You are here: Home / About Our Library / History

Library History

How the Chariton Public Library was established and how it has evolved to become such an important part of our community.


Architect's Drawing

Our Chariton Public Library did not just happen. It was brought about by the zeal and enthusiasm of those who were willing to sacrifice their time and effort for the common good. It stands as a monument to their energy and foresight, and is a distinct credit to our city and county. It has played an important part in the lives of many Chariton people.

Before the erection of the present building there had been several attempts to get and keep a library going. In 1879 a library and reading room association formed a library supported by subscriptions and entertainments. It did not live, however, and Professor Hanlin, as county superintendent, later started a teacher’s library in the Court house. Together these made a library of eight hundred volumes. In January, 1898 the History Club gave a reception to the other study clubs of the city and proposed a federation for the purpose of supporting a library. They pledged $198. for immediate support. Twenty-three clubs aided in the work including the Concordia Society of Swedish Lutheran Church, the Hook and Ladder Company, the Camera Club, the Lucas County Fair Association, the History Club, the Pandora Club, the Ladies Fair Association, the History Club, the Pandora Club, the Ladies’ Mandolin Club and the Entre Nous Club.

The following excerpt from the Chariton Paper of that day gives an idea of how the money was raised.

Important – Read This

A very unique idea to raise money is now being planned by the Public Library Association. They have rented a first-class merry-go-round in splendid condition, as it is a comparatively new machine, and will run it all fair week. The swing will be under the charge of the young ladies of the Entre Nous Club and the proceeds will go toward helping to pay for the rebinding of library books, the purchase of new ones and for the many other expenses incurred. If the weather is pleasant there is no doubt but that they will raise a large sum, for everyone, old and young, from grandmas and grandpas down to the very youngest, will ride and enjoy it, at the same time putting their money to good use, namely, helping to pay the expenses of the library.

Do not fail to come and take a ride, for everyone else will be riding.

Margaret Brown was librarian, and Miss Ethel Bartholomew helped her faithfully for a year.

In the spring of 1898 the city voted a permanent tax to support the library, and in June, 1899, Mayor Alexander appointed as a board of trustees, Thomas Gay, T. M. Stuart, Miss Margaret McCormick, Mrs. Victoria Dewey, Mrs. Cripps, F. R. Crocker, Miss Ethel Bartholomew, Rev. Whitten and Miss Margaret Brown.

At that time the library was located in rooms above what is now the Rexall Drug Store. A few tables and chairs, a bulletin board or two, a few dim lights, a coal stove, a handful of books, but plenty of zeal and enthusiasm on the part of Margaret Brown and helpers kept the library flourishing.

The following is quoted from the Chariton Paper:



The opening of the Chariton Library last Saturday afternoon and evening was well attended by an interested and appreciative number of people. The Ladies’ Mandolin Club kindly offered their time and talents during the afternoon and also in the evening, for which they have the countless thanks of the library board. The city has also kindly donated light in the way of three 32-candle power Edison electric lights, which enables one to read very clearly in any part of the room.

Every citizen of this town, young or old, should feel that they have an interest in this public undertaking and strive to make it successful, which it now bids fair to be.

All the boys who have nothing to do of evenings and who have read everything at home, are welcome to the library and when there the librarian will strive to make them comfortable and find for them the book required.


Largely through the untiring efforts of a Chariton girl, Miss Margaret Brown, plans were made to build a new library. Miss Brown voluntarily devoted her time and labor in securing the establishment of, and in providing for the maintenance of this library. She acquainted herself with library buildings over the country in order to obtain the best plans, and she acquainted herself with the best methods of conducting such libraries. She proceeded to work at this enterprise until it was accomplished. She became our first librarian and served without pay.

The cornerstone for the present library was laid in January, 1904 by Victoria J. Dewey, who along with Margaret Brown and Thomas Gay, successfully completed negotiations with Andrew Carnegie for the gift of $10,000.00, to be used for the construction of a library building. The city was to provide the site and a maintenance fund of $1,000.00 a year. The present site at the corner of 8th and Braden Avenue was purchased for the sum of $2,500.00.

