Snoqualmie Library, King County Library System

  • By Fred Poyner IV
  • Posted 12/13/2016
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 20234

The first library to serve the city of Snoqualmie and the nearby mill town of Snoqualmie Falls across the Snoqualmie River was opened in the 1920s by the Snoqualmie Falls Women's Club and located in that community's YMCA building. The newly formed King County Library System (KCLS) began providing professional library service in the Snoqualmie Falls library in 1944, and two years later KCLS opened the first Snoqualmie Library in the city of Snoqualmie. The Snoqualmie Falls Library lasted into the 1970s, while the Snoqualmie Library, located since 2007 on Snoqualmie Ridge above the historic downtown, continues to serve the city of Snoqualmie and the surrounding area.

First Libraries for Neighboring Communities

The city of Snoqualmie on the Snoqualmie River in the Cascade foothills of eastern King County traces its origins back to early pioneers in 1858. The adjoining mill town of Snoqualmie Falls across the river was created in June 1916 with the coming of the Snoqualmie Falls Lumber Company. This was an operation run by Grandin-Coast and Weyerhaeuser, which operated out of offices in Seattle at the time. In addition to housing for mill workers and their families, other amenities, including the first Community Hall, were constructed by 1918.

The first library in the area, which served the communities of both Snoqualmie and Snoqualmie Falls, was started in the 1920s by the Snoqualmie Falls Women's Club. By 1924 it was located in the second Community Hall built in Snoqualmie Falls. The library occupied a single large room and had its own book collection, with 209 books the first year. The Community Hall also housed the local YMCA, which at the time "was the largest 'Y' east of Seattle" (Battey email). In 1930, a fire destroyed the Community Hall building housing the library, but it was rebuilt and served for another four decades. Children were prominent among the patrons who borrowed books from the YMCA-hosted library. One such patron and local resident, Harold Brumbaugh, later recalled checking out the book Smokey, a children's book about a horse, in the early 1940s.

On February 1, 1944, KCLS, which had been created little more than a year earlier as the King County Rural Library District, contracted with Snoqualmie Falls to provide support for this library, with a Mrs. Brinkley appointed as the first professional librarian. During the tenure of H. K. Bey as librarian in the 1960s, the Snoqualmie Falls Library served the Snoqualmie Falls Grade School across the street from the Community Hall. Much of the relatively brief history of Snoqualmie Falls was documented by Harold Keller, who was not only the official Weyerhaeuser photographer but also the YMCA director during the 1940s. Several of Keller's photos show Bey with students from the grade school perusing library books.

The Snoqualmie Falls Library continued its operations with support from KCLS until the building was finally closed in 1971. The Snoqualmie Falls Post Office was closed the same year, with the final demise of Snoqualmie Falls as a company mill town. Most of the houses were either removed to other locations in the Snoqualmie Valley or destroyed. Eleanor Gilmore, who was the wife of Don Gilmore, the last director of the Snoqualmie Falls YMCA, recalled the town's destruction in the early 1970s: "The burning of the housing while we were living there ... [it was] dramatic for me to see everything burning around me" (Gilmore email).

Meanwhile, shortly after KCLS had begun supporting the Snoqualmie Falls Library, it also established another library in the older and more enduring city of Snoqualmie. In January 1946, Roy Anderson and S. M. McCowan from the local Commercial Club urged the Snoqualmie city council to contract for a KCLS library in that city. At a follow-up meeting in March, where the two men presented the mayor and the council members with check from the Commercial Club for the first eight months of library expenses, the proposal was approved.

On May 4, 1946, the Snoqualmie Library opened in the town hall building fronting Railroad Avenue downtown. It had an initial collection of 1,414 books and in the first year registered 253 borrowers. KCLS hired Margaret "Nellie" Nein (1897-1995) as Snoqualmie's first librarian. Nein continued to work as the Snoqualmie librarian for the next 16 years. She was assisted by Gloria McNeely (b. 1919) until 1952, when McNeely joined the first Snoqualmie Library Board as a trustee, along with Mrs. Ward Storrar, Mrs. Robert Innes, Mrs. C. B. Hall, and Mrs. Robert Nye.

