Fall City Library, King County Library System

  • By Michael Schein
  • Posted 9/09/2016
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 20118
See Additional Media

A desk floating downriver may seem an inauspicious start for any successful venture, but that's part of the story of the Fall City Library. Fall City is an unincorporated King County community located some 30 miles east of Seattle, about one mile below Snoqualmie Falls. Despite its name, Fall City is not actually an incorporated city, and therefore the library has played a key role in uniting the community. The first Fall City Library was established in 1944, shortly after creation of the King County Library System (KCLS), using a salvaged desk found floating down the Snoqualmie River. Increased usage and community needs have driven growth, with new library facilities opened in 1957, 1967, 1986, and 2008. The Fall City Library also benefitted from remarkably stable leadership during its period of maturation, from 1950 to 2000. From a desk and chair in a church with very limited hours to a 5,000-square-foot modern facility with more than 100,000 check-outs, a wide range of programs and services, computers with access to the Internet and a full digital library, the Fall City Library has evolved well beyond its humble beginnings in the span of a single lifetime.

Fall City Study Club and the First Library

Fall City is located at the head of the navigable part of the Snoqualmie River, a spot that pioneers called "The Landing." The Landing is just below the confluence of the Snoqualmie and Raging Rivers, and a mile below 270-foot Snoqualmie Falls. Non-Indian settlers first reached the area in the late 1850s and early 1860s. Continued settlement benefited from logging, fertile soil for farming, tourists visiting the falls, and, by the 1920s, automobile sightseers driving the Sunset Highway (U.S. Route 10).

Nonetheless, throughout much of the twentieth century Fall City was a fairly isolated community, lacking many cultural benefits. In response, a group of Fall City women formed the Fall City Study Club in 1922 "to learn more about the world and have fun doing it" (Kelley, 288). When, in November 1942, residents of King County voted to establish the King County Rural Library District (later to be known as the King County Library System), the Fall City Study Club was eager to become a sponsoring organization for one of the new King County libraries. Because the Study Club lacked funds, other organizations and public-spirited individuals in the community pitched in. The United Methodist Church agreed to provide space for the library in its Sunday School rooms. Elmer Gochnour (1880-1959) built the bookshelves. Someone found a used piece of linoleum, which was acquired for $10. The famous floating desk was hauled out from the nearby Snoqualmie River to complete the furnishings.

Fall City's application was approved as a King County library on March 15, 1944, the eighth in what by 2016 would grow to be a 49-library system. The Fall City Library was initially open only two afternoons and one evening each week. Mary Stokes (1876-1956) was the first Fall City librarian, serving on a voluntary basis until 1947, when Edna Huffman took over until 1950. For the first two years the Study Club could not even afford the roughly $200 per year operating expenses, and these were paid by United Good Neighbors. The Study Club was able to shoulder expenses thereafter, primarily relying upon two annual events: in the spring a plant sale and in the fall a "silver tea" featuring a cultural program. The plant sale is carried on to this day by the Friends of Fall City Library.

The year 1950 was an important one for the Fall City Library, because that was when it got its first long-term librarian, Marguerite Nelson (1910-1999). Nelson first came to Fall City in 1938 to teach English and languages at the high school, and then she married and joined her new husband in working a 180-acre farm a mile east of town. Nelson served as Fall City's head librarian for 25 years, from 1950 to 1975.

Second and Third Libraries

In 1957 the United Methodist Church planned a remodel that would have forced the library upstairs. The Study Club felt that this would be too difficult for elderly residents and that increased usage warranted a dedicated library space. The problem, of course, was funds. Money was raised with plant and rummage sales, as well as by children holding paper- and glass-collection drives, and even pickle sales. Word of mouth brought the news that Al (1903-1997) and Bonnie (1904-1994) Hanson were about to build a new house and were willing to donate the 18-by-24-foot "honeymoon cottage" they had first occupied back in 1933 -- provided the Study Club could move it and find a place for it. The Snoqualmie Valley School Board agreed to allow the new library building on its property adjacent to the school grounds, facing SE 42nd Street. Elmer Gochnour again donated his labor to build shelving, cabinets, and even a customized desk. Other community volunteers poured a new foundation, moved the building, plumbed and wired it, patched the roof, and remodeled and painted. The finishing touch came when the school children of Fall City moved 6,000 volumes from the church to the new library, and in the fall of 1957 the second incarnation of the Fall City Library opened, for the first time in its very own building.

