On March 8, 1946, the Vashon Memorial Library opens in a newly constructed cottage-style building on Bank Road in the town of Vashon. Vashon Memorial Library is the seventh library to join the King County Library System (KCLS), which was established in 1942 by King County voters to serve communities within the county but outside Seattle city limits. The new library on Vashon-Maury Island has been funded and constructed by dedicated volunteers eager to support and facilitate their community's love of reading. It is the first new library building to be built as part of KCLS.
Library activity on Vashon-Maury Island (two islands joined by a natural isthmus) began in 1916 in the community of Burton on Quartermaster Harbor at the south end of the island, when the Vashon Island Women's Club founded the Burton Rental Library. That library was housed in various locations for nearly three decades. When the King County Library System was established by voters in 1942 (as the King County Rural Library District), the Vashon Island Women's Club successfully applied to have its library join the system. Apparently unbeknownst to many Burton Library patrons, KCLS's plan was for the library to be centrally located in the town of Vashon, rather than in Burton.
When Vashon Memorial Library opened in temporary quarters on March 4, 1944, the Burton Library transferred its entire collection -- some 2,000 volumes -- to Vashon, and ceased operation. Burton readers quickly experienced regret at having no library. Burton Library rebounded somewhat shortly thereafter, but never regained its former size or status.
A Community Effort
Islanders incorporated the Vashon Island Memorial Library Association, choosing the name to honor residents who had served or were currently serving in World War II. With the library's collection housed in temporary quarters, the library association raised funds to construct a permanent facility. Local businessman James Smyth (1908-1989) was elected to lead the fundraising drive. The library boosters purchased land on Bank Road in the town of Vashon. Architect William R. Grant (ca. 1890-1957), who lived on Vashon, designed the building, volunteering his services.
Vashon resident Sidney Cleveland Bard (1908-1980) -- whose Vashon-dwelling sister Betty MacDonald (1907-1958) was about to become globally famous following the October 1945 publication of her book The Egg and I -- donated excavation services. Augustus Bacchus (ca. 1893-1957), who owned a local lumber company, donated labor and provided the construction materials at cost. The Holert Electric Company donated the building's wiring. Vashon's Camulos Club, the Vashon Island Women's Club, the Ellisport Women's Club, the Sportsman's Club, the P.T.A., and Bickle Furniture Company all donated various furnishings. Vashon mail carrier Ira D. Thompson (ca. 1880-1953) custom built the librarian's desk.
The library was built primarily during the final year of World War II, and wartime shortages and restrictions on materials meant that construction proceeded slowly. An undated essay written by Marjorie Stanley (1891-1981), Vashon Memorial Library's first librarian, recounted these frustrations:
"Materials were practically unobtainable, labor was skittish. A show of life about the building and the entire Board rushed to see if work was really going to resume at last. ... 'They're putting in a window sash,' Joey would announce breathlessly, and we would drop everything and run to look. 'No, I guess they're just measuring something,' we'd say sadly" ("We Built Our Library ...").
Despite the challenges, the library was eventually completed. It opened on March 8, 1946. The cottage-style building measured just 960 square feet. It was the first new library building constructed in the King County Library System.
Memorial to Military Service
KCLS's 1946 annual report stated that this was the first World War II memorial to be erected in King County. A large plaque mounted inside the library listed all the Vashon residents had who served in the military during World War II. A 2010 article in the Vashon-Maury Island Beachcomber recalled how a Vashon family built a garden behind the library in memory of two brothers who had died during the war:
"Behind the library, father and mother Gus and Caroline and brothers Don and Sid Bacchus built a memorial garden in remembrance of the Bacchus brothers, Tom and Ladd, who were killed during World War II. Tom was a naval fighter pilot who was killed in action in the Philippines, and Ladd was killed when his plane crashed in the Oregon Mountains as he was returning to Vashon from flight training in Texas. With the death of the two brothers, the other two brothers, Don, a sergeant in the U.S. Army clearing mines in Europe, and Sid, who was in naval training on the East Coast, were returned home" ("Time and Again: First a Library ...").
A Dedicated Librarian
Marjorie Stanley was Vashon Memorial Library's first librarian. Stanley and her parents and siblings had moved to Burton from Seattle's Queen Anne Hill when she was 11. She graduated from Vashon College (an academy, not a college in the modern sense) in 1909. She then worked at Tacoma's Stadium High School until 1924, when she entered the University of Washington to study interior design. Stanley worked for a Seattle designer for several years before moving back to Burton in 1931, following her father's death. She was living with her mother in 1944, when the opportunity to apply for the librarian position arose. Stanley served Vashon readers until her retirement in 1961.
Marjorie Stanley wrote a weekly books column for the Vashon Island News-Record and was a passionate advocate for community history. Her love of nature and her commitment to the preservation of the natural environment led her to donate a portion of her property to the state of Washington to serve as a wilderness area. Designated the Marjorie R. Stanley Natural Area and located on the north side of Quartermaster Harbor, the land is a testament to Stanley's deep commitment and varied service to Vashon-Maury Island.
The library that opened in 1946 served Vashon-Maury Island until 1983, when KCLS opened a new, larger, and more modern library at Ober Park near the northern end of Vashon on the Vashon Highway. The little cottage-style building that had housed the library for more than 37 years became the Vashon Senior Center.