A Century of Public Libraries in Klamath County, Oregon
Prepared for the 2005 Centennial Celebration by Ann DuPont
In Klamath Falls for over fifty years, from 1916 until 1969, two free public libraries existed; that is, the Klamath Falls City Library and the Klamath County Library. I want to tell you how each of the libraries started, how new library buildings came to be built, how the two libraries merged, and how that one library expanded.
1904 Let’s go back more than 100 years. On the afternoon of 12 December 1904, a few well-dressed Klamath Falls women bundle up against the cold and set out in the bright sunshine from their various homes for a meeting at the home of Mrs. William S. Worden. The women form a club and agree that the new club will be known as “The Woman’s Club.” They adopt by-laws and a constitution.
Four days later the women meet again and discuss the reading room they plan to open on Main Street.
1905 The population of Klamath Falls in 1900 was only 447 residents, but by 1905, about 2500 people live in Klamath Falls, and business is booming. One of the headlines in a 1905 Klamath Falls newspaper reads: “Watch Us Grow! Here Are a Few of the Latest: Railroads, Street Cars, Steamboats, Irrigation, and Creameries.”
That same year of 1905, the City of Klamath Falls incorporates, the Chamber of Commerce organizes, and Fred Melhase builds the two-story rock building on the corner of Main and Second Streets
Early in the Spring, the members of the Woman’s Club expand their plans and decide to open not only a reading room but also a library. By then they have acquired over one hundred books. All year the members of the Woman’s Club hold various money-raising events, including ice cream socials, concerts, excursions and boat rides on the lakes.
The women submit an article for the newspaper in which they state that the purpose of the reading room is to provide “a place of resort for quiet rest and refreshment of mind, and the help which comes from association with those who enjoy means of self-improvement rather than self-indulgence.” The Woman’s Club intends that the free reading room will assist both the “young, innocent and well-meaning persons of the town, and people from the country.”
On 26 November, the Woman’s Club opens the “Klamath Falls Public Library and Free Reading Room” on the second floor of the Melhase Building.
Within a few months, the club begins receiving a small sum of money from the Klamath Falls City Council to help support the library, and the women continue raising funds.
1906 Julia Zumwalt gives her first of many concerts over the years to support the library. Someone once said that history is “the action of people.” When we look at the history of public libraries, much of that history depends on actions taken by members of the community who care about public libraries.
Julia Zumwalt was one of the people who cared passionately about the library in Klamath Falls. Julia Kinsey was born 21 Sep 1874 in California, the daughter of a Methodist minister. On 28 June 1905, Julia married Don J. Zumwalt, the civil engineer for the Klamath Abstract Company of Klamath Falls.
It was later said that Julia Zumwalt “came as a bride to Klamath Falls by way of Thrall, Pokegama and a four-horse stage.”
Within the first few weeks of her arrival in Klamath Falls, Julia joined the Woman’s Club and supported the library for the rest of her life. She was a singer, a musician, and a member of a touring opera troupe. She gave piano and voice lessons to the children of the area.
Almost every year, for many years, she gave concerts, with the proceeds going to the library.
Years later, when Julia was an elderly woman in a nursing home in Ashland, she wrote to a friend in Klamath Falls, saying how much she missed the Klamath Falls Library and how important the library had been to her during her life.
Julia Zumwalt’s obituary stated that she was “credited by the community of Klamath Falls with having contributed more to the cultural background of the city than any other woman of her generation.”
1907 The library in the upstairs rooms of the Melhase Building is so successful that the women are in the process of trying to find new quarters for the library.
The main part of town is located between Link River and about Eighth Street. The courthouse block contains the frame court house built in 1888 and the little city hall, both facing Main Street. Across Third Street from city hall is an Methodist Church no longer used; the lot has been sold and the Woman’s Club given the opportunity to buy the building.
The women accept the offer, and spend over one thousand dollars to move the church building to the courthouse block, to install a new roof, and for carpentry work, plastering, painting, and decorating.
The statistics for library usage during August 1907 are startling. In that month alone, more than eleven hundred people use the library, and the library loans almost two hundred books. The library loans books not only for adults but also for children, as shown by the titles from a list published in the newspaper: The Wonder Book, Treasure Island, The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood, The Wizard of Oz, Poems Every Child Should Know, and many other children’s titles.
1909 Members of the Woman’s Club vote to change the name of their club to the Woman’s Library Club.
1910 Early in 1910, the Woman’s Library Club receives a letter signed by William S. Worden, Secretary of the Klamath Development Company. The Klamath Development Company is developing the hot springs area, the area we know today as the location of Klamath Union High School and Pacific Terrace. In the letter, Worden offers a site for the women to build a new library.
The women discuss the offer and decide “that we express our gratitude and appreciation for this offer, and investigate other possible offers and locations.”
To understand the beginning of the Klamath County Carnegie Library and the changes in the city library, one must also understand how Klamath County came to have three courthouses at one time, because the story of the libraries is interwoven with the story of the courthouses.
