People and early days of the Peter White Library

Interior of the Peter White Public Library, probably the building at 136 W. Washington Street, circa 1892-1904.

MARQUETTE — In honor of National Library Week, let’s take a look at the early history of Peter White Library which began in 1871 when Peter White donated $5,000. The first library was located in City Hall on Superior St. This posed some practical problems. The building housed the Board of Water, the Fire Commissioner, and the Office of Superintendent of the Poor which the public had access to at any time.

This made some patrons, especially the ladies, uncomfortable. They also had problems cataloging and tracing the circulation of the books. In December 1885, The Mining Journal noted, “The Peter White Library is open Tuesday and Friday from 2 to 5 p.m. and each person is allowed to draw two books.

By the old system, there was no librarian so the person drawing a book filled out a blank and stuck it on a spindle, whence he removed it when he returned the book. At least everyone was supposed to go through that ceremony, but this reporter doubts very much this is being carried out. Strange to say however, only a very few volumes were lost during the time this system was practiced.”

That year, a librarian was hired at $200/year and he was allowed an assistant at $50/year.

In 1886, Peter White offered the city a room for the library in the First National Bank building on the corner of Spring and Front St. In 1891, the Peter White Library was established by a special act of the Michigan Legislature merging the District School Library and Peter White’s personal library collections.

It was this same year that Rose Patenaude became Librarian. Peter White is quoted, “We are most fortunate in having a real Librarian. Under amateur conditions and imperfect cataloging, many small libraries lose a serious proportion of their books. But the Librarian’s is now a real profession. A real Librarian, such as we have, not only watches the lists of new books, but knows how to get scarce and valuable books long out of print.

Miss Patenaude knows and loves library work, and we feel that under the favoring conditions which have now arrived, she will prove her worth and win a far reaching reputation. It must have agreeably surprised strangers who have visited the Library in its late small quarters to have the book asked for handed out in less than ten seconds, and to find the catalogues so complete and accessible.”

By 1892, the Library again needed more space and was moved to the former Book World building on Washington Street. The reading rooms and stacks were located on the second floor and income from the rental on the street level provided additional funding for the Library. This was also the year that a reading room was established, although it was emphasized this was not a room for lounging.

A December 1892 Mining Journal article explains, “The Peter White Library is maintained as a Library and not as a lounging place. You are always welcome but there are just three things for you to choose from. You can draw a book, you can read in the reading room, or you can walk out. No talking is permitted and no children under ten years of age are allowed in the Library.”

Looking at the year 1893, the Peter White Library extended its hours to 9:00 am to 9:30 pm on weekdays excluding holidays. A January 1893 article in The Mining Journal states, “There is not a Library in Michigan today more thoroughly up to modern requirements, more progressive and enterprising in its management than the Peter White Public Library of Marquette, and it is already attracting the attention of other municipalities, thereby adding largely to the fame and reputation of Marquette as a city.”

By 1894, the Peter White Library boasted 7,084 volumes, 1,139 pamphlets, and 701 patrons. The opening of the Reading Room was credited with this increased usage. “The reading room has absorbed all the available space and the Library very badly needs a reference room where students may work and consult books without being disturbed by the procession to the delivery desk or the throngs of magazine and newspaper readers.” stated The Mining Journal in March 1894.

There were two ways in which residents could obtain a library card. One was by making a deposit of $3.00. Another was to call the library for an application blank and have it signed by a resident taxpayer. Non-residents were required to make a deposit of $5.00. Receipts were given with the deposit, and the money was refunded when the patron returned the library card.

In 1895 planning began for the construction of a new library facility. The land at the corner of Ridge and Front Street was donated to the Peter White Public Library Board of Trustees by John M. and Mary Beecher Longyear in 1900. Nathan M. and Mary Breitung Kaufman and Peter and Ellen Hewitt White also donated generously to the project.

The grayish white smooth cut stone contrasted sharply with the other reddish brown brick and sandstone buildings in Marquette “so as to furnish a variation to the dark stone which is characteristic of the architecture of Marquette.” The Library interior featured white marble and weathered oak. Stained glass windows and a skylight also added to the beauty of the building which was designed by the Chicago architectural firm of Patton and Miller.

While the cornerstone date is 1903, the Library officially opened its doors to the public on September 22, 1904. There was no formal celebration on that day. Some say it was overshadowed by the dedication and completion of the Marquette County Courthouse two months earlier.

In any case, the dedication, donations and planning that all took place before the building you enjoy browsing in today can be attributed to Peter White and the many others who saw the future of Marquette as a place where knowledge and education come together in a community building that is central to the character of the city and its people.


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