Search billions of records on


 Biographies Index  



California Genealogy and History Archives

San Bernardino County and Riverside County


A. K. SMILEY PUBLIC LIBRARY Probably no one institution expresses more thoroughly the spirit of intellectual culture that has always prevailed in Redlands than 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 its thought to that broader source of intellectual inspiration found in a free public library. The following sketch is valuable not only as a history of the library itself, but as a means of preserving the names of some of the generous and public spirited men and women whose connection with the library is only the keynote of their effective citizenship in every department of the community's welfare.

Beginning in October, 1889, the women of the Chicago Colony organized and conducted a Woman's Exchange in the Book and Art Store of Mrs. J. L. Jones for two years, and a small net profit remaining was placed in the Union Bank dedicated to a public library whenever one should be established. The proposition of establishing a reading room and public library was brought to general attention by 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. November 1, 1893, Alfred H. Smiley, 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, brought the matter of a public library before the city trustees and asked their assistance. Later, on November 23, 1893, a general mass meeting at the City Hall was held, at which A. H. Smiley was elected chairman and Prof. C. N. Andrews, secretary. Mr. Smiley reported he had received subscriptions amounting to fourteen hundred dollars and presented a plan of temporary organization until the next city election.

On motion the meeting resolved itself into an association, the Redlands Public Library Association, and the trustees elected were A. H. Smiley, T. E. N. Eaton, F. P. Meserve, J. B. Breed, A. B. Ruggles, Mrs. W. Howard White, Mrs. N. S. McAbee and Miss L. E. Foote. When Dr. Eaton resigned Rev. A. L. Park was chosen his successor.

These trustees immediately asked gifts of books, and in all about two thousand dollars was raised by voluntary contributions. January 1, 1894, the board purchased books to the value of a thousand dollars. The trustees on February 7, 1894, donated the library to the city, and the city trustees on the following day 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 23rd, and on March 2, 1894, the Public Library began issuing books. At a city election held April 9th the first Board of Trustees was chosen, consisting of 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 disinterested service of the trustees. Alfred H. Smiley was elected president of the Board of Trustees April 26, 1894. He devoted time without stint to the upbuilding of the library, gave 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. He was succeeded on March 5, 1903, 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 provided the extensive Lucy Abbot Putnam collection of photographs, and often provided funds for emergencies. Mr. Putnam died October 1, 1918 and his successor is the present incumbent, Kirke H. Field, who has now served twenty-four years as trustee, and has given freely of time and energy to his duties.

The office of secretary of the board has been filled bv 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.

In the twenty-seven years of its existence the Library has had eighteen 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 (1903-1910), 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) and Major E. H. Cooke (1921 to date).

The Library has had four librarians. Miss Helen A. Nevius was chosen May 1, 1894, and resigned May 8, 1895. Though her service was brief her previous work and training made her work invaluable in classifying^ and arranging the original library. She was succeeded May 18, 1895, 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. August 10, 1910, Miss Artena M. Chapin was elected librarian, beginning her duties November 1st. 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, who represented a beautiful character of womanhood as well as technical and professional ability is a graduate of the University of Michigan, the Armour Institute Library School of Chicago, and had been an assistant in the Indiana State Library and was librarian of the Public Library of Muncie, Indiana. Under her the Smiley Library continued to make marked progress in size and usefulness. May 10, 1919, Miss Elizabeth Lowry was appointed acting librarian and was chosen librarian October 6, 1919. She is a graduate of the University of California, received her library training at the New York State Library School at Albany, and her professional experience was gained as an assistant in the library of the University of California, 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 has organized a staff to render the most complete service to the patrons, has also arranged the many collections, memorial gifts and books so as to be available for instant use, and the book circulation has steadily increased and the facilities of the reference and other departments have had a steadily increasing use.

