Library History

History of the Chatfield Public Library

(as printed in The Spirit of the Valley: Stories Compiled By Various Individuals Throughout the Year 2003)

Chatfield’s library roots began with collections purchased and maintained by private groups.  George Haven writes in his book, Chatfield: A Minnesota Territory that a number of young men in Chatfield who “felt the need for books” formed the Washington Irving Literary Society sometime in the 1850’s.  This small library flourished during the days of the Chatfield Academy.  Sometime later another group, calling themselves the Athenaeum, purchased and organized books into a collection for the use of its members.  When the Athenaeum disbanded the books were all given to the public school library and were later integrated into the Chatfield Public Library.

Mrs. Medora Morrill, often referred to as the “mother of the library,” first promoted the idea of a public library in Chatfield.  Discussion of the establishment of a library to be operated in conjunction with the public Rest Room, located in a vacant business place on the southwest side of Main Street, took place at a special meeting of the Commercial Club on February 15, 1911.  Mrs. Morrill was selected to organize a committee of women, two from each religious denomination, to solicit books in a house-to-house canvas that resulted in the gathering of 1,000 donated books inside a month.  The State Library Commission provided 125 books for the library’s initial collection and a librarian to catalog the books.  Books were also solicited from former Chatfield residents in 32 states and 9 countries. Part of the lumber for shelving was donated and volunteers built the shelves and prepared the books for circulation.  The library, housed with the public Rest Room, was opened to the public March 9, 1911.

Enthusiasm for the library was so great that in May of 1913 the City Council appointed a Library Board to manage its operation.  The library had grown to such proportions and the circulation of books was increasing so rapidly that the Library Board thought it wise to try to get a permanent home for the institution.  They applied for an Andrew Carnegie grant, began negotiations for a suitable building site, discussed the matter of maintenance with the City Council, and just a year later all was in place for the construction of the new Chatfield Public Library.  The Carnegie Corporation granted the city of Chatfield $6,000 for the building’s construction.  Ornamentations and furnishings for the new building were given by friends and citizens and cost about $750, the site, bought by Chatfield citizens, cost $800, making the total approximate cost $7,550.  The City Council agreed to levy a tax for the library’s maintenance.  The building was constructed on Main Street, across from the City Park and between the City and Town Hall and the old rink.  Architects Claude & Starck, of Madison, Wisconsin designed the library building and Chatfield residents did much of the finishing work.  Ground was broken in July of 1914 and Chatfield’s new Carnegie library building was formally opened February 15, 1915.  The first librarian was Mrs. Etta Dickson and the assistant was Miss Nettie Johnson.

The old Rest Room, which had been kept open in the Hassett building for four years, was closed when the library was moved into the new Carnegie building.  One of the rooms in the basement of the new library was built to function as the new public Rest Room and was used as such whenever an organization would assume the responsibility of furnishing the necessary running expenses.

In 1974, the library was accepted for membership into SELCO (Southeastern Libraries Cooperating), becoming the 21st public library to join the regional library cooperative.  The library partially automated its operations in 1994 by acquiring “limited access” status within the SELCO system and eventually became fully automated in February of 1998.

By the late 1980s it was clear that the Library needed to be enlarged, certain furnishings needed to be replaced or improved, and modifications needed to be made to make the building American Disability Act compliant.  Plans for such an undertaking were made.  However, the funding to finance such a project remained out of reach, until December of 1995 when an anonymous donation of approximately $100,000 was offered to the City to improve, expand, and make the library physically accessible to all people.  The donation was given with the condition that the City match the gift in some way.  The City Council and the Library Board agreed to accept the gift and committed to meeting the requirement of matching the donation.

In January of 1996, the Chatfield Women’s Community Club donated stock shares worth approximately $29,000 toward the building project.  The club originally obtained these stocks in 1972 when Alberta Wilson-Tollefson, a longtime Chatfield librarian, donated them to the Community Club.

The Library had saved approximately $50,000 through the years for library improvement and committed that to the project.  As the Library Board was struggling with fundraising ideas to help meet the costs of an adequate building proposal, another anonymous gift of  $300,000 was given to the City with conditions that the money go toward construction of an addition to the present Carnegie Library, that it be made handicapped accessible, and that construction would begin as soon as possible.

Architect, Bob Cline of TSP Architects and Engineers of Rochester was hired to develop the addition/renovation to the Library.  Construction Management Services was hired to manage the project and apply for 2 grants on behalf of the library.  The library received an $11,000 grant from the Minnesota Historical Society and a $52,584 Library Accessibility Grant from the state Office of Library Development and Services. The firm, Schroeder/Leverington, Inc. of Minneapolis, was contracted for construction of the library project.  Ground was broken May 17, 1997 and the grand opening of the completed addition/renovation took place on September 19, 1998.

The $600,000 project more than doubled the size of the library, added a new entrance and elevator granting access to all floors, and included the addition of a large unfinished library program and community meeting room in the basement.  The room did not remain unfinished for long as community groups, citizens, and library staff donated generous amounts of time, talent, equipment, furnishings, and money to finish it off in a matter of months.  There was a point when it looked as if work on this room might be stalled for lack of funds, but an anonymous gift of $10,000 came in just in time so that the project could be completed.

It is interesting to note that twice in our library’s history it has hosted enthusiastic receptions for our state’s governor.  In October of 1915, Chatfield welcomed Governor Winfield S. Hammond to town with a forenoon reception held at the library.  Eighty-five years later, in March of 2000, Governor Jesse Ventura visited Chatfield and was greeted and received by a large crowd of community members at the newly enlarged and renovated Chatfield Public Library.

The first grand opening of Chatfield’s Public Library would not have been possible without the generosity of a major benefactor, Andrew Carnegie, combined with an enthusiastic outpouring of support from community members.  Eighty-three years later, the second grand opening of the Chatfield Public Library (to celebrate its addition/renovation) would not have been possible without the generosity of another major benefactor, who wished to remain anonymous, again combined with a tremendous offering of support from community members and groups.  After her death, it was revealed that the generous donor of the $100,000; $300,000; $10,000 and later an additional $189,000 was avid reader and long-time member of the Friends of the Library, Alice Groen.  Alice’s altruism and our community’s demonstrated dedication to supporting the library insure that it will be effectively serving our community’s needs for years to come.

It was stated in The Chatfield Minnesota Bicentennial Bugle that, “The story of how this library came into being represents a fine example of what can be achieved when all the citizens of a town work together to gain something of benefit to all.”  The same can be said of how this library has continued to grow and develop into a place this community still values.