Duluth Public Library (through 1922)

From a small and insignificant beginning the public library of Duluth has become a large and important institution, handsomely housed, well supplied with books of all classes, and intelligently and therefore efficiently managed. The facilities it offers to the public are evidently appreciated, judging from the yearly extension of its work.

The genesis of the Duluth library dates back to 1869, when in the “Weekly Minnesotian” of September of that year the following notice appeared: “In accordance with the public notice a meeting of citizens 643  of Duluth was held at Leopold Brothers’ store Monday evening last for the purpose of organizing a library association. Mr. Luke Marvin was called to the chair and Mr. H. H. Hollinsworth was appointed secretary. The interest manifested in the proceedings gives every assurance of the success of the association, which will no doubt attract the co-operation of all our citizens.” The result of this meeting was the establishment of a modest reading room, supplied chiefly with magazine literature, which was donated by the men and women of the city. Its work grew with the growth of the city and its value was so generally recognized that in March, 1890, the Duluth Public Library was formally organized. The first board of the organization consisted of the following: George Spencer, president; D. E. Woodbridge, secretary; F. W. Wieland, J. D. Ensign, H. C. Helm, Rt. Rev. James McGolrick, L. A. Barber, W. W. Billson and G. H. Donnell.

The reading room was opened August 1, 1890, and the circulating department was opened the latter part of October, 1890, with about 2, 000 volumes. Olen S. Davis was at that time the librarian and had one assistant. Mr. Davis filled the post of librarian about one year, when he was succeeded by Miss Angie Neff. The library grew rapidly in the following years, until in 1895 Miss Neff was able to state in her annual report that it contained 18, 000 volumes, and that it had circulated during the preceding year 144, 880 volumes, a daily circulation of 379 volumes.

The central reading room then was furnished with eightyseven magazines and thirty-one newspapers. The working force of the library had been enlarged to five assistants, and a branch reading room and delivery station had been established at Twentieth avenue, west. The library at this time was quartered in the Masonic Temple building, Second avenue, east, and Superior street, where it had light and commodious quarters, and the extension of its work and support was provided for by a city tax.

These quarters were rented.

Today the public library is housed in a building of its own, which is one of the most conspicuous in the city, and one in which all citizens feel a commendable pride. In 1900 Mr. Andrew Carnegie offered to give the city $75, 000 for the erection of a library building, provided the city would provide the site and guarantee maintenance. This offer was accepted by the city and a site was selected at the corner of Second street and First avenue, west, which was purchased by the city at an expense of $16, 000. Work was at once begun on the building, which was opened to the use of the public on April 19, 1902. The site purchased by the city comprised a lot 150 by 140 feet, permitting the building to be entirely detached, so that light can enter freely from all sides.

The total expense of building, grounds and equipment amounted to $92, 935. The building is 108 by 104 feet and comprises two floors. The reading rooms will seat 200 people and are open every day in the year.

The library comprised at the close of the year 1909 53, 531 volumes, and its circulation for the year was 135, 920 volumes.

One hundred and sixty-nine periodicals are kept on file and forty newspapers. The library is open to the public every day in the year and the circulating department every day, but only two hours on Sundays. A branch of the library is maintained at West Duluth. The employes now number fourteen, and the library is maintained by an annual appropriation of $14, 500 from the city. Miss Neff was succeeded as librarian in 1900 by Miss Lydia M. Poirier, who served until 1910, when she was succeeded by Miss Frances C. Earhart.

Every branch of literature is somewhat covered by the collection of books, and many volumes and periodicals are included in other languages than English, thus making the library of use to the large foreign population which Duluth contains. The reference library is quite complete in some lines, and the special juvenile department is a feature highly appreciated by adults as well as children. The department of Americana has been collected at great pains and contains about 3, 000 volumes, some of which are very rare and valuable. Especial attention is paid to collecting volumes treating of the early history of Minnesota and Duluth, but the historical records of other states and Government publications have not been neglected.

