The Richmond Beach Library was founded in 1899 and from its inception has been a nucleus of community activity and learning. Beginning with an initial collection of 100 volumes that had been discarded by The Seattle Public Library, the Richmond Beach Library's collection has grown to some 45,000 books. The Richmond Beach Library has been part of the King County Library System (KCLS) since 1944, when it became the second library to join the recently established KCLS.
Early Days in Richmond Beach
Platted in 1890, Richmond Beach was one of the first communities established in the large swath of northern King County now incorporated as the City of Shoreline. A Great Northern Railway platform was completed there in 1891, and although the settlement had no official depot until 1907, the train would make unscheduled stops if flagged to do so. The Richmond Beach Post Office operated nearby, in one room of a small store.
Early Richmond Beach was made up mainly of family farms, many featuring orchards. Strawberries were a popular crop, and small poultry-raising operations were common. Local businesses included a saloon, a butcher shop, two grocery stores, and a dance hall. A small hotel served primarily Great Northern Railway workers. In 1891, residents built a one-room schoolhouse on land that 110 years later, and after some controversy, would become the site for the Richmond Beach Library. Telephone service arrived in 1907, and electric power became available in 1914, according to the Richmond Beach Community Association.
The arrival of the Seattle-Everett Interurban in 1906 linked the nearby settlements of Ronald and Richmond Highlands (located east of Richmond Beach along Aurora Avenue) with the cities to the south and north, indirectly easing access to Richmond Beach as well. In 1913 the area's major north/south thoroughfare, the North Trunk Highway, was paved with bricks, greatly aiding car and bus traffic near -- but not directly through -- Richmond Beach, which remained relatively isolated and bucolic.
An Early Library
In the fall of 1899, local residents under the leadership of schoolteacher Jessie Cribley (1863-?) raised $22 to fund the creation of a small lending library and organized the Richmond Beach Library Association. Seattle Public Library's chief librarian Charles Wesley Smith (1866-?) facilitated the donation of 100 volumes that the Seattle library was discarding. This fledgling Richmond Beach Library collection was housed in wooden crates in the lobby of the Holloway Hotel. John (1859-?) and Sadie (1867-1925) Holloway owned the hotel and lived there with their five children. Glass-fronted bookcases eventually replaced the wooden-crate shelves.
Around 1908, Richmond Beach residents hoping to build a library began a fundraising program. The collection had outgrown the available space at the hotel, and was moved temporarily into the Richmond Beach School. In late 1911, the Richmond Beach Library Association began constructing a library building at 2402 NW 195th Place.
The building opened on April 22, 1912, and by 1916 electricity and running water had been installed. Marion Foster (1875-?) served as librarian. A 1975 community history states that Foster "knew every patron's reading preferences and 'saved' books of special interest for him. There was always the 5 cent reading shelf, where the new books were available for this rental price" (Shoreline Memories, Vol. II, p. 49). The Richmond Beach Garden Club assumed care of the library grounds.
The library closed briefly in 1918 while Richmond Beach, along with the rest of the nation, focused efforts on keeping up the home front after the United States entered World War I. When the facility reopened in early 1919, library users formed standing committees to oversee all operational aspects, including membership, purchasing, custodial duties, beautification, school liaison, entertainment, event ticketing, and refreshments. These committees eased the librarian's burden and ensured library users' investment in the library's wellbeing.
Maintaining adequate funding to operate the library was a constant concern. The library association held fundraising card parties, with "pinochle, whist, and bridge being most popular," according to longtime Richmond Beach resident Ruth Caskey Sater (ca. 1903-2001), who also recalled that she and her mother and many neighbors participated in vaudeville-style fundraising performances held in the Richmond Beach School gymnasium: "We sang old songs, had dance routines, crazy jokes, instrumental numbers, and every sort of vaudeville act. ... I believe the price was 50 cents admission. But the whole town turned out and everyone had fun as well as helping the Library Fund" (Shoreline Memories, Vol. II).
A 1931 newspaper article announcing one of the library association's many fundraisers explained to readers that the association "as you all know, has no source of income other than voluntary contributions, and when you stop and consider that you can go down to the library, pick out two or three books, take them home and enjoy many a night of solid comfort reading them without any cost, it seems to us a person would be a most ungrateful wretch who would not respond to the call for help" (Willis).
