On March 15, 1944, the King County Rural Library District, later known as the King County Library System (KCLS), approves an application by the Fall City Study Club to open the first Fall City Library. For a small unincorporated town in the midst of wartime America, affording a public library is not easy, but the people of Fall City are thrifty and resourceful. Lumber for shelving is donated, and Elmer Gochnour (1880-1959), a local master woodworker, agrees to build the shelving. One resourceful volunteer finds a sheet of linoleum at at Bennett's Second Hand Store and acquires it for $10. The final piece falls into place when a desk found floating by is fished out of the nearby Snoqualmie River and put to use as the librarian's desk. Mary Stokes (1876-1956) volunteers as the first librarian; her principal tasks include checking books in and out, hauling wood, and tending the stoves, on the two afternoons and one evening per week that the library is open.
As authorized by a county-wide vote in late 1942, the King County Board of Commissioners established the King County Rural Library District (later known as the King County Library System) on January 4, 1943. The Fall City Study Club, a local women's organization formed in 1922, acted as Fall City's sponsoring organization to apply to the county district for the community's first library. However, because the Study Club did not have the funds necessary to pay the operating expenses of a separate library facility, it had to depend on the generosity and resourcefulness of the community.
It was not disappointed. The Fall City United Methodist Church, a venerable town institution founded in August 1885, allowed the new library to use its Sunday School rooms. The library would occupy that space for its first 13 years of existence. Volunteers pitched in to obtain furnishings, obtain and lay linoleum, and build the bookshelves. Mary Stokes volunteered her services as the first Fall City librarian. A strict Catholic, Stokes "never let the fact that she was working in a Methodist Church get in the way" ("History in a Glass"). A community organization called United Good Neighbors paid the $200 per year operating expenses until the Study Club was able to raise enough money on its own by hosting an annual plant sale in the spring, and a "silver tea" with cultural program each fall.
For the first 15 years, those "silver teas" were hosted at the farm home of Marguerite Nelson (1910-1999), located about one mile east of town. Nelson, who was raised on a dairy farm in Montesano in Grays Harbor County, earned a BA from the University of Washington in 1938, and then moved to Fall City to teach English and languages at the high school. She served as Fall City's head librarian for a remarkable quarter of a century, from 1950 to 1975. The library collection more than tripled under her governance. Nelson was the great-granddaughter of Sidney Ford Jr. (1829-1900), a pioneer who settled Ford's Prairie near Centralia in 1846, after crossing the Oregon Trail in 1845 at the age of 16. While crossing, Ford scratched his name into Independence Rock in Wyoming, and Nelson and her family were able to find it when they visited the spot 100 years later in 1945.
Tribute to Elmer Gochnour
Important though Nelson was to the success of the Fall City Library, she was eager to remember the contributions of others. Here is her tribute to Elmer Gochnour:
"In every town there are men and women who see beyond their own dooryards and see the needs of others. Precious are such people in any community. Such a one was Elmer Gochnour. Fortunate has our library been to have had the interest of such a man.
"Every single shelf from the day the library came into being in the Sunday School rooms in the Methodist Church in 1944 until it was moved to its present site on the school grounds in 1958, Elmer made. Fortunate are we that he was a craftsman in wood.
"With the new move we needed many new shelves. Elmer made them. We needed a new desk, a very special kind of desk. Elmer drew the plans and made this very unique desk.
"We needed special bookcases and shelves to fit odd places. Elmer made them. We needed cabinets and shelves in the kitchenette. Elmer made them.
"With skill, with a wonderful sense of humor, with patience, he has served our Fall City Library as no one else has done. He received nothing in return, only our grateful thanks, but the work he has done remains a tribute to him" (Kelley, 277).
70 Years of Progress
Fall City was only the eighth community to join the King County Library System, following Vashon Island, and shortly before Des Moines and the area that became North Seattle. The little library with a sign reading "Fall City Branch -- PUBLIC LIBRARY" (Kelley, 275), sticking out from the side of the Methodist Church, may seem an unlikely beginning for five library locations in less than 70 years.
But the Fall City Library got its own 432-square-foot building in 1957, moved to a modern 1,300-square-foot building in 1967, to a 2,960-square-foot former bank building in 1986, and then in 2008 to a beautiful 5,000-square-foot building with a cantilevered roof and large windows. When volunteers fished the first desk from the river and nailed together the first set of shelving to go into the borrowed church rooms, they set in motion a Fall City cultural institution that, in 2015, saw more than 100,000 items checked out in nearly 59,000 visits, and hosted almost 400 independent meetings and 290 library-sponsored programs.