The members of the library board are appointed by the mayor and serve without pay. The present members are F. T. Adams, R. B. Knox, D. G. Cash, E. W. Bohannon, K. A. Ostergren, F. W. Sullivan, J. C. Faries, W. F. Bailey and August Lofgren.

The library contains two art windows of which the city is very proud. One is the Minnehaha window, which was designed by Mrs. J. B. Weston, of Duluth, and made under her directions by the Tiffany Company, of New York. It represents Minnehaha, the Indian girl, standing at the foot of the falls which bear her 645  name. On one side is interwoven a quotation from Longfellow’s “Hiawatha, ” and on the other characteristic symbols of Indian life, arrows, peace-pipe, feathered head dress, etc. This window was a gift of the Women’s Clubs of the city and was exhibited at the exposition in Chicago in 1893.

The other art window is also the work of Mrs. Weston and is more unique in design. It is a memorial to Sieur Daniel Greysolon du Lhut, the first white man to view the site of the present city. The scene represents the bluff on which the city is built, seen from the Superior side, where du Lhut emerged from his voyage through the northern country. The Bay of St. Louis is therefore in the foreground, with Connor’s, Rice’s and Minnesota Points projecting into it, with Lake Superior in the background.

Above is a frieze of moccasin flowers, the emblem of the state, and at the top of the window the Latin motto, “Quo sursum volo videre, ” which appeared on the seal of the territory until the French motto, “L’etoile du Nord,” replaced it in 1858. Below is the dedicatory inscription of the Greyselon du Lhut Chapter, Daughters American Revolution, flanked by French fleur de lis and flintlock of the French coureur du bois. This window was presented to the library on November 10, 1904, with appropriate exercises.

The library is fortunate in having a number of fine works of art which have been presented at various times, chief of these being Corot’s “Dance of the Nymphs, ” a gift from the late Ward Ames; “The Spinner, ” by David Ericson, a gift of the Art Association; “The Catechism, ” after Meunier, by Miss Robertson, presented by the Women’s Clubs; and “A Laborer, ” by Robert Koehler, of Minneapolis, from the Saturday Club.

Besides these there is a large painting by Koehler, entitled “Old Man Reading, ” which is loaned to the library, as well as two by the late noted artist, Gilbert Munger, brother of R. S.

Munger, of Duluth. One of these is a Venetian scene, the other “The Woods at Fontainebleau.” There is also in the art collection a fine example of Japanese art which was obtained through purchase, a portrait in oil of Henrik Ibsen, presented by the Norwegian Society of Duluth, and a number of framed photographs of scenes in early Duluth which are unique and valuable historically. The pictures and photographs named above are all in the art or club room of the library. Elsewhere in the building may be found panoramic views of Duluth in the early days of its development, as well as a number of recent photographs, showing the transition from village to city.

Also of interest to the historian is a picture of the house in Quebec in which du Lhut lived in 1675, with a facsimile of the plate which marks it; a page of the “Detroit Tribune” of April 15, 1865, chronicling the assassination of Abraham Lincoln; and a copy of the “Vicksburg Daily Citizen” of July 2, 1863. This edition is printed on wall paper and was set up on the eve of the surrender of the city to General Grant. A note at the end, bearing the date of July 4, 1863, is added by a northern officer, which states that the paper ceased publication as a rebel organ with that number.

Miss Frances E. Earhart, the present librarian, has been chief cataloguer in the library from March, 1904, until receiving the appointment of librarian on April 6, 1910. She is a graduate of the Drexel Institute Library School, of Philadelphia, and received her academic education in the University of Michigan. Previous to coming to Duluth she held a position in the cataloguing department of the Buffalo public library. While she has been engaged chiefly in the cataloguing department she has been active in all branches of library work, so that she is familiar with all the methods of the service.


  • Van Brunt, Walter, ed. Duluth and St. Louis County, Minnesota Vols. 1 – 3. The American Historical Society. Chicago: 1922.
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