Nein recalled that the new library had challenges, including limited space and a steep set of stairs to reach the mezzanine level where the books were stored. The stair banister in particular was tempting for young visitors: "I knew I couldn't keep the children from sliding down that banister, but I did make a rule that once a day was the limit!" ("Snoqualmie Library Community Study," 2). In its decade of operation in the old town hall building, the Snoqualmie Library served 114,299 patrons, including 49,596 children.

Two More Downtown Locations

In 1956, the Snoqualmie Library continued its model of using a shared municipal space, albeit in a new location at the corner of Northwest 1st Street and 5th Avenue Northwest. Like the library's previous location, the new building also served as the town hall and fire station. The new structure, one of the first in a series of civic-improvement efforts to give Snoqualmie a face lift, resulted from a citizens' coalition partnership with the city, begun in the previous year and called the Snoqualmie Community Development Program. A group of citizens who decided that Snoqualmie "needed prettying" turned to the University of Washington's Bureau of Community Development for advice on where resources should be focused ("Snoqualmie Gets ..."). A year later, noting the construction of the new municipal building containing the library, along with the installation of needed street signs, Jack E. Wright, head of the UW program, praised the progress that local citizens had made: "They are aware they have let their town sag and they have a core of community interest in its improvement" ("Snoqualmie Gets ...").

The Snoqualmie Library remained in the new town hall building for two decades, and space there was always at a premium, with only a single room of book collections open to the public. The first step toward a new stand-alone library building came in 1966, when county voters passed a library bond measure to fund construction of new libraries county-wide. Additional funding was secured in 1972 when city voters approved a $40,000 bond issue for a new building (this was matched dollar for dollar by KCLS). The Weyerhaeuser Company donated another $8,000 to assist with the construction of the new library.

On June 8, 1975, the Snoqualmie Library opened the doors at its third location -- 218 River Street, also downtown, like the two previous locations -- with access to 10,000 books in the stacks and another 1,000,000 volumes available through the KCLS interlibrary loan system. The single-story, 2,100-square-foot library, designed by architect Felix Campanella and constructed by the Davies Construction Company, was completed at a total cost of $116,000.

The new library was open four days a week, from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m., and also 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Monday and Wednesday nights. Its features included a Children's Corner with books intended for young audiences; booklists for adults, teens and children; a reference service in the library and by phone; and magazines, records and films in addition to books and research materials. Margorie Staggs served as the librarian, with Loretta Herman as the assistant. In addition, KCLS staff provided services for various specific audiences, with coordinators for children and young adults, deputy librarians on call for support and public services, and support staff for facilities and operations.

The next 15 years of operations at the Snoqualmie Library continued to be successful, in spite of the downside of having a location in the downtown district that was prone to occasional flooding from the nearby Snoqualmie River. On November 6, 1990, voters in Snoqualmie approved annexation of the Snoqualmie Library to the King County Library System.

New Building for a New Century

In 2004 King County voters again approved a library bond measure, this time a $172 million capital bond to build new libraries to replace many existing ones and to renovate many more. Five of the new library buildings were designed by architects Miller Hull Partnership and built by general contractors BNBuilders, with the Snoqualmie Library the first of the five to be built. A groundbreaking ceremony was held on December 8, 2005, at the site of the library's new home on Snoqualmie Ridge, where a major new development was then being constructed in several phases above the historic downtown, significantly enlarging and transforming the city.

This new location represented a major change for the Snoqualmie Library, which had been located downtown for its entire six decades of existence. One of the critical findings of a 2005 Community Study completed by KCLS was that the downtown area was no longer the center of the community that the library served:

"Historic downtown, perched on the banks of the Snoqualmie River about a mile above the Snoqualmie Falls, will no longer be the City's population center. The downtown will retain Snoqualmie's tourist attractions and much of [the] region's history, but many of the people, businesses and public institutions will be on Snoqualmie Ridge" ("Snoqualmie Library Community Study," 3).

An advantage of the Snoqualmie Ridge site for the library was that it was within walking distance of new residential communities, businesses, and public services. With the disappearance of the lumber mills, most employers were now outside the city, making the library's location closer to I-90 more appealing to commuters for accessibility. Even the geography argued in favor of a change from the traditional downtown location, since the higher elevation all but eliminated the prospect of flooding from nearby rivers during the rainy season.

