The Little Building That Almost Could

then and now image
In 1966, Snohomish residents approve a $150,000 bond issue for a library addition, which was dedicated on a snowy Saturday afternoon two years later. The addition more than doubled the square footage, allowing shelf space for twice as many books, places to sit, and an office/workroom for staff.

Architect Harry E. Botesch presented the reconfigured building to the community at the dedication, and Mayor Payson Peterson accepted it for the city. Washington State librarian, Maryan Reynolds, gave the keynote address followed by a public open house for a proud, contented community. But with a man about to land on the moon, along with more people moving to town, Snohomish’s days of innocence were numbered.

In 1989, the library board, now associated with Sno-Isle, formed the Library Expansion Task Force to develop plans for a library that would serve the community for the next 25 years.

Johnston Architects were hired for professional brainstorming and the firm came up with a scheme to attach modern wings on either side of the historic building. A grand opening was planned for spring 1993. It didn’t fly. Snohomish residents balked at the sticker price and the task force retreated to square one.

A new taxing plan appeared on the horizon, first tested by Granite Falls in the state Supreme Court. It was a 1995 state law, which allowed for the formation of an independent taxing entity called Library Capital Facilities Area, or simply, LCFA, for those in the know.

In our case, the LCFA followed the Snohomish School District boundaries, and the plan to enlarge the pool of tax dollars for a new library was approved in 1998. With perfect timing, the library board was ready with a plan prepared by Boyle Wagoner Architects that incorporated the ideas of the earlier design.

Architect's rendering of a 1998 proposal to expand the Carnegie
Pictured here in a conceptual rendering, the plan features the historic building as the main entrance flanked on either side by contemporary wings. The proposal would increase the square footage 5 times over the 1968 addition. It was approved by City Council in December 1998 – but with one no vote – which planted the seed for building a new library somewhere else.

The stumbling block was that several large trees and a row of historic homes would have to be demolished to make room for parking. Consequently, support instantly bloomed for finding an alternate site, which was found with the serendipitous closing of the feed mill on Maple Avenue.

Today, the historic library building is the responsibility of the city but administered by the nonprofit Snohomish Carnegie Foundation, and this summer a professional planner will be selected to return the site to it 1910 origins.

The poetic closing of a circle perhaps; but I can’t help wonder, with population growing around seven percent per year, if the building’s history of being too small might not be starting all over again.


This is the third post celebrating the 100th Anniversary of Snohomish’s Carnegie building; Part Two is HERE; and the first post is HERE.

Carnegie library building: Part two

then and now animation
The historic image this month continues our celebration of the Carnegie library building’s 100th Anniversary with a wide view of what else was happening around town in 1910 — and it was not the sleepy Snohomish suggested by this photograph.

We wrote last month that the library opened for business on May 28, 1910, but it was dedicated two months earlier on April Fools Day. Governor Marion Hay attended the ceremonies held in the Eagles Hall on First (now vacant), along with Snohomish Mayor Wood, other elected officials and E. C. Ferguson, who presided as chair of the library board. The Governor spoke at length about the conservation of natural resources – an odd choice for a small lumber town enjoying a record year for earnings — but no report of how it was received. Following the speeches, the ceremonies moved to the new building itself that was still without lighting fixtures.

In the April 8, 1910, issue of The Snohomish County Tribune, it was reported that the city council approved an early release of the library board’s quarterly allowance of $250 since “tax collections are coming in fast.” (One condition of the city’s acceptance of the Carnegie $10,000 gift is that it would allot $1,000 per year to maintain it as a library.) The article also reports, “that the park board be allowed to expend some of [its] funds in fixing up the library grounds.” At the same council meeting, the women’s Cosmopolitan Club asked council members for a drinking fountain on the library grounds, which was still in place, but not working, when Arts of Snohomish removed it to make room for their sign.

Above the fold news, week after week, was the arrival of the Milwaukee Road to town and the construction of a new steel bridge at Avenue D.

Since the train would be running alongside the north bank of the Snohomish River, it would have to cross Avenue D at the bridge site, and the choice was between a crossing at grade or “undergrade.” The Chamber of Commerce held a second “mass meeting” on April 15, 1910, to reconsider the consensus reached at the first mass meeting held several months earlier. Seems that community feeling was shifting toward a crossing at grade, rather than going under the new bridge. May we imagine that the considerable savings for the Milwaukee Company to cross Avenue D at grade had some influence on the community’s change of heart?

Sadly, 1910 was the year that the iconic early Snohomish Atheneum building was deconstructed. Begun in 1876 by the local literary society, it was to be the city’s first library, a museum and meeting hall. The economy crashed, the society ran out of money, and the unfinished building was sold to Isaac Cathcart. For the next 30 years, the building was referred to as both Atheneum Hall and the Cathcart Opera House, depending on the activity I assume. Isaac Cathcart, once the county’s richest men died penniless. His son William built the brick building we see today at 1019 First with its storefront windows currently sporting large “For Lease” signs.

Outside of town, to the east, the corner stone for the Monroe reformatory was laid on May 28th with a potluck picnic ceremony. And to the west, the famous evangelist Billy Sunday brought his revival campaign to Everett in the summer of 1910. Don’t you love how the random events of history are the makings for a story?

