The first efforts to form a library in Enumclaw were made by Danish settlers who met regularly to read books in their Danish Community Library. The local Presbyterian Church hosted a small library for some years. The City of Enumclaw opened the first Enumclaw Public Library in 1923. It occupied a room in the city hall until 1928, when town founder Mary Stevenson Yerxa (1852-1928) passed away and left her home to the library. By the 1950s the old house was too small and inadequate and it was demolished. In 1954, the library moved into a new 5,000-square-foot building constructed on the same property. By the 1980s, the need for a larger building became apparent. After two failed bond issues, a third attempt in 1989 was successful, allowing the city to again build a new library. The 10,541-square-foot library located at 1700 1st Street opened in September 1991. In 2012, city voters approved the Enumclaw Library's annexation to the King County Library System (KCLS).
Community Origins and Early Efforts Toward a Library
The Enumclaw Plateau in southeastern King County lies in the foothills of the Cascade Range, not far from Mount Rainier. Frank Stevenson (1842-1914) and Mary Fell Stevenson (later Yerxa) homesteaded 160 acres on the plateau in 1879. The Northern Pacific Railroad began construction over the plateau in 1883, and reached the area soon to be known as Enumclaw on July 22, 1885. The Northern Pacific built its transcontinental line through the Stevenson homestead after the couple offered some of their land for a siding, knowing that a railroad stop would help grow the town and their property would increase in value.
Part of the Stevenson homestead was platted as the Town of Enumclaw on October 31, 1885. The name "Enumclaw" was derived from a local Native American word, translated variously as "place of evil spirits" or "loud, rattling noise." The train depot was built in 1887 and, on July 3 that year, the first train passed through Enumclaw from the east on its way to Tacoma. The Stevensons gained the title "mother and father of Enumclaw" for taking a strong interest in the area, supporting local institutions, and utilizing their land to provide opportunities to many citizens and businesses.
At the turn of the twentieth century, Enumclaw's population was 483, including a sizable number of immigrants from Denmark, Sweden, and Norway. Danish citizens played a significant role in the development of the town. In 1907, a group of them originated the first local library, described by an early historian as "a Danish Community Library" (Bagley, 832). The library contained an estimated 450 volumes. Among those who gathered there to read the books were Louise Jorgensen (1858-1932), Johan C. Johansen (1858-1907), Arent Bruhn (1835-1916), George Bruhn (1939-1916), Martin Jensen (1872-1953), and Niels N. Brons (1859-1945).
The City of Enumclaw was incorporated on February 1, 1913. That same year, the Enumclaw Civic Club held a public meeting to discuss securing a public library. At the time, the J. J. Smith School had an extensive library that residents were able to utilize. The club members wanted the citizens of Enumclaw to decide whether to keep relying on the school library or to move forward and launch a new and separate library, but no further effort was made at the time.
The Possibility of a Carnegie Library
In 1914, Reverend Joseph I. Cleland (1884-1965), a pastor at the city's Presbyterian Church, contacted the Carnegie Library Association and was told the association was willing to provide funds for a library if Enumclaw would match the gift. On January 16, 1914, the Enumclaw Courier-Herald reported:
"Plans are on foot for establishing a public library in Enumclaw. Rev J. I. Cleland has been in communication with the Carnegie Library Association and the usual proposition is available provided a sufficient sum can be raised by the people in and around Enumclaw to meet the gift of the Carnegie Library Association" ("Public Library for Enumclaw").
Two weeks later (according to a reprint years later from its archives) the paper editorialized:
"The offer of a library by the Carnegie Corporation to the people of Enumclaw is one that should not be neglected. The fact that one can be secured with only the cost of maintenance attached to it is also worthy of consideration. It is a most lamentable fact that in most rural communities the library is almost if not totally neglected" ("60 Years Ago ...").
Unfortunately, the effort to match the gift was not successful. But this did not deter the citizens of Enumclaw. The next year, the Presbyterian Church provided space in its building for a small library, which opened on May 18, 1915, with 350 books and magazines and a reading room.
First Public Library
In 1921 the Enumclaw City Hall was built, and that same year the city's first Library Board was appointed by Mayor Anton C. Johansen (1882-1941). The initial board members were C. E. Beach; Byron R. Kibler (1871-1973), who served as board secretary for 8 years; J. W. Blake; Elsa Ulman (1873-1968); and Marie Melsness (1880-1957). In November 1922, the first Library Board meeting was held.
Enumclaw's first public library opened in March 1923 in a room in the city hall. Agnes L. Christensen (1892-1974) was the first librarian, for a salary of $16 per month. "I read all the time anyway so figured I might as well take $16 a month for it," she told a reporter nearly 60 years later ("Women's Lib Nothing New"). Christensen served until 1946. A variety of organizations supported a drive collecting books and funds for the library. Seven hundred and fifty books were donated. By 1924, the library held 1,439 volumes; 450 of them, donated by the Danish Sisterhood, were in Danish.
Town father Frank Stevenson passed away on August 27, 1914, and two years later in 1916 Mary Stevenson married Whitfield Yerxa (1844-1926). On November 11, 1928, Mary Fell Stevenson Yerxa, "the mother of Enumclaw," passed away and willed her home at 1706 Wells Street and $100 to the Enumclaw Library. Volunteers moved books from the city hall to the new library location in August 1929. The library occupied the first floor of the building -- Stevenson had rented out her home and for a time the renters shared the house with the library. There were then 4,000 volumes in the collection. The Danish books were given to the Danish Old People's Home (later the Northwest Danish Association) near Des Moines.
