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Probably no one institution expresses more thoroughly the spirit of intellectual culture that has always prevailed in Redlands than does the A. K. Smiley Public Library.  Even under pioneer conditions the best of American communities have established schools and churches almost as soon as the first homes were built and roads opened, and as a pioneer community of a modern age Redlands early turned it’s thought to that broader source of intellectual inspiration found in a free public library.  The following sketch is of value as a history of the generous and public-spirited men and women whose connection with the library is only the key-note of their effective citizenship in every department of the community’s welfare.

            In October, 1889, the women of the Chicago colony organized a Woman’s Exchange, which they conducted for two years in the book and art store of Mr. J. L. Jones, and the small net profit remaining was deposited in the Union Bank, to be used for a public library whenever one should be established.  The proposition of providing a reading room and public library was discussed at a meeting called December 5, 1891, by Alfred H. Smiley, J. B. Breed, Albert K. Smiley and others.  As a result, in March, 1892, a coffee parlor and reading room was opened in the old Y. M. C. A. building on East State Street.  On November 1, 1893, realizing the need of a public collection of books to supplement the other educational activities of the city of Redlands, then less than six years old, Alfred H. Smiley brought the matter of a public library before the city trustees and asked their assistance.  Later, on November 23, 1893, at a mass meeting held in the city hall, A. H. Smiley was elected chairman and Professor C. N. Andrews, secretary.  Mr. Smiley reported that he had received subscriptions amounting to fourteen hundred dollars and presented a plan of temporary organization, effective until the next city election.

            On motion the meeting resolved itself into a society known as the Redlands Public Library Association and the original board of trustees was composed of A. H. Smiley, T. E. N. Eaton, F. P. Meserve, J. B. Breed, A. B. Ruggles, Mrs. W. Howard White, Mrs. N. S. McAbbe, and Miss L. E. Foote.  When Dr. Eaton resigned Rev. A. L. Park was elected as his successor.

            These trustees immediately asked for gifts of books and in all about two thousand dollars were raised by voluntary contributions.  On January 1, 1894, the board purchased books to the value of one thousand dollars. The trustees donated the library to the city February 7, 1894, and on the following day the city trustees accepted the gift, which, however, was allowed to remain in the keeping of the Library Association until trustees could be chosen at the next regular city election.

            The new library, consisting of about two thousand volumes was inspected at a general public reception held in the Y. M. C. A. building on Cajon Street on Washington’s Birthday.  At a formal meeting in the city trustees’ room Alfred H. Smiley, on behalf of the trustees, dedicated the library to the people and it was accepted on their behalf by Mayor Edward G. Judson, who appropriately referred to the energy and persistence of Alfred H. Smiley as primarily responsible for the splendid success thus far attained by the library project.  The city ordinance establishing the Redlands Public Library was passed February 23, and on March 2, 1894, the library began issuing books.  At a city election held April 9 the following trustees were chosen:  A. H. Smiley, F. P. Meserve, A. B. Ruggles, E. G. Judson, and J. B. Breed.  In all the years since then the library has had the benefit not only of strong public support but of the unpaid-for service of the trustees.  Alfred H. Smiley was elected president of the Board of Trustees April 26, 1894.  He devoted considerable time and effort to the upbuilding of the library, gave to it liberal financial help, especially for the purchase of books, and in this as in other ways carried a keen sense of stewardship to the tax payers and established an exacting standard in the selection of books.  His death on January 25, 1903, was a loss keenly felt by every citizen of Redlands.  On March 5, 1903, he was succeeded by Charles L. Putnam, who followed the example of his predecessor in visiting the library almost every day, usually taking flowers from his garden to decorate the rooms.  He was exceedingly liberal in his support of the library, providing funds for changing sixty feet of the east basement into a children’s room; presented a very rare and valuable collection of Egyptian antiquities excavated by the Egypt Exploration Fund, to which he was a generous donor; also contributed the extensive Lucy Abbot Putnam collection of photographs, and often furnished funds for emergencies.  Mr. Putnam died October 1, 1918, and his successor, Kirke H. Field, who has now served thirty-six years as a trustee, has given freely of his time and energy to his duties.

            The office of secretary of the board has been filled in succession by Mrs. Margaret H. White, appointed May 1, 1894; Mrs. Annie F. Williams, appointed November 6, 1897; Charles L. Partridge, appointed January 5, 1904; Willard A. Nichols, December 4, 1906; and Major E. H. Cooke, September 24, 1921; Stewart R. Hotchkiss, 1925 to date.

