First Snoqualmie Library opens on May 4, 1946.

  • By Fred Poyner IV
  • Posted 12/13/2016
  • Essay 20235

On May 4, 1946, the first Snoqualmie Library opens in the city of Snoqualmie, located in the Cascade foothills of eastern King County. The library occupies a single upstairs room of the town hall building, which also houses the Snoqualmie Volunteer Fire Department and is located on Railroad Avenue in downtown Snoqualmie. The city has contracted with the King County Library System (KCLS) to provide library services. In the Snoqualmie Library's first year of operation, 253 Snoqualmie residents are registered as users with access to the selection of 1,414 books. The library is staffed by Margaret "Nellie" Nein (1897-1995), with Gloria McNeely (b. 1919) serving as a part-time assistant librarian. The location will serve the community for the next decade, until a new town hall and fire station is built in 1956 and the library moves into this new building.

Libraries across the Snoqualmie River

While the library that opened in 1946 was the first one for the city of Snoqualmie itself, it was not the first library to provide service to the community. Since the 1920s, the mill town of Snoqualmie Falls, located "across the river and up a hill from Snoqualmie" ("Snoqualmie Falls Lumber Company"), had had a library in the Community Hall there, which was also home to the YMCA. That library was organized by the Snoqualmie Falls Women's Club, whose members took turns operating it until February 1, 1944, when KCLS began operating the Snoqualmie Falls Library, which would remain in service until 1971.

Meanwhile, during the post-World War II boom era, two members of the Snoqualmie Commercial Club advocated for a new library that children in the city of Snoqualmie could call their own. Roy Anderson and S. M. McCowan approached the Snoqualmie city council in January 1946 with the idea of having a library operated under contract by KCLS in their city. As an incentive to see the library go forward, the club offered to cover expenses until the cost for KCLS services could be paid through the city's budget. For a location, it was decided that the library would be in the town hall building (originally a silent-movie theater) in downtown Snoqualmie, which was also home to the fire department and city administration.

At a follow-up meeting on March 4, 1946, the two men presented Mayor S. R. Tharp and the other council members with a copy of the contract submitted by KCLS, along with a check from the Commercial Club for $246.90 for the first eight months of library expenses, and the proposal was approved. In addition to providing funding for the initial months of KCLS operation, the Commercial Club also paid for shelving, furniture, and other costs of equipping the small space above the fire department where the library would be housed.

Just two months later, on May 4, 1946, the Snoqualmie Library opened in the town hall building. Seven decades after serving as assistant librarian when the library first opened, Gloria McNeely (b. 1919) recalled the space as being a compact one, to say the least: "A sort of Mezzanine was built from side to side across the rear of the building and about fifteen feet from front to back ... a flight of open backed stairs provided access" (McNeely email).

Until the opening of the Snoqualmie Library in 1946, it was not uncommon for children from Snoqualmie to check out books from the Snoqualmie Falls library across the river in the YMCA Community Hall. The new library in Snoqualmie itself offered many books and programs specifically tailored for younger audiences. Children would come to watch puppet shows and hear stories, often visiting with their school classes. The library was also a community space for holiday celebrations and parties. In one photograph dating to the first year of operation, children dressed in cold-weather clothing are seen reading around a small Christmas tree decorated with cards of holiday cheer. By the end of its first year, the library had served 2,855 juvenile patrons along with 2,845 adults.

Demand Grows Steadily

Despite the steep flight of stairs up to the library, the single small room it occupied, and a lack of such amenities as a clearly marked entrance, demand for the library's services continued to grow over the next decade. Given the limited space available, the Snoqualmie Library from the start engaged in a practice of book exchanges within the King County Library System, to bring in new titles while maximizing shelf space. In 1946, 168 books were exchanged, and the number would steadily increase to 2,146 books by 1955.

As demand and collections increased so too did the annual cost to the city. After the $246.90 that the Commercial Club paid to KCLS for the first eight months of service in 1946, payments to KCLS, which covered books and payroll costs for the librarian and assistants, came out of the city's budget. By 1950 the annual operating cost for the library had increased to $354.63 and by 1955 it would more than double again to $740.65.

A new library board was formed in 1952, with former assistant librarian McNeely as one of the board members. By 1955, the number of active library cards numbered almost 500, and the collection had grown to 2,630 books. The library's patronage that year had likewise increased substantially, to 16,123 total items circulated.

In 1955, a citizen-led effort to improve Snoqualmie was begun. One of the first measures to find support was construction of a new municipal building to house the town hall and fire department, with a dedicated space for the library as well. The new town hall was completed early in 1956. It was also in the downtown area, at the corner of Northwest 1st Street and 5th Avenue Northwest. The old building had its final month of operation as the town hall in December 1955, closing only four days before the new building opened. The old structure later became the Union Hall for the Lumber and Sawmill Workers union. In the nearly 10 years of operation in its first location, the Snoqualmie Library had served 49,596 children and 64,703 adults, for a total of 114,299 visitors.

The library remained in the new city hall building for almost 20 years, moving to a standalone library building in downtown Snoqualmie in 1975. After more than 30 years in that building, and more than 60 in Snoqualmie's historic downtown area, the Snoqualmie Library moved in 2007 to its current location, a modern new building in the Snoqualmie Ridge development on the high ground above the old town.


Gloria McNeely, email to Cristy Lake, November 14, 2016, copy in possession of Fred Poyner IV, Issaquah, Washington; "Snoqualmie Library Service: A Summary," May 1946-December 1955, Snoqualmie Library Archives, Snoqualmie, Washington; "History of the Snoqualmie Library" in Service Needs Assessment, April 1997, Snoqualmie Library Archives; Cristy Lake, email to Fred Poyner IV, November 14, 2016, in possession of Fred Poyner IV; "Library to Open in Snoqualmie," The Seattle Times, May 3, 1946, p. 18; Lucile McDonald, "Snoqualmie Gets Its 'Face-Lifting' Program Under Way," The Seattle Times, July 15, 1956, Sunday magazine, p. 2; Our Snoqualmie Community, 1856-1956 (Snoqualmie: Snoqualmie Valley Historical Society, 1956 [2008]); "Snoqualmie Falls Lumber Company," University of Washington Special Collections website accessed December 12, 2016 (; Online Encyclopedia of Washington State History, "King County Library System" (by Paula Becker), (accessed November 26, 2016).

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