During the Great Depression of the 1930s, the library's circulation increased as borrowed books were a form of entertainment that anyone could afford. On the other hand, the library was struggling with paying expenses. In March 1937, voters approved a $15,000 bond issue to build new facilities for the library and the city's fire department, but the amount turned out to be insufficient to fund the two projects, and a new library would have to await the end of both the Depression and World War II. In 1946, a year after the war ended, longtime librarian Agnes L. Christensen resigned. Jean M. Haines (1893-1968) became librarian in 1948.
A New Building
By the early 1950s, the library had been in the oldest building in Enumclaw for more than 22 years and the structure was in desperate need of maintenance and repair. The library fund had grown to $8,000 and the Library Board was making a case to use the money toward a new and larger library. Use of the library had increased substantially from both inside and outside Enumclaw. With a strong proposal and funds that included the cash on hand, the Stevenson-Yerxa Endowment, and other library funds, plans were set in motion to build a new library. In August 1951, the Library Board began working with the architecture firm of James M. Klontz and Associates to plan and develop a new library.
They decided to do so at the same site, on the corner of Wells Street and Myrtle Avenue, where the existing building was located (which would require demolition of the Stevenson house). The new building would be set back a little from the sidewalk, allowing parking both in the back and on the street. By 1952, Klontz had made preliminary sketches putting the ideas into a plan.
If Enumclaw was to have a new library, it would be up to voters to approve funding in the general election on November 4, 1952. And the voters overwhelmingly approved a $25,000 bond issue for the construction of the new library, by 1,097 votes in favor of the bond to just 311 opposed. With the voters of Enumclaw approving the library bond, the Weyerhaeuser Timber Foundation authorized a grant of $5,000 to the building fund in December 1952. The Library Board -- then composed of Enid Pooley (1899-1979), Helen Jane Smith (1903-2003), Bernice E. Yerxa Paulson (1912-2000), Morgen Edwards Owings (1903-1954), and Walter E. Jensen (1910-1998) -- had reached out to Weyerhaeuser in a letter written after the bond election, noting that the bond funding would not cover a needed basement for the new building.
The Stevenson house was demolished in March 1953 to make room for the new building. During construction, all books were stored at the Enumclaw City Hall and the library was closed. The building was completed on November 14, 1953, at a cost of $42,529.46. The Enumclaw firm of Petersen & Jensen was the general contractor. In January 1954, Campfire Girls, Girl Scouts, and Boy Scouts were among a host of community volunteers who moved all the books and furnishings into the new Enumclaw Public Library at 1309 Myrtle Avenue. The 5,000-square-foot building opened on Sunday, February 7, 1954, a clear day with the temperature a mild 46 degrees. Mayor Robert R. Stobbs (1901-1980) cut the ribbon for the opening. The building was filled with an estimated 450 to 500 spectators.
From the 1950s to the 1980s
The remainder of the 1950s brought many new experiences for the library. The Ladies Musical Club established a Music Library offering a record collection suitable for all ages, containing classics, popular dance music, Scandinavian tunes, cowboy songs, and an assortment of children's records, donated by a variety of clubs and organizations. The Camera Club donated a movie screen and 16-mm movie projector. A multitude of new books was added. The first story hour, sponsored by the Friends of the Library, was held on Saturday, August 6, 1955. It was such a success that the Friends of the Library extended the story hour program to enthusiastic children as a regular series. Many Enumclaw residents donated Memorial Books in memory of departed friends and family. In 1959, the last payment on the bond indebtedness was made.
In 1963, the family of Herman (1903-?) and Louise Bartman (1902-1960) Scholtfeldt established a fund in their honor, donating the money needed to build an addition to the library, which was named the Scholtfeldt Family Pioneer Room.
To celebrate the nation's Bicentennial year in 1976, photos were selected from the library's photo collection to create a display depicting early Enumclaw. Photos of the early logging industry taken by Darius (1860-1945) and Tabitha (1875-1963) Kinsey were presented to the library that same year. The library's summer programming over the years encouraged reading, and also a variety of other activities. In 1983 the library sponsored a hot-air balloon that was launched from the J. J. Smith Elementary School playfield. Other programs sponsored by the library included book games, bookmark contests, children's entertainers, concerts, and puppet shows.
The Library in Town Center
In 1983, the city of Enumclaw acquired land from Burlington Northern Railroad and began planning a project to be known as Town Center. By 1988, the Town Center Committee planning the project had included plans for a new library building on the former Burlington Northern land. The citizens of Enumclaw voted three times before approving a $1.25 million bond issue to fund the new building. On September 20, 1988, the bond issue fell just a few votes short of the 60 percent supermajority approval required. On May 16, 1989, voters approved the bond issue by 72 percent, and the library moved forward until September 1989, when an error was discovered in the title of the ballot measure, voiding the vote. But on November 7, 1989, 63 percent of voters approved the bond. With funding set, the new library was on its way.
A groundbreaking ceremony was held on August 21, 1990. Thirteen months later on September 21, 1991, with construction complete, volunteers helped move more than 40,000 items into the new building. On September 28, 1991, the new 10,541-square-foot Enumclaw Public Library opened to the public with a dedication ceremony. There were slide presentations, a play, and a band. Enumclaw mayor Keith Blackburn, Library Board president David Berner, and librarian Robert Baer all participated in the dedication.
For 90 years, since the first Enumclaw Public Library opened in the city hall building, the City of Enumclaw operated and funded its own library to provide services to its residents. That changed when the citizens of Enumclaw voted on April 17, 2012, to approve annexation of the Enumclaw Library to the King County Library System. Annexation transferred responsibility for operating and maintaining the library to the county-wide library system, giving Enumclaw library patrons access to a much greater range of materials and allowing the library to provide more services at a lower property-tax rate.
As of 2016, Enumclaw is the most recent library to annex to KCLS. The future of the Enumclaw Library has been placed in good hands.