            In the thirty-seven years of its existence the library has had nineteen trustees.  The original board has been succeeded in chronological order of their service by the following members:  Charles Putnam (1895-97; 1899-1918), Kirke H. Field (1897 to date), B. H. Jacobs (1898-1905), J. W. England (1898-99), Charles L. Partridge (1903-08), Dr. Elverton E. Major (1903-10), Willard A. Nichols (1905-21), L. Worthington Green (1908-19), Edgar Williams (1910-15), Stewart R. Hotchkiss (1915 to date), Hon. Jeffrey J. Prendergast (1918 to date), Senator Lyman M. King (1919 to date), Major E. H. Cooke (1921-24), and Eldridge M Lyon (1925 to date).

            The library has had six librarians.  Miss Helen A. Nevins was chosen May 1, 1894, and resigned May 8, 1895.  Though her service was brief her previous work and training made her labors invaluable in classifying and arranging the original library.  On May 18, 1895, her place was taken by Miss Antoinette M. Humphreys, who resigned in June, 1910, to become county librarian of Merced County.  Under her skillful guidance for fifteen years the library made a rapid and strong growth.  Her genial nature, rare tact and ceaseless devotion to her official duties made a lasting impression on the community and did much to promote the popularity of the library.  Miss Artena M. Chapin, the next librarian, began her duties November 1, 1910.  She was granted a leave of absence from May 10 to September 1, 1919, on account of ill health, and on October 4, 1919, resigned to the great regret of the board.  Miss Chapin, a woman of fine character and of marked technical and professional ability, was graduated from the University of Michigan and the Armour Institute Library School of Chicago.  Before coming to Redlands she had been an assistant in the Indiana State Library and head of the public library of Muncie, Indiana.  Under her direction the Smiley Library continued to make marked progress in size and usefulness.  On May 10, 1919, Miss Elizabeth Lowry was appointed acting librarian and became librarian October 6 of that year.  A graduate of the University of California at Berkeley, she received her library training at the New York State Library School in Albany and her professional experience was gained as an assistant in the library of the University of California and in the California State Library, as librarian of the public libraries of Pocatello and Idaho Falls, Idaho, and the California State Normal School at Chico.  With marked executive ability she organized a staff to render the most complete service to patrons of the A. K. Smiley Public Library and also arranged the many collections, memorial gifts and books so as to be available for instant use.  Miss Lowry married Frederick W. Sanborn and resigned March 15, 1922.

            Miss Gwendolyn Tinker, a member of the library staff, was appointed acting librarian following Mrs. Sanborn’s resignation.  Miss Tinker had been cataloger and assistant library.  She was made librarian on November 7, 1922 and served most acceptably until September 1, 1924, when she resigned and was married to Jesse W. Smith.  Under her administration the library continued to develop.

            Miss Inness, the present librarian, was appointed January 15, 1925, and is ably carrying forward the work of her predecessors.  Miss Inness received the degrees of A. B. and M. A. from Knox College and her library training at the University of Illinois Library School and the School of Library Science, Columbia University.  She came to Redlands from the Bureau of Municipal Research where she had been librarian.  During her administration the work of the library has grown rapidly.  The building has been enlarged twice by the addition of the administration and book stack wings.

            The original library was housed in rooms on the first floor of the new Y. M. C. A. building on Cajon Street, at the left of the entrance.  This building was later converted into the city hall and the two old library rooms became the offices of the city clerk and the city treasurer.  The equipment consisted of two long tables, a number of chairs, the librarian’s desk and two book stacks, to which was later added a third stack.  These quarters soon became crowded, and in the spring of 1897 the president of the board announced that his brother, Hon. Albert K. Smiley, had decided to erect a library building and present it to the city.  In carrying out his plan Mr. Smiley had purchased sixteen acres of ground to provide not only a site for the proposed building but also to open a parkway from West Olive Avenue to Grant Street, then on to Eureka Street, and from that point to Fourth Street.  The purchase of this property involved difficulty as well as great expense, since it was in the hands of many owners, and to some extent was already occupied by private residences.  A dwelling stood on the land selected for the building and the park immediately adjoining it, consisted of one and twenty-four hundredths acres at the corner of Fourth and Vine streets.

