The History of St. Maries Public Library
Prepared April 1966
By Amy E. Nelson
The history of library activity in St. Maries is almost as old as the town itself. In the early part of the century, the “logging boom” in the St. Joe and St. Maries River are resulted in a mushroom-like growth for St. Maries. At this time a women’s civic club lamented that there were fifteen saloons in the town but no library and few other cultural interests. The early settlers shared and cherished the few volumes they had brought with them.
The interest women’s civic club was called the CCC, the words in the title denoting Courage, Courtesy, and Culture. The club’s aim was to establish a public library. The members collected books and in 1909 placed these in the home of Mr. and Mrs. Orland Scott, to be lent to any individuals of the community. The Scotts, Mrs. Nellie Griffith (CCC president), and other interested people organized a library association in August 1911, with Dr. H. S. Williams as president.
From the old CCC Club emerged the Women’s Study Club. The library activity constituted its primary work. This club sponsored various projects to raise money for a library building fund. Including teas, dinner, and style shows. An early-day newspaper account describes a shawl show which was an important social event and brought in a substantial sum for the fund.
Through these years St. Maries was a part of Kootenai County. The county commissioners levied a one-mill tax for library assistance, and in 1913 the library derived about $240.00 from this tax. Local merchants made monthly contributions to the library fund, and its income was supplemented by gifts from the Study Club and other organizations.
The community’s growth necessitated several moves for the library. The first one-room school became the library building in 1914 after a new city school had been constructed. When the main portion of St. Maries was moved away from the river front. The little building was moved to College Street. Mrs. J. Boothroid was the first librarian. She was paid $10.00 monthly to keep the library open ten hours each week. Her books inventory listed 462 books and records indicated there were 253 patrons.
In 1915 Benewah County was created. About this time the city gave the Library Association the use of the room in the city hall. The club women erected shelves and created a library in this small room.
A site favorable for erection of the proposed library was purchased by the association in 1920, and the Study Club’s struggle to see the realization of their library plans continued.
After construction of the Benewah County courthouse in the year 1924, the library was given a quarters in a sunny basement room of that building. Women’s organizations cooperated with the Study Club in painting and improving the library. The library expanded quickly, but its existence in the courthouse was short-lived. County officials decided the space was needed for county enterprises, probably in the early 1930’s, and the library books were again boxed up and moved. For the ensuing years, several small upstairs rooms in the courthouse housed the library, with many books remaining uncrated because the limited space prevented extensive books display.
At many times during these years the city council was asked to implement the library building fund, and a bond issue was requested on numerous occasions. Other expenses of the growing city dominated the minds of the residents, and opposition always prevented the issue from coming to a public vote. The depression further slowed down efforts towards erecting a library building.
All construction plans were dropped during the Second World War. However, with the return of the veterans and the establishment of many new families, late in 1940 the Study Club was enabled to spearhead a drive which was successful. Representatives of 26 organization appeared before the city council to ask a bond election. The city was induced to set up an election. Against organized opposition to such an expenditures, the Study Club and the Library Board established an organization to insure passage of the measure. Members of the Toastmistress Club were among the active supporters, appearing before other organizations to outline the need for a new library. The plan gained in popularity. On Election Day the Women’s Study Club and the Mother’s Club provided transportation to and from the polls. The concentrated efforts of these groups bore fruit – the bond issue carried by more than the required two – thirds majority. The sum of $1,300.00 was added to the current fund of $700.00 and construction of the building began in 1948. The new St. Maries Public Library was officially opened in April 1949. Furnishings were provided by gifts from various organizations, including the Kiwanis Club, Lions Club, American Legion Auxiliary, and from the funds of an early- day Civic League which had disbanded many years previously. An “Open House” celebrated the event, with Study Club members serving as hostesses.
The St. Maries Library, as we know it, is managed by a working board, appointed by the city council. Mrs. Howard Olin serves as its chairman, with members Mrs. Gordon Cornell, Mrs. Matt Moshinsky, Mrs. Ray Reid, Mrs. A.R. McCabe and Mrs. Ben Lowe.
Assistance in monetary and other forms is given the library by community individuals and organizations, including the Study Club. Real work has been performed by these people cataloguing and preparing books, cleaning and decorating the building, and providing a Saturday morning “story hour” for small children. 4H Club and other youth groups have taken care of landscaping and caring for the library grounds in recent years. This year, during Easter vacation, the sophomore girls painted the walls of the library proper, restrooms and basement. A library committee of Study Club provides help when called upon by the library board.
The library is open seventeen hours each week, with Mrs. Mark Justice serving currently as librarian. The library board and Mrs. Justice, through combined efforts, have made a great number of books available to the community readers. The library’s affiliation with the Idaho State Library enables Mrs. Justice to fill request for books not included in the library’s inventory. The state library also provides a “quick reference” service whereby the librarian can obtain information on a specific subjects when requested. A state field librarian offers numerous services for the library, including advising and providing training in the library management. Recently, the state library began a one-year book mobile demonstration in Benewah County. Copies of the book mobile schedule may be obtained from the librarian.
Library records for 1965 indicate that about 1100 individuals patronized the library and 19, 988 books were lent, 463 new books were added to the library. Some of these books were purchased with the $1,000.00 provided annually by the city, while others were paid for contributions from individuals or were bought for the library by the state library.
The library has available supply of brochures entitled, “High Time Something was Done.” This brochure tells of the library needs of our city and county and of other counties in Library Region One, indicating a necessity for continued work to raise the standards of libraries in St. Maries and other Northern Idaho communities.