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Celebrating 140 Years!

July 18, 2014

As we celebrate The Urbana Free Library’s 140th Birthday, we will feature each month a library department or support organization that has helped make the library into the community service it is today. What better place to start the story of the library than with the keeper of stories – the Champaign County Historical Archives

Nelle Carpenter, cataloger for the library and noted local history and Lincoln enthusiast, began collecting Champaign County historical materials at The Urbana Free Library in 1956, storing those materials in a four-drawer filing cabinet.  In 1959, the Historical Room was established in a newly vacated basement room in the library.  Housed there were Nelle’s collected items, the Library’s collection of Illinois historical works, and the Judge Joseph Oscar Cunningham book collection, which had been contributed to the Library upon his death in 1917.  From this modest beginning the Historical Room’s collection, now known as The Champaign County Historical Archives, has grown throughout the years to include 3,500 linear feet of personal collections, business records, photographs, audiovisual materials, ephemera, and Champaign County records.

Located on the second floor of the library, The Champaign County Historical Archives  maintains a research-level collection on the history and genealogy of Champaign County.  In 1987 it was designated the official repository for non-current Champaign County records.  Although it focuses on Champaign County, the Archives holds extensive collections dealing with the rest of Illinois and other states that document the migration routes of Champaign County communities. Whether you have Champaign County ancestors (or no connections to the county at all), or are interested in local history, there is a wealth of materials available for your research. 

In honor of the 140th birthday of The Urbana Free Library, the staff of The Champaign County Historical Archives has created an exhibit from materials in our collection celebrating the library’s history. The exhibit, located on the first floor near the Cafe and Friends Bookshop, will be on display for the month of August.  If you cannot make it in person be sure to visit our digital exhibit.  And remember you can always browse The Champaign County Historical Archives collections via our catalog Local History Online, keep up with us on our blog, or stop by the second floor and visit us in person.  We would love to see you.

Sherrie Bowser, Archives Librarian


 


July 8, 2014

After much brainstorming, the library now has a plan of action for the year-long 140th Birthday Celebration.  Each month through May 2015, we will feature a library department or support organization, which over the years has helped to shape The Urbana Free Library into the much-admired community service it is today.  We’ll share history, special displays, library trivia, and tell you about “surprise” services you may not have known existed.  We also want to hear from you—so watch for informal surveys and trivia quizzes! 

Here’s the monthly theme of events for the140th Birthday Celebration: 

  • August – The Champaign County Historical Archives
  • September – Circulation Services
  • October – Teen Services
  • November – Children’s Services
  • December  – The Urbana Free Library Foundation
  • January – Adult Services
  • February  – Our Community
  • March – The Friends of The Urbana Free Library
  • April – Our Volunteers
  • May – Behind the Scenes Staff (Administration, Acquisitions Services, Maintenance, Graphics Services, and Baristas.

Kathy Wicks, Associate Director


 

 

July 1, 2014

In its early days, the library resided in various spaces in municipal and commercial buildings in downtown Urbana.  When philanthropist Andrew Carnegie turned down the Board’s proposal to endow the construction of a permanent home for the library, hope was lost until 1917, when Mrs. Mary E. Busey offered $35,000 to erect a library building as a memorial to her husband, General Samuel T. Busey.  The building was dedicated on July 18, 1918.  

Fast facts about the original library building:

  • The architect, Joseph W. Royer, also designed several well-known Urbana buildings, such as the Champaign County Courthouse and the Urbana Lincoln Hotel.  
  • A.W. Stoolman was the contractor for the library building.  He also built several campus buildings, and built and owned the Virginia Theatre in Champaign.  
  • At the roofline on the north side of the building, a verse by Ben Jonson is carved that is only visible in winter months.  The verse reads, “When I would know my thought looks, upon thy well made choice of friends and books.  Then do I love thee and behold thy ends, in making thy friends books and thy books friends.”  
  • The building is constructed of Indiana cut limestone in the classic revival architectural style.  

The 2005 library addition included reconstruction of the outside walls from the 1975 addition.  These walls also were made of cut limestone to integrate the two expansions into the style of the original 1918 building.  The historic structure, with its Race Street entrance, remains the library’s visual identity and connection with the downtown community.

Kathy Wicks, Associate Director


June 15, 2014

Once upon a time in 1872 in the thriving City of Urbana, 52 men active in the interest of their community, formed the Young Men’s Library Association.  With the prospect of ultimate success and the encouragement of the County Gazette, the first meeting of the library leaders was
held in January 1873.   With committees in place and enthusiasm in abundance, the Association opened a downtown reading room, offering books and periodicals for browsing to the public for a small fee.  In the spring of 1874, a movement to have the City government take over the library was launched, and on July 2 of that year, The Urbana Free Library was created by the City Council.  And we have lived well-loved by the community ever after.

In 2014, The Urbana Free Library is celebrating its 140th birthday. To commemorate this landmark moment in history, the library is inviting the community on June 22, to a very special UFLive! Birthday Bash with Don’t Ask, an event that will kick-off a year-long celebration of events that will tell the story of the library and its service to the Urbana community.  We’ll have music and birthday cake, and The Urbana Free Library Cafe and Friends Book Shop will offer a special Cherry Alley Iced Tea for sale.   

The library’s rich history is the key to its bright future; the library was founded through the vision and support of the community, and we continue to be supported to this day. We thank you and invite you to come celebrate!

Historical content from The Urbana Free Library: It’s Early Years (available through the Champaign County Historical Archives)

Kathy Wicks, Associate Director

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