By the early 1930s, the Richmond Beach Library had more books than shelf space. In an effort to ease the crowding, the building was lifted up and a cellar was added. Unfortunately this made matters worse: The new cellar flooded frequently, the roof began to leak, the windows refused to open, and the library's stove would no longer draw.
Emergency chimney repairs, new wiring, new linoleum, and indoor plumbing to eliminate the need for the old outhouse necessitated constant fundraising. The librarian was put on leave in order to save paying her salary and volunteers assumed her duties. Richmond Beach residents rallied, and in four months the librarian reassumed her former tasks.
A New Alliance
On January 3, 1944, the Richmond Beach Library became part of the newly organized King County Rural Library District, later known as the King County Library System (KCLS). Richmond Beach was the second library to join KCLS, bringing 1,296 volumes to the new countywide collection. Becoming part of KCLS provided libraries around the county with many benefits, including access to the collections of all Seattle Public Library branches and to KCLS's own collection, which increased rapidly as other rural libraries allied themselves with the system.
In 1945 the Richmond Beach Library's 1912 building was refurbished again with help from area businesses and residents. Volunteers tore out unwanted partitions, constructed new shelving, and repainted using light-colored paint "to add cheer," according to a KCLS annual report, which went on to enthuse that "The labors of the community have made their library an ornament to the village center" ("King County Public Library Annual Report for 1945").
The Richmond Beach Library Association maintained ownership of the building even after the library joined KCLS. Over the years, members of the Richmond Beach Garden Club made significant contributions to grounds maintenance and beautification. In 1946 the Richmond Beach Men's Club installed a sprinkler system. Despite the interior and exterior upgrades, operating hours remained limited during the 1940s, with the library open two afternoons and two evenings on weekdays, plus three hours on Saturdays.
In 1957, the Richmond Beach Library Association decided to relocate the building's kitchen to the basement. This freed up space for shelving to hold 1,000 new books. The building's heating system was upgraded and the interior received a fresh coat of paint. In 1961 and 1962, community members, who volunteered their time and donated all the materials, replaced the aging roof and some beams, added a new wing, and built new shelving. The remodeled facility opened in April 1962, although some work continued through 1974.
A Modern Building
By 1991, the Richmond Beach Library's collection had outgrown the building. An article in The Seattle Times bemoaned the fact, stating that "If all Richmond Beach's residents returned their library books at the same time, there would be no place to put them all," and quoted longtime librarian Anina Sill: "We keep building new shelves; they've reached the ceiling now" ("Booked Up").
In July 1991, King County Executive Tim Hill (b. 1936) signed an agreement designating Richmond Beach Center Park as the site for a new Richmond Beach Library. The designated parcel had been the site of the Richmond Beach Elementary School, which was built in 1924 to house kindergarten through 12th grade. Use for high school students ended in 1945, and the school closed completely in 1971.
Following the school's closure, the gymnasium and two portable classrooms were used for recreational and meeting purposes. The county cleared the way for library construction via a land exchange for a small parcel near the Burke Gilman Trail in Kenmore. This decision was later called into question -- Executive Tim Hill voided the 1991 agreement in 1992 -- and library construction remained moribund as King County, KCLS, and community members hashed out details. Finally, with all structures on the site long demolished, the construction of a modern new Richmond Beach Library commenced.
The 5,250-square-foot Richmond Beach Library at Richmond Beach Center Park opened on June 1, 2001. The library occupied about one-fifth of the site, with the remainder dedicated to park use. The library was designed by architecture firm Johnston Architects to harmonize with the larger park in which it was set, and the building was surrounded by arbors, trellises, and berms.
Like many KCLS libraries, the Richmond Beach Library benefitted from a capital bond measure approved by county voters in 2004. Interior improvements to the library, which included new computer workstations, furniture, lighting, carpet, and paint, were completed in January 2014.
The Richmond Beach Library has hosted an annual April open house since its first building opened in 1912. The Friends of Richmond Beach Library also support the library with an ongoing book sale in the library's lobby and with the sale of tote bags and note cards. For the past 50 years the Friends group has held an annual art show that, since its inception in 1967, has been a fundraiser for the library. By tradition, unframed paintings are hung on clothesline or chicken wire at this community art exhibit and the artists donate 10 percent of their profits to aid the library.