By 1960, circulation had grown to 16,000 volumes annually and the honeymoon was over with the little 432-square-foot cottage. A 1964 expansion of the Federal Library Service and Construction Act of 1957 made matching funds available for construction of new libraries, and the next year the Fall City Study Club announced an $8,500 fundraising drive for construction of a new library building. Almost three-quarters of Fall City households donated, and fundraisers were held by many local community organizations. In February 1967 the Study Club was able to present KCLS with a check for $9,267. The balance of what would prove to be a total construction cost of $33,447 came from King County taxpayers and federal matching funds.

The resulting third Fall City Library was an expansion to 1,300 square feet, reported to hold (depending on sources) between 12,000 and 14,000 volumes. Ground had already been broken in the snow of early January 1967, on the premises of the elementary school, facing Redmond-Fall City Road. The contractor, from Seattle, was Gene Shuck and the architects were Hovind, Harthorne & Smith, also of Seattle. The new mid-century-modern building, finished with stone quarried from Marguerite Nelson's family farm, was completed in April 1967, opened for business on May 13, and was formally dedicated on Sunday, June 18, 1967, at 3:00 p.m.

Remarkable Constancy

With the library safely ensconced in its new quarters, in 1968 the Study Club turned over $2,000 to the newly-formed Fall City Library Board and got out of the library business. According to bylaws adopted in January 1974: "The purpose of this organization is to serve the community through the betterment of the Fall City library facilities and services" ("Fall City Library Board Bylaws").

In 1972 Fall City celebrated its centennial with a community-wide festival and parade. The Fall City Library float featured a castle surrounded by walls of books, beneficently ruled over by a high school student as queen. It was one of the largest floats in the parade. The big sign over the float read, "Fall City Library -- Happiness is a Good Book" ("Fall City Centennial Parade 1972").

In 1975, after serving for 25 years, Marguerite Nelson stepped away from what she called "a happy part of my life" as Fall City librarian (Nelson manuscript). Her long-time assistant, Joan Bronemann (1921-2005), took over, and served for until her retirement in 1987. Fall City's fifth librarian, Nan Palmer, then served until the year 2000. Thus, over a period of 51 years, from 1950 to 2000, Fall City experienced the remarkable constancy of only three head librarians.

Dedicating the Fourth Library and Planning the Fifth

By the mid-1980s the Fall City Library was again bursting at the seams, so head librarian Joan Bronemann alerted the King County Library System to the fact that the former Fall City SeaFirst Bank building at 33415 SE 42nd Place was available. The building was acquired for $150,000 and renovated to serve library needs for an additional $88,000. The staff rolled book carts across the street to the new facility to prepare for opening. A gala dedication and open house was held Saturday, July 19, 1986, from noon to 4 p.m. The dedication featured live music, a Boy Scout flag ceremony, speeches by visiting dignitaries, presentation of the keys by Gary Sortus of Sortus-Vos Architects and Rick Nesheim of D.M.I. Enterprises, general contractors, songs, storytelling, and refreshments.

As of that 1986 dedication of the fourth incarnation of Fall City's library, its growth could be measured in several ways. On-site staffing was now up to the head librarian plus three assistants; hours were expanded to Monday and Wednesday, 1:00 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., and Thursday and Friday, 1:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m.; the physical structure had more than doubled in size, to 2,960 square feet; and the facility held a collection of 25,000 items (no longer measured solely in "volumes" due to the advent of other media). The new facility had better ability to serve the diversified needs of the community with a reading room and study area, meeting room, teen area in the former bank vault "(minus the steel doors)," dedicated area for children's programs and films, and more staff space ("Fall City"). The most popular books of the time were those that fit the Fall City lifestyle, such as home gardening, physical fitness, fishing, and books by local historians. Bronemann noted a big increase in library usage after the opening of the new facility: "It's something everyone's excited about. People come in and they're all smiles" (Parker).