And for the next 50 years the elegant, cozy building held our collection of stories comfortably until the 1960s when it became increasingly apparent to the library board that it was too small, and expensive expansion plans were proposed for taxpayers’ approval. This is where we will pick up the story of our Carnegie library building next month.



One of the earliest photographs of the Carnegie library building, an informative wide shot, is from the Maughlin collection given to the Society by Rebbecca Dickinson. The unknown photographer was standing in the intersection of First and Cedar Ave, just before sunset, to judge from the long shadows. The date could be determined once we learn when the new concrete sidewalks and curbs were added; while the sidewalk across Cedar Ave is still made of wooden planks. The building on the left is “Patrick’s Second Hand Store” — Emma Patrick was the first librarian when the library was located a former residence on this site — and the store was owned by her son Bill.

Today the old library building is hidden behind mature trees and an addition dedicated in 1968, which is currently home to Arts of Snohomish. On the left is the first gas station in town, and behind it is Bob Hart’s building of condominiums and storefronts that he named “Patrick Plaza.”

Published in the Snohomish County Tribune, June 23, 2010

Carnegie Library Building, 1910


Part I: Build a Library

The paper trail for our story begins on November 13, 1903, when the Snohomish County Tribune reported that the application form for a Library bequest from Carnegie’s New York City office had arrived in town.

The recently established Public Library Association shared the exciting news with editor Gorham who in turn wrote an editorial titled “Build a Library.” Not one to waste words, Gorham wrote, “Snohomish stands a good prospect of having a Carnegie library building.” More than hometown boosterism, however, this optimistic view was based on the inspirational efforts of the Women’s Book Club, keeper of the books donated in 1876 that established the Atheneum, a frontier literary society known throughout the territory.

image In 1901, the club purchased an old residence on the present site of the Carnegie and the famous Emma Patric was appointed the first librarian. C. F. Jackson, the owner of this property, canceled the mortgage and the library property was transferred to the city and Snohomish’s leading businessmen formed the Public Library Association. This is when the cherry tree was planted that dominates our historic image.

With the site on the city’s books, and available for a free library, one requirement of the Carnegie application was met. Another, for the city to provide the Library board with an annual allotment equal to 10 percent of the Carnegie bequest, was heartily endorsed by the editorial, stating that for a $5000 bequest a “very creditable building could be put up [… and that an annual levy of $500] by council would be justified.”

It seems the requirement of the application to demonstrate the community’s need for the library ran into trouble. The paper trail disappears with this editorial and it’s not picked up again until 1909, which by then, the Woman’s Book Club (later to become the Cosmopolitan Club) had raised $2,673.39 for the new library, often going door to door.

A quaint carbon copy of a letter in the (current) library’s vertical files dated January 16, 1909, from Carnegie’s private secretary, James Bertram, is addressed to the Honorable Sam Piles, U. S. Senator from Washington. Piles was a young lawyer in Snohomish in 1885 when he went up against city father Ferguson by advocating that some 18 Chinese residents leave on the next steamship going downriver; but now, both men are working together to shake the Carnegie money tree.

U.S. Senator’s Help.
At Ferguson’s urging, and we imagine his help with the talking points, Senator Piles writes a two-page letter to Bertram, explaining that the old family residence being used as a library “was old when I first saw it in 1883. The rooms as I recall them, are small and badly cut-up. I think it would be a waste of money, and I doubt very much if the people could be stimulated to the point of subscribing funds, to undertake to install a proper library in that old building. What they desire is a to have a first-class building within the limits of $10,000 constructed there, and then proceed among their own people to greatly increase the number of their books.”

(Another mystery of the six-year news blackout around the Carnegie application: the amount of our request doubles!)

Carnegie’s Bertram Replies.
Bertram’s reply reads in part, “If the community of Snohomish were very anxious for a Library as distinct from in a fine new Library Building, they would have shown it in utilizing the present accommodation available.” The short letter goes on to list the sizes of the five rooms to support his argument and concludes, “Mr. Carnegie does not see his way to consider the matter further just now.”

Senator Piles encloses this letter, along with his own featuring an oversized signature, to Ferguson dated January 20, 1909, advising, “In order to induce Mr. Carnegie to take any steps to assist us, we shall have to fix up the old building and put in a good supply of books.”

Astonishingly, a year and one day later, the Tribune publishes the architect’s rendering of the new library along with a detailed story. Based on the intriguing but scant sources presented here, our Carnegie library is a building that shouldn’t be!

But it is.

The formal opening was reported in the May 27, 1910, issue of the Tribune. The ladies of the Public Library Association served tea and wafers on Thursday afternoon; only children were invited on Friday afternoon; and Saturday was the first day of business. Reading room hours were from 1 to 9pm, while the “book hours” were from 2:30 to 5:30pm, everyday except Sunday. Curiously, there were around 3,500 books in the collection, just about one for each Snohomish resident counted in the 1910 census.

(The story of our Carnegie library building will continue next month with a look at what else was going on around town in 1910.)

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Published May 26, 2010, in the Snohomish Country Tribune