However, not all were pleased. Some residents long accustomed to the downtown branch location "mourned the loss of their library, which created some hard feelings" (Wickstrom interview). KCLS staff provided interim service with bookmobile visits to the downtown area, both during construction and after completion of the new library, but this service saw relatively little public use.

In comparison, in the first six months after the new Snoqualmie Library opened on August 1, 2007, circulation increased by 171 percent over the former library location. The new 6,000-square-foot building that served as the fourth Snoqualmie Library was designed to accommodate visitors young and old alike. It offered a Story Time program area that could be expanded out onto a patio on nice days, a Children's Collection, a multipurpose room, computer stations, collections of books, videos on DVDs, magazines, and a private study room. The exterior plaza space at the northwest corner of the library was designated as room for a future expansion of the building.

The new library also boasted two features that utilized the latest in modern interactive technology to provide both service and aesthetic enjoyment. The first was an Automated Materials Handling (AMH) unit, an automated book-return option on the exterior of the building that could scan and sort books and other returned items. But the AMH proved to be too slow and cumbersome for many patrons, and others preferred the personal interaction with library staff in making returns. It was removed, allowing the freed space to be used as a second study room.

The other high-tech interactive feature, which proved more popular, was an art display called Liquid Letters by the artist Trimpin (b. 1951). Visitors could operate a dial containing the letters of the alphabet, with a computer program that then generated words in a water display inside the library's main reading room. The artist in essence provided visitors a means to create their own expressions using the written word.

Even with its move from the city's historic center to the new development on Snoqualmie Ridge, the Snoqualmie Library has continued to remain engaged with residents from throughout the city and beyond. The library has an active Library Advisory Board and is supported by Friends of the Snoqualmie Library group. In 2013, visitors checked out 195,666 items from the library's collections.


Sources:

Lucile McDonald, "Snoqualmie Gets Its 'Face-Lifting' Program Under Way," The Seattle Times, July 15, 1956, Sunday magazine, p. 2; "Snoqualmie Library Community Study," April 2005, King County Library System (KCLS) website accessed November 26, 2016 (https://w3.kcls.org/community_studies/Snoqualmie%20Community%20Study.pdf); Fred Poyner IV interview with Irene Wickstrom, November 15, 2016, Snoqualmie, transcript in possession of Fred Poyner IV, Issaquah, Washington; "Delivering on a Promise to Voters: KCLS Capital Improvement Plan 11-Year Report, September 2015," KCLS website accessed May 23, 2016 (https://w3.kcls.org/pdf/11_year_report.pdf); "Year in Review 2013," KCLS website accessed October 4, 2016 (https://kcls.org/wp-content/uploads/sites/20/2016/02/Year-in-Review-2013.pdf); "History," KCLS website accessed October 2, 2016 (http://kcls.org/history/); Our Snoqualmie Community, 1856-1956 (Snoqualmie: Snoqualmie Valley Historical Society, 1956 [2008]); Dave Battey, email to Fred Poyner IV, November 13, 2016, Cristy Lake, email to Fred Poyner IV, November 14, 2016, and Eleanor Gilmore, email to Fred Poyner IV, November 23, 2016, copies in possession of Fred Poyner IV; "Snoqualmie Library Service: A Summary," May 1946-December 1955, Snoqualmie Library Archives, Snoqualmie, Washington; Dedication Program, June 8, 1975, Snoqualmie Library Archives; Nellie Nein obituary, typescript dated November 15, 1995, Snoqualmie Library Archives; "Liquid Letters: Interactive Art at Snoqualmie Library," undated typescript, Snoqualmie Library Archives; "History of the Snoqualmie Library" in Service Needs Assessment, April 1997, Snoqualmie Library Archives; "Regular Council Meeting," March 4, 1946, City of Snoqualmie website accessed November 23, 2016 (www.ci.snoqualmie.wa.us/PublicDocumentLibrary); HistoryLink.org Online Encyclopedia of Washington State History, "King County Library System" (by Paula Becker), http://www.historylink.org (accessed November 26, 2016).


Related Topics:   Education | King County Library System

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