The passage of a 2004 capital bond measure made it possible for the Fall City Library to grow once more, into its fifth and (as of 2016) current incarnation. According to an extensive study done by KCLS as part of the planning process, "[t]he library is central to the community" ("Fall City Library 2006 Community Study," 5). By then library services included toddler and preschool-age weekly story time and evening story time, all of which incorporated parent/caregiver education; library tours for Fall City Elementary School students, including instruction on use of online resources; support for local elementary-school teachers; library cards for all second-graders; a summer reading program; the year-round Ready-Set-Read series of special programs to engage young people in literacy; workshops for parents and caregivers; programs for teens such as a monthly book club, after-school audio-book listening, a gaming area, and a "read three, get one free, incentive program; and, for adults, English-as-a-second-language (ESL) classes and a planned book group.

The study noted that because many Fall City households had working caregivers and there were limited options for after-school care in the community, many teens and "tweens" were told to go to the library after school to wait for their parents to come and pick them up after work. A major priority of the library was "[d]eveloping an environment that welcomes these young people as library patrons" ("Fall City Library 2006 Community Study," 7). Other goals for Fall City's new library included: "Promote homework help services;" "Increase promotion of Early Literacy through interactions with families;" "Offer leadership and volunteer opportunities for teens (i.e. a teen advisory board);" "Work with the school to organize a 'get ready for kindergarten' program;" "Create a solid collection for youth that encourages academic and recreational growth, with a focus on 'tween' patrons (ages 10-14) to reflect current population trends;" "Offer computers dedicated for young children's use;" and "Encourage community input and participation in the process" ("Fall City Library 2006 Community Study," 8-9).

The Newest Library

The new Fall City Library was built on the site of the previous one, with a ribbon-cutting ceremony held on May 3, 2008. The program featured music by the Chief Kanim Middle School Ensemble, speeches, Latino music, and storytelling. The "swag" included a tote bag sporting an image of the new library, a button urging community members to "Celebrate!" the new library, and a bookmark proclaiming, "I checked out the Fall City Library!" ("2008, New Fall City ..."). The 5,000-square-foot structure was designed by architect Miller Hull Partnership, and built by general contractor BNBuilders, Inc. It featured a bank of six general-use computers plus two dedicated catalog computers. Light and airy with two-story windows and a cantilevered roof, the building offered a large reading/study area, three dedicated children's computers, a large meeting room with screen and projector, a teen area, and ample room for staff services.

The 2008 dedication program listed a library staff of 13. With the advent of ebooks and Internet access, libraries were no longer measured by the size of their collections. Each King County library, including Fall City, had access through the online catalog and the Internet to a volume of literature, information, and entertainment that would have been unimaginable in the early years of the Fall City Library. Based on a study showing that most King County library patrons are mobile and regularly use up to four different libraries, KCLS began administering what were once considered autonomous local libraries in "clusters." The Fall City Library became part of the east cluster, which also included the North Bend, Snoqualmie, Sammamish, and Issaquah libraries. While the Fall City Library no longer had an onsite person titled head librarian, it did have a specific operations supervisor assigned to it, seen by the public as their librarian. Iwona Bernacki, a highly experienced librarian who had been with KCLS since 1994, became operations supervisor at the Fall City Library in 2013.

As of 2016, the Fall City Library was open six days a week starting at 10 a.m., and offered evening hours Monday through Thursday. In 2015 the library had a total of 100,383 items checked out, in 58,976 visits. It had 393 bookings of its meeting rooms, and its users logged 354,489 minutes of computer use (that's roughly 246 24-hour days). It registered 336 new patrons, and logged 431 hours of volunteer time. It provided 287 programs for teens and children, access and assistance, early literacy, and adult lifelong learning, with total attendance of 3,661. All this was done in a community with a population of about 5,000. From its humble beginnings on a salvaged desk two afternoons and one evening a week in the Methodist Church, the Fall City Library had come a long way.


