Janesville52.9°

Eager Free celebrates 100 years of service

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GINA R. HEINE
April 23, 2008
— Evansville residents pushed for 30 years to get a public library.

Books were being hauled around town and checked out from businesses and the school.


But in this week in 1908, the Eager Free Public Library opened as the city’s first public library. It offered more than 4,000 books at 39 W. Main St., which at the time was on the edge of a bustling downtown, said local historian and Arrowhead Library Director Ruth Ann Montgomery.


The community this week is celebrating the library’s 100th anniversary with various activities, including a ceremony at 1 p.m. Saturday at the library, where people are encouraged to dress in 1908-era clothing.


The library was the first in a series of Prairie School libraries designed by the Madison architectural firm of Claude & Starck. In the following 100 years, the only major change to the building was a 1996 addition that doubled the facility’s size. Preparations are being made to expand the library again in coming years.


“It’s unusual for a building that was built that long ago to still be used,” Montgomery said.


In the library’s first years, residents donated books from their personal libraries, she said.


“Most of the books that were checked out were fiction,” she said. “I think people have the idea that people (back then) only read biographies, science or history books, but even in the very earliest day of the public library, fiction was the most popular item.”


The library’s name—Eager Free—comes from Almeron Eager, a prominent local businessman who served in the state Legislature, Montgomery said. When he died in 1902, his will designated that $10,000 be donated to the city to build and maintain a public library.


His will also requested the name of the library in the tradition of Andrew Carnegie, who had been donating $10,000 to communities across the country to build and maintain libraries.


Eager also wanted to leave a personal touch to the library. Designated in his will, a life-size statue of Eager was to be placed at the entrance to the library.


The Eager family remains involved. At least one descendant of Almeron Eager has always been on the library board, including current president Eloise Eager, Montgomery said.


IF YOU GO

What: 100th Anniversary of the Eager Free Public Library


Where: 39 W. Main St., Evansville


Events:


-- 6:30 p.m. today—“An Evening of Elocution-1908,” presented by the fourth-grade class of Nancy Greve-Shannon and the fifth-grade class of Stephanie Johnson.


-- 6 to 7:30 p.m. Thursday—Family game night featuring games of the 1908 era.


-- 10 a.m. Friday—Children’s crafts time, featuring popular crafts of 1908.


-- 1 p.m. Saturday—Celebration ceremony with reception.



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