The box Mrs. Dewey placed in the cornerstone contains: a copy of a letter from Andrew Carnegie offering $10,000.00 for construction of the building, a list of city officials serving in 1904, a list of library officials serving at the time the building (sic) erected, names of architects and contractors, a copy of the deed to the lot upon which the building stands, a First National Bank card, a coin donated by Mrs. F. R. Crocker, the constitution of the Lucas county Historical Association, and copies of three Chariton newspapers, the Herald, the Patriot, and the Leader.

The library was formally dedicated on October 28, 1904. It was given the name Chariton Free Public Library. It was a great day for the town. The school children marched from their schools, each waving a little American flag, and some carrying books to donate to the children’s department. They were escorted by the Grand Army Veterens and the members of Company H in full uniform, and fully 1000 citizens. Little boys wore starched white detachable collars, black socks and knee pants. Little girls wore midi-length dresses. The members of the D.A.R. raised their flag during the ceremony. The street wasn’t surfaced and the Presbyterian Church across the street was a frame building, but the library was now the pride of the community.

Chariton Library Undated Pic.jpg

There were some lean years, years when the Chariton newspapers helped by appealing to the public to donate books because there was little money to buy them.

The old minutes of the library board meetings show such interesting items as the decision to close the library during the Chautauqua in the summer of 1914, to allow the C.C.C. Boys the free use of the library in 1935 and the beginning of a new book drive for servicemen in 1943, during W.W. II.

In 1940 a Bookmobile was begun. It was well received in the county, but funds ran out. It was a W.P.A. library extension service.

Library in a Spoon.jpg

Our library has been fortunate in having had several bequests: In 1937 four shares of A.T.&T. stock were given by Walter Dewey in memory of his mother, Victoria J. Dewey, the lady who laid the cornerstone of the library. This was bo (sic) be invested with the annual dividends used to purchase books. In 1941 the family of Charles Arthue (sic) Blake gave the library $1,000.00 in his name to be used to purchase books chosen from the fields of American  English and modern history. (Mr. Blake was the uncle of Mrs. Luther Johnson, who now lives in Chariton.) This was also invested, with the annual dividends used to purchase books. In 1943 a series H bond in the amount of $500.00 was given in the name of Julia A. Pogue. This dividend money was to be, and is used to purchase children’s books.

In 1954 Margaret Brown Herrick, our first librarian, left the library $38,058.25 to be invested, with the annual income of around $1,200.00 to be used to purchase children’s books. Mrs. Herrick, wife of John Herrick, died in Los Angeles May 28, 1954 at the age of 81. The endowment was to be known as the Margaret Brown Herrick Memorial.

In 1964 the Public Library and Chariton’s First Presbyterian Church were named as principal beneficiaries of the estate of Mrs. Will D. Allender, the widow of former editor of the Chariton Leader. Mrs. Allender died May 20, 1964. Mr. Allender had died on December 31, 1961. The library received $43,404.84 approximately one-fourth of the estate, in the form of a Will D. Allender and Audrey B. Allender Trust, whose general purpose is to serve as a living memorial to Will Allender. The funds are to be used to establish, equip, and maintain a music room in space provided by the library in the hope that the appreciation of good music can be thus encouraged. Mrs. Allender was a music teacher prior to her marriage. She had maintained a life-long interest in music and for many years enjoyed participating in informal music presentations. The music room which was the result of this trust is surely one of the finest. It has around 2,000 records and 8-track tapes to loan, music reference books, two 16mmBell and Howell self-threading projectors, screens, a carousel slide projector, a film strip projector with cassette player, and a record player which may be borrowed. The library stocks a few slide programs and film strips, with movie films available from the state library. Foreign language records, typing and shorthand records, singing multiplication records, and, of course, the popular and classical records of all kinds are available. Children especially enjoy the fun of using the earphones to listen to the records.


If you are interested in more history, visit the Iowa Historical Society.