            The plans for the library building were prepared by T. R. Griffith, a Redlands architect, and the builder was D. M. Donald, a local contractor.  At the time it was erected this was one of the most beautiful library buildings in Southern California and it still retains that distinction.  It exemplifies the Moorish style of architecture, commonly called Mission, with brick walls and stone trimming.  Among its decorative features the carving on the frieze over the main entrance has been especially praised.  The roof is of red tile.  There is a stone basement under the whole building and adequate heating facilities are provided by fireplaces and four furnaces.  The original structure was in the shape of a cross, extending about one hundred feet each way.  The central portion constituted the general library room.  At the northeast corner arose the tower, fourteen by fourteen feet and fifty feet high, and in this the directors’ room was situated.  The stack room adjoined the general library room and on the west was the reference room, while at the south end of the building was a wing containing the librarian’s room and a repair room.  The interior walls were plastered on steel lath; all floors were double, the upper being of solid oak, and the building was perfectly lighted and ventilated.  The rose windows at the ends of the building were especially attractive.  It was furnished, completely equipped and ready for occupancy by Mr. Smiley.  All the pictures and statuary were selected by the curator of the Metropolitan Museum in New York.

            The library was presented to the city April 28, 1898, Albert K. Smiley delivering to William Fowler, the mayor, a deed to the building and sixteen acres, dedicated to the use and enjoyment of the people of Redlands.  It was a magnificent and costly gift to the young city and a splendid object lesson in generosity and public spirit.  The city trustees, following the dedication, changed the name of the Redlands Public Library to the A. K. Smiley Public Library, and on April 29, 1898, the building was opened to the public.

            In its construction the architect planned for twenty-five years in the future, but within eight years more room was needed.  With the same philanthropy and that generosity which always characterized his attitude toward Redlands, Mr. Smiley offered to add to the library building an east wing one hundred feet long by twenty-four feet wide, with an arcade along the north side and a basement under the entire length.  Work was begun on the extension March 29, 1906, and it was completed January 1, 1907.  During the next few years the library continued to have a rapid growth in the number of volumes on its shelves, in its circulation and general usefulness, so as to tax all the generous facilities so far provided.  The Hon. Albert K. Smiley was drawing toward the close of a long and honored life, distinguished by this and many other signal acts of public and private service.  The library was the object of his bounty to the end.  He died December 2, 1912.  In his last days he suggested to his brother, Hon. Daniel Smiley, the need of a further addition to the building and that ten thousand dollars be furnished for the purpose when his estate was in condition to provide it.  After a necessary delay, through the generosity Hon. Daniel Smiley in carrying out the suggestion of his brother, the ten thousand dollars was placed at the disposal of the city, together with interest on that sum during the administration of the estate.  As building costs had increased materially on account of the War, this amount was supplemented somewhat by an appropriation by the city.  On November 25, 1919, ground was broken for the south addition, one hundred by twenty-four feet, and basement.  A. E. Taylor was the contractor and the work was supervised by George S. Hinckley, city engineer.  The wing was completed in October, 1920, and immediately occupied as a children’s room and a reference room.  It is felt that this commodious addition was largely the result of the deep and abiding interest in the library which Mr. and Mrs. Daniel Smiley have always manifested.

            With the growth of library service the administration quarters had become wholly inadequate to permit the staff to do the most efficient work.  Mr. Eldridge M. Lyon, a member of the board of Library Trustees offered to build the new wing.  The formal opening and dedication occurred on December 1, 1926, and the wing has been called the “Lyon Wing.”

            The small wing containing the librarian’s office and work room was torn down and the new wing, 100 x 30 feet was built, paralleling the other south wing.  It contained ample rooms for all administration work, a staff rest room and an assembly hall, admirably adapted for the use of gatherings of a moderate size.  The assembly hall has been used continually by educational and literary groups of the community and for committee meetings.

            The library continued to grow and soon the book stacks, reference, and children’s departments had become so overcrowded that there was an imperative need for more room.

            Again Mr. Eldridge M. Lyon offered to build the new book stack wing and on November 25, 1930, the book stack wing was opened.  It was equipped with steel stacks, the gift of the following friends of the library:

                                    John W. Dickinson                  Mary L. Lodge

                                    Kirke H. Field                         Richard W. Lodge

                                    John P. Fisk                             Eldridge M. Lyon

                                    Elizabeth H. Fisk                    Helen L. Lyon

                                    Franklin J. Hammer                 Mary S. Lyon

                                    Philip Harris                            Robert M. McCulloch

                                    Margaret E. Kilpatrick            Samuel S. Sewall

                                    William H. Kilpatrick              Mark K. Shirk

                                    Helen C. Kimberly


            The stack wing, 54 x 65 feet was built to house 90,000 volumes, only one floor being used at the present time.  It was built by A. E. Taylor & Son, Inc., general contractors and the architects were Myron Hunt and H. C. Chambers of Los Angeles.

