalling $64,000.
The change of name was a provision of the Supreme Court decision requiring that the name "Mead Public Library" be used as a memorial to the benefactor, as requested in the original bequest.
An impressive ceremony dedicating the new library was held on Thursday, January 9, 1941, after which the library was open for public inspection.
Architect Edgar A. Stubenrauch stated at the time of the opening that "From the inspections that have been made of libraries throughout the state of Wisconsin, Sheboygan has one of the most outstanding buildings and one that contains a great many fine features that are not ordinarily found in buildings of like nature."
Board members at that time were Atty. George R. Currie, President, Rev. Elmer C. Jaberg, Mrs. Herman Roenitz, Herbert A. Schultz, Henry E. Smith (ex-officio), Rev. George J. Knackert, Frederick E. Treichel, William A. Sass, and Mrs. Frank Weber. The world-wide "information explosion" of the 1950's had a great impact on public libraries.
Mr. E. Richard Kunert, who became library director after Miss Barkman's retirement in 1962, had to cope with this challenge on the local level. Studies were made, and in October, 1964, the Library Board sent a proposal to the Common Council, recommending that planning for a new library be started immediately as the building was now overcrowded and severely cramped for space.
Various plans were considered by the Library Board, some incorporating the present building into an enlarged facility, others requiring its demolition to start anew, and finally, ones proposing an entirely new building on a new site.
Many circumstances, including urban redevelopment in the downtown area, contributed to the Common Council's decision in August, 1971, to finance a $2.3 million bond issue for the new library on 8th Street. Construction began in the spring of 1973. The old library will be vacated when the move to the new library is completed, in late 1974.
In the 70 year history of this library building, only three head librarians have been employed - Miss Bertha Marx, from the opening in 1904 to 1939, Miss Marie W. Barkman, 1939-1962, and Mr. E. Richard Kunert, 1962 to 1991. Even more unusual is the fact that each of them has been involved in the planning of library facilities - Miss Marx with the classic original building, Miss Barkman with the handsome addition, and Mr. Kunert with the new library building on 8th Street.
Library Board members at the time of the Landmark ceremony, May, 1974, are Atty. Jack Kalman, Pres., Robert J. Froelich, Mrs. Marjory R. Grube, Mrs. Shirley L. Hickmann, Archie C. Kuntze, Fr. Duane Mills, Dr. Warren Soeteber, Loren Sperry and Allen Stessmann.
The library has been designated a landmark not only because of its contribution to the educational and cultural life of Sheboygan, but also because it has been recognized as a fine example of the Neo-Classical Revival. The plan is symmetrical with the two wings and entrance bay. The monumental effect of the building is achieved through the use of ashlar masonry, a massive cornice hung with large stone dentils, a two story high entrance flanked by Ionic pilasters and a heavy parapet that follows the pattern of the carefully balanced architectural members below.
The interior used to boast free-standing, modified Doric columns at the entrance of the north and south reading rooms. Three of the original fireplaces remain, as do the classic frieze in the entrance and the stairway to the second floor. Although the interior was modified to provide greater space, the dignity of the original building has been carefully preserved.
Newspapers used as reference sources were The Sheboygan Telegram, The Sheboygan Herald, and The Sheboygan Press. Many facts and figures were obtained from the volumes of library history dating back to 1902. The photograph is of the original building and was reproduced from library files. Research for the booklet was done by Josephine A. Rocca, Coordinator of Adult Services of the library staff. (She subsequently retired in 1989, and died in 1993.)