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Library History

History of the Bellingham Public Library

Compiled by Marian Sandsberry July, 1989

The Northside – Bellingham Bay Library

June 4, 1891
Bellingham Bay Public Library Association was organized in Room 11, Lighthouse Block, by 12 women of New Whatcom.

June 15, 1891
Bellingham Bay Public Library opened to the public, in Room 11, 12, and 17 of the Lighthouse Block, (old First National Bank Bldg. later torn down and replaced by present SeaFirst National Bank Bldg.), Holly at Dock Street (now Cornwall). It was a subscription library which cost $1.00 plus $.50 monthly for the privilege of borrowing one book at a time. It opened with 286 books and $44.84 in cash. Mrs. Mary B. Bruce was temporary librarian until October 13, 1891; Miss Carrie E. Smith until February 1892.

June 1892
P.B. Cornwall presented the Association with a lot on the SE corner of Magnolia and Dock (Cornwall – site of Pay ‘n Save). He offered to build a story-and-a-half frame structure as a library. The new building was occupied on September 3, 1892 (picture in Daily Reveille). On August 9, 1892, Mrs. Katherine M. Ryan was elected librarian at $20.00 per month.

May 16, 1902
P.B. Cornwall donated the adjoining lot, proposed moving the building 50 feet to the SE along Magnolia and raising it one floor to provide additional facilities by erecting a first story and an annex or wings. By October 15, 1902 the building had been moved. On March 10, 1903, the new “Reading Room” opened hut the lower floor was not yet finished. By the time the framework and the outside were completed, the money was exhausted. The work was not resumed until after consolidation, when the new Library Board took over.

Association transferred the Library to the City of Whatcom, to be managed as a free library named the Bellingham Public Library.

Jan. 7, 1904
New Library Board named. At consolidation time, Bellingham Bay Library had 3,020 volumes. Fairhaven Library had 2,626 volumes. The Board made its first order of business the completion of the physical plant, so the lower floor was completed, a stack room and delivery counter in the rear, a small reference room, and a “reasonably commodious reading room” were provided. Also added were a new hot water heating system, convenient plumbing, gas and electric light.

July 1904
New building ready for use, books moved downstairs. The vacated upper floor was rented to the Northwest Business College at $25.00 per month (NW Business College remained one year), from August 1, 1904 to July 31, 1905. Picture of 2-story building was taken that year.) Frontage 50′ on Magnolia, 110′ on the alley, Block 45, Lots 7 and 8.

Grace Switzer, librarian

Andrew Carnegie was approached again, for a grant for another library in Bellingham. After much negotiation, he offered to give $20,000 if the City supplied the lot and guaranteed proper support. The City exchanged the current lot and building at Magnolia and Dock for a larger area on a rocky hill at the corner of Commercial and Champion.

Feb. 21, 1908
The new building was formally opened with 57 steps to climb. For the next 40 years patrons struggled with inaccessibility, inconvenience and a burgeoning public attendance.

April 1924
Silver Beach branch established. It operated until 1975.

All-out efforts for a new building at the “Civic Center” site.

Aug. 19, 1951
New building, at its present location at 210 Central opened for use. Two years after the dedication, the old deserted Carnegie Building was demolished and the rocky pinnacle was graded down to the street level. The site is now a parking lot behind the Federal Building.

The Southside – Fairhaven Library

A private reading room and subscription library was set up in the Fairhaven Bank building (Waldron Block, 1308- 1314 12th Street and Harris) from money donated by public spirited citizens who felt that there should be someplace for men to spend their evenings besides the saloons. (The Waldron Block was never completed.)

The Library moved to two rooms in the Mason Block (The Marketplace) at 1200 – 1206 Harris, as a subscription library with money from Cyrus Gates, C.X. Larrabee, Major Wilkins and E.M. Wilson.

Nov. 1891
C.X. Larrabee of Fairhaven and P.B. Cornwall of Whatcom offered to donate a library building to be shared by Whatcom and Fairhaven, to be built on the boundary line between the two. The “Panic of 1892” spiked that prosperity bubble, and the cities could not contribute to its cost.

The City of Fairhaven, newly incorporated, took over the little library and appropriated $50.00 a month for its support. C.X. Larrabee was a prime mover and served on the first library board. Soon the Council became hard pressed for cash and could not increase the appropriations. In 1894, Larrabee and two other trustees resigned. The library struggled along anyway.

Mrs. Laura Shaw was elected full-time librarian at $20.00 per month. She was head of the Fairhaven Library until 1920 when Edith Carhart succeeded her.

Dec. 1903
Whatcom and Fairhaven were consolidated into one town.

Jan. 7, 1904
The new library board was organized to run both the Fairhaven and Bellingham Bay libraries. It was headed by Frothingham. Fairhaven had already been promised a Carnegie grant of $12,000 for a new building. The lot was donated by C.X. Larrabee at 1117 12 St. Carnegie eventually added another $3,500 to the grant.

Dec. 20, 1904
The new Fairhaven Library building was dedicated (construction actually completed in July, 1905).