            At the time the new book stack wing was opened the reference department was moved to the east wing and the current periodicals to the former reference room, part of the former reference room being added to the children’s department.

            The A. K. Smiley Public Library now has probably the best small city building in California, and its architectural beauty is remarked by all visitors.  On February 18, 1900, the library was first opened for Sundays and holidays, the extra expense involved being defrayed by a fund raised by the Redlands Daily Facts, which has always been extremely generous in publishing library lists and news.

            In January, 1907, the annual meeting of the California Library Association was held in Redlands.  The pay collection was instituted in January, 1912, and in 1914 the children’s room in the basement, fitted up by Mr. Putnam, was opened.  Through the library’s cooperation with other institutions many books were collected and forwarded to government camps during the World War.  The administrative personnel of the library loaned several of its members to the government.  Miss Chapin, the librarian, was granted seven weeks leave, beginning April 1, 1918, to classify the library for the United States Naval Training Station at San Diego.  On July 1, 1918, Miss Janette Lever, reference librarian, was given leave of absence, at the request of the ordnance department, for work in Washington.  On September 9, 1918, Miss Mildred Parsons, cataloger, was granted leave of absence for work with the War Department in France.

            The library today consists of 62,252 volumes and 31,484 pamphlets.  Two hundred twenty magazines are received and twenty-three newspapers are on file.  There are 10,306 cardholders.  To a very considerable extent the value of the library to the community is measured by the number of books which it circulates.  The circulation for the year ending June 30, 1932, was twenty-two books per person per year.

            Among the valuable possessions of this institution are:  the Charles Putnam collection of Egyptian antiquities; the Lucy Abbot Putnam collection of photographs; Junius W. Hill collection of music and works on music; Andrew Carnegie collection of works on the Indians of the southwest; Scipio Craig collection of local historical matter; the W. H. White and F. E. Prendergast collection of engineering works; an autographed collection of local authors; a collection of Californiana, containing many rare volumes; I. M. R. Eaton Memorial; Charles L. Partridge Memorial; Julia P. Miller Memorial and many exceedingly valuable pictures, books and statuary given by friends of the library.

            From the founding of the library the public has had free access to its shelves and a liberal policy for the issue of books has been maintained.  Every effort has been made to co-operate with the schools and University of Redlands and to meet the needs of the teachers and students.  Deposit stations have been installed in the Lincoln, Lugonia, Crafton and Franklin schools.  The trustees have regarded the library as in reality a part of the educational system—the university of all residents of the city; and it has been their aim to continue the furniture, pictures and general maintenance along the artistic lines followed by Mr. Smiley in his original gift.  The funds for conducting the library have been provided by an annual tax levy by the city trustees, augmented somewhat by book fines.  The Board of Library Trustees feeling that the funds of the library might be increased through gifts, called the attention of Redlands citizens to the plan of establishing Endowment Funds for the library, the interest from the funds to go for the purchase of books.  Special endowments, as well as gifts to the general endowment fund, have been given from year to year by interested citizens.  The interest from these funds has made possible the purchase of many fine books.

            It is a difficult problem to provide financial support, since the use of the library grows much more rapidly than the population, due to an increased appreciation of the value of the facilities of this civic institution, and because the children’s room is constantly graduating boys and girls who have for years been friends and constant patrons.

            The board of library trustees at present consists of Kirke H. Field, Esq. (president), Eldridge M. Lyon, Esq. (auditing officer), Stewart R. Hotchkiss, Esq. (secretary), Hon. J. J. Prendergast and Hon. Lyman M. King. 

            Miss Mabel Inness, the librarian, has the following assistants:  Miss Edith Demond, Miss Zora E. Lang, Mrs. Doris G. Murdock, Miss Mildred Burch, Miss Irene MacKay, Miss Lillian Roberts, Miss Louise Henry, Miss Orpha Miller, Miss Catherine M. Clark, Miss Marie Bergstrom, Miss Roberta Gay, Miss Margaret Lewis.




Transcribed by V. Gerald Iaquinta.

Source: California of the South Vol. III, by John Steven McGroarty, Pages 445-455, Clarke Publ., Chicago, Los Angeles,  Indianapolis.  1933.

© 2012  V. Gerald Iaquinta.