About the same time that the Klamath Development Company submits its offer to the Woman’s Library Club, the company also contacts Klamath County and offers five acres free to build a new courthouse.
The men who own businesses in the main part of town, around the courthouse block, oppose the offer and want the new courthouse built in the courthouse block. Those men, including Fred Melhase who had built the building where the first library was located, are called the “Hog Combine.” The men of the Klamath Development Company are called the “Bolsheviks.”
Voters elect William S. Worden as Klamath County Judge in November.
1913 In April 1913 Judge Worden and the two county commissioners sign a resolution in an effort to obtain Carnegie funds for a public library.
Two of the requirements to obtain a Carnegie grant are that the library will be free to the public and that the local community will provide annual tax support.
Construction of the new courthouse in the hot springs area begins in July.
The county is notified that Carnegie library funds will be granted, and Judge Worden insists that the new library be located very close to the new courthouse.
Although leaders of Klamath Falls and the Woman’s Library Club complain that the new library site is too far from the main part of town, by late December Klamath County receives the first installment of money from the Carnegie Fund.
1914 By March, contractors and builders are busy working on the new Klamath County Carnegie Library, and by August, the library is nearly finished.
The county hires a librarian, Anne Brockenbrough, to get books on the shelves and everything ready for opening to the public.
Anne is quoted in a newspaper article, “We will serve not only the city circulation, but will establish deposit stations through the county . . . . This service is not only to be extended to the county people, but to Klamath Falls people as well ... In addition to the library itself, it is planned to establish a deposit station in the main portion of the city ... making the library books available to all.”
The newspaper reporter points out that because the library is a “county institution, every effort will be made to give the people of the whole county the benefit of the institution.” In other words, the library services will be free to everyone.
What do you suppose members of the Woman’s Library Club think about the plans described by the county librarian?
The article with Anne Brockenbrough’s plans is printed on 3 October, and two days later four members of the Woman’s Library Club hold a meeting and vote to make “our Library free to the general public,” effective Monday, October 12, 1914.
However, providing free library service means the Woman’s Library Club no longer has income from library cards. They vote to turn over their “library to the City and in case they did not care to take it over ask for a larger appropriation.”
After the women make their offer to the Klamath Falls City Council, the council decides “to levy a 2/10 mill tax and let the ladies retain the library.”
A few weeks later, the newspaper carries an article about the county library, headlined, “Library Found Too Small for Intended Uses. In Addition to Isolation, is Inadequate. Plan is Now to Use This Fine Structure as a Store House, and Distribute the Books Through Branches in Different Parts of City as Well as the County – Reading Room Value is Worthless.” Within the article, the writer states:
“One of the most beneficial features of public libraries is the reading room, where the young people, in particular, can gather and acquire the habit of reading. Many instructive evenings are thus spent by those who would otherwise waste their time on the streets or in less desirable places.”
In November County Judge Worden loses the election to Marion Hanks.
1915 In March Judge Hanks “closes” the county library (which had apparently never opened) and revokes the appointment of Anne C. Brockenbrough.
1916 The Klamath County Carnegie Library opens to the public 1 October.
In many towns and cities when Carnegie libraries first open the doors, joyous celebrations take place. It is uncertain whether any celebration at all is carried out in Klamath Falls.
1918 By this time Klamath County has spent around $300,000 on the hot springs courthouse. Construction is also begun on a new courthouse on the courthouse block, which means that Klamath County has three courthouses: the old 1888 building still in use, the not completed hot springs courthouse, and the new courthouse in the process of being built.
1919 By February the courthouse on the courthouse block is completed but not yet occupied.
1924 After being told by city and county officials that they must move the library building away from the courthouse block, three members of the Woman’s Library Club develop a plan to unite the city and county libraries. The women plan to use the Klamath County Carnegie Library as the site for both collections.
In September the Woman’s Club endorses a plan to raise $50,000 to erect a library building.
Klamath Falls voters approve a bond issue to build a new library.
1925 In November, after twenty years of dedicated work, raising funds for and managing all aspects of the Klamath Falls Public Library, the Woman’s Library Club turns the library over to the City of Klamath Falls.
The Mayor appoints a library board. The first action for the new board is to find a place to build the new library.
1926 Henrietta Schallock Melhase’s children, in memory of their mother, donate the property at the corner of Klamath and Fifth for the site of the new city library.
1927 The lovely new Klamath Falls Public Library building opens in 1927.
1928 Klamath County Library signs an agreement with Klamath County High School Board, Klamath County School District and Union High School District Number 2 “ to furnish facilities and render ... library service.” The contract will be fulfilled from 1928 until 1964.
In a report to the Oregon State Library from the Klamath County Library, the library has branches at Bly, Bonanza, Chiloquin, Fort Klamath, Henley, Keno, Klamath Agency, Langell Valley, Malin, and Pelican City. That means that the plans for branches, spoken of by Anne Brockenbrough as early as 1914, have come to pass.