"Fall City Library 2006 Community Study," King County Library System website accessed May 31, 2016 (https://w3.kcls.org/community_studies/Fall%20City%20Community%20Study.pdf); Jack E. Kelley and Ruth Pickering, Jack's History of Fall City (North Bend: Snoqualmie Valley Historical Museum, 2006), 275-82, 288; HistoryLink.org Online Encyclopedia of Washington State History, "Fall City -- Thumbnail History" (by Alan Stein) and "King County Library System" (by Paula Becker), http://www.historylink.org (accessed June 3, 2016); "Fall City," King County Library System website accessed June 3, 2016 (http://kcls.org/locations/1506/); "2008, New Fall City Library Commemoratives," Fall City Historical Society website accessed May 31, 2016 (http://fallcity.pastperfectonline.com/webobject/B5D128E4-C012-42E8-90F2-022940893116); "Celebrate! Fall City Ribbon Cutting and Open House" (program, May 3, 2008), Fall City Historical Society website accessed May 31, 2016 (http://fallcity.pastperfectonline.com/archive/BADA0E92-74BA-48CB-BE58-140002697032); "Fall City Centennial Parade 1972," Fall City Historical Society website accessed May 31, 2016 (http://fallcity.pastperfectonline.com/photo/66B84043-A909-4C31-A45F-798836988421 ); Marguerite Nelson, untitled manuscript, ca. 1988, Fall City Historical Society website accessed May 31, 2016 (http://fallcity.pastperfectonline.com/archive/B9D4B999-8D65-4BCE-9A4C-224352113260); "Librarian Joan Bronemann Retires," Valley Record, December 3, 1987, clipping, Fall City Historical Society website accessed May 31, 2016 (http://fallcity.pastperfectonline.com/archive/C3C040E9-7C0E-4255-8BF7-950129069770); "Fall City Library" (dedication program, June 18, 1967) and "Fall City Library Open House" (program, July 19, 1986), copies available at Fall City Historical Society website accessed May 31, 2016 (http://fallcity.pastperfectonline.com/archive/B1ECDA3B-AF23-43FD-8ABA-034019832300); "Fall City Library Board Bylaws," Fall City Historical Society website accessed May 31, 2016 (http://fallcity.pastperfectonline.com/archive/57F72FC6-3B8E-4730-A051-865823341910); Elizabeth Parker, "Check It Out: New Fall City Library," Journal American, July 15, 1986, clipping, Fall City Historical Society website accessed May 31, 2016 (http://fallcity.pastperfectonline.com/archive/B4A5F881-6C5E-419F-ABD6-883716004968); Michael Schein interview with Iwona Bernacki, June 3, 2016, notes in possession of Michael Schein, Carnation, Washington; Data print-out provided by Iwona Bernacki re: 2015 Fall City Library usage, in possession of Michael Schein, Carnation; "Fall City Cemetery," Interment.net website accessed June 5, 2016 (http://www.interment.net/data/us/wa/king/fallcity/index.htm).

Licensing: This essay is licensed under a Creative Commons license that encourages reproduction with attribution. Credit should be given to both HistoryLink.org and to the author, and sources must be included with any reproduction. Click the icon for more info. Please note that this Creative Commons license applies to text only, and not to images. For more information regarding individual photos or images, please contact the source noted in the image credit.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License
Major Support for HistoryLink.org Provided By: The State of Washington | Patsy Bullitt Collins | Paul G. Allen Family Foundation | Museum Of History & Industry | 4Culture (King County Lodging Tax Revenue) | City of Seattle | City of Bellevue | City of Tacoma | King County | The Peach Foundation | Microsoft Corporation, Other Public and Private Sponsors and Visitors Like You