1929 In July the Klamath County Library, under the direction of Librarian Mildred E. Oleson, purchases a Ford delivery truck, modified to be a library book van with shelves for two hundred books. In that same month, a children’s librarian is hired. Margaret Nye tells stories to children in the branch libraries on a regular basis.
1930 During the Great Depression, according to Miriam Smythe in her history of the Klamath Falls City Library, “The staff was reduced; salaries were lowered. Yet unemployment and increased leisure time ... sent the public flocking to the library as a refuge.”
1941 According to a Klamath County Library report, the library maintains branch libraries in 28 communities and serves 39 schools of the county. “This library system sends more books out and circulates more through the branch and school libraries than any other county library in the state, exclusive of Multnomah County.”
1944 Two people go on the bookmobile trips “to handle the work.”
1945 The Klamath County Library gives weekly bookmobile service to the Marine Barracks, where veterans of World War II are recovering from malaria.
1948 Enola Adeline Hawkins retires in 1948 from her position as Librarian for the Klamath Falls City Library. She had been hired in 1913 by the Woman’s Library Club, and she served the library for over thirty years. She was not the first librarian for the library, but her name comes down the years with integrity, competence, and dedication to the library.
1953 The story of how the new Klamath County Library came to be built is one of the quintessential Klamath stories. The Klamath County Carnegie building was not very large, and by 1953, it must have been quite crowded.
Author of several books on local history, Carrol Howe, his father-in-law Klamath County Judge U. E. Reeder, and other history-minded people think the county needs a museum. Judge Reeder controls the money for a new jail.
According to the History of Klamath Country Oregon (1984), Judge Reeder, “finding it impossible to agree with the city on building a new City-County jail, used the jail building funds to build a new County Library.”
1955 So it comes about in 1955 that a new building is constructed on the corner of Klamath and Third for the county museum and the county library.
1968 Klamath County Museum moves from the library-museum building to the Klamath Armory.
1969 After many years of discussion on merging the two public libraries, the work is accomplished, and the Klamath County Library and Klamath Falls City Library are merged in July, with both collections housed in the county library building.
1973 By this time, the Klamath County Library is bulging at the seams, because even though some remodeling had been carried out when the two libraries merged, the building is not large enough for all the books, patrons, staff, and the many activities.
Dayton (Hawk) O. Hyde is president of the Klamath County Library board of directors, and one Friday evening, he presides over a meeting at the Winema Hotel. A guest speaker from Salem explains the organizing process to form a “Friends of the Library” society. Forty-nine people attend the meeting. Edna Karczag is the library director, and she explains why the new group is needed:
- Create public support for the library
- Encourage gifts, endowments and memorials
- Provide direct assistance for needed items not procurable through tax money
- Work for legislation affecting libraries
- Campaign for a new building or for modification and expansion of existing facilities
- Inform the public of library services and problems
- Communicate the needs of the community to the library board and staff
Officers are soon elected in the Friends group, with Clara Moore becoming president. That July the Friends hold their first used book sale, not indoors but outside, under the shade of the library’s big tree on Third Street.
1975 Klamath County Library holds an open house on 17 May. The new addition makes the library twice the size it was when it was built in 1955.
“Agreement,” 5 July 1928 . Klamath County Library Board-Klamath County High School Board-Klamath County School District-Union High School District #2. Klamath County Library.
Drew, Harry J. The Great Courthouse Battle . [ Klamath Falls ]: Klamath County Museum , [1976?].
Klamath Falls Evening Herald, 1913-1927.
Klamath Falls Herald and News, 1948-1975.
History of Klamath Country Oregon . Klamath Falls : Klamath County Historical Society, 1984.
Howe, Carrol B. Frontier Stories of the Klamath Country. Klamath Falls : Herald and News, 1989.
Jones, Theodore. Carnegie Libraries across America : a Public Legacy. New York : Preservation Press, 1997.
Klamath Falls Klamath News, 1924.
Klamath Falls Klamath Republican, 1904-1912.
Nye, Margaret A. “The Klamath County Library.” Oregon Education Journal (May 1932): 16.
Oregon . Office of the Secretary of State. Official Directory. Salem , 1911.
“ Oregon Public Library Report,” 1928, 1929, 1941. Klamath County Library.
Smythe, Miriam. “ Klamath Falls City Library.” Typescript, n.d. Klamath County Library.
“Statistical Report of Klamath County Library,” 1944 and 1945. Klamath County Library.
Ward, Florence M. Letter to Cornelia Marvin, Oregon State Library, 25 March 1918 . Klamath County Library.
Woman’s [Library] Club. Minute Books and Papers. Klamath County Library and Klamath County Museum .
Zumwalt, Julia. Letter to the Woman’s Library Club, 15 August 1957 . Klamath County Museum.