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 is, now City Hall and the two old library rooms are occupied by the city clerk and city treasurer. The equipment consisted of two long tables, chairs, librarian's desk and two book stacks, to which later was 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 build a library building and present it to the city. In carrying out his plan Mr. Smiley had bought 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 money owners, and to some extent was already occupied by private residences. A residence stood on the land selected for the building and the park immediately adjoining it, consisting of 1.24 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 it was one of the most beautiful library buildings in Southern California, and it still retains that distinction. It is of the Moorish style of architecture, commonly called Mission, with brick walls and stone trimming. Among 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 seven fireplaces and three furnaces are provided. The original building was in the shape of a cross, about one hundred feet each way. The central portion constituted the general library room ; the northeast corner arose the tower, 14x14 feet and 50 feet high, contained the directors' room. From the general library room was a stock room, on the west a reference room, and south was the wing containing the librarian's room and repair room. The interior walls were plastered on steel lath, all floors were double, the upper floor being of solid oak, and the building perfectly lighted and ventilated. The rose windows at the ends of the building were especially attractive.

This building was furnished, completely equipped and ready for occupancy by Mr. Smiley. All the mural decorations were selected by the curator of the Metropolitan Museum in New York. April 28, 1898, the building was presented to the city, Alfred 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 29th 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 100 feet long by 24 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, 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 lone: 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 that purpose when his estate was in condition to provide it. After a necessary delay through the generosity of 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. November 25, 1919, ground was broken for the south addition, 100 feet by 24 feet and basement. A. E. Taylor was the contractor and the work was supervised by George S. Hinckley, city engineer. This wing was completed in October, 1920, and immediately occupied as a children's room and reference room. It is felt that this large addition was largely the result of the deep and abiding interest in die library which Mr. and Mrs. Daniel Smiley have always manifested.

The A. K. Smiley Public Library probably now has 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 1903 the children first had special provision made for them by the reserving of one corner of the book room and the placing of a large round table for their use. In January, 1907, the annual meeting of the California Library Association was held in Redlands. The fumigation of books drawn out for public use has been practiced since 1910. 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 co-operating with other organizations 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. July 1, 1918, Miss Janette Lever, reference librarian, was given leave of absence at the request of the Ordnance Department for work in Washington. September 9, 1918, Miss Mildred Parsons, cataloguer, was granted leave of absence for work with the War Department in France.

The Library today consists of thirty-eight thousand volumes and twenty thousand pamphlets; including gifts, 192 magazines are received, and 22 newspapers are on file. There are 5,792 card holders and the new registration is not completed. To a very considerable extent the value of the library to the community is measured by the number of books which it circulates. Based on the census of 1920 the circulation for the year ending June 30, 1921, was 12.69 books per person per year. Five books per person is regarded as very satisfactory, and an effort to find a library making a better showing than the A. K. Smiley Public Library has not been successful.

There are many valuable collections: The Charles Putnam Collection of Egyptian Antiquities; 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: W. H. White and F. E. Prendergast Collection of Engineering Works, Autographed Collection of local authors: Collection of Californians containing many rare volumes: T. M. R. Eaton Memorial : Charles L. Partridge Memorial : Julia P. Miller Memorial and many exceedingly valuable pictures and books given by friends.

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 the University of Redlands and to meet the needs of the teachers and the students. Deposit stations have been installed in the high school, Lugonia, Crafton and Franklin schools, the University of Redlands and the House of Neighborly Service. The trustees have regarded the Library as in reality a part of the educational system the university of all residents. 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. It is a difficult problem to provide financial support, since the use of the library grows much more rapidly than population, due to an increased appreciation of the value of the Library facilities, 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 ; Stewart R. Hotchkiss, auditing officer ; Hon. Jeffrey J. Prendergast, Hon. Lyman M. King and Major E. H. Cooke. Elizabeth Lowry Sanborn is librarian and her assistants are: Miss Gwendolyn Tinker, first assistant librarian and cataloguer; Miss Bessie C. Degenhart, children's librarian; Miss Ruth Bullock, reference librarian; Miss Myrtle Danielson, director of Loan Department ; Mrs. Glen J. Milligan, director of repair department; Miss Helen Jennings, Miss Alice Mead, Leonard Stokely, Catherine E. Hockridge and Miss Sarah Williamson, substitutes.


History of San Bernardino and Riverside Counties 
By: John Brown, Jr., Editor for San Bernardino County 
And James Boyd, Editor for Riverside County 
With selected biography of actors and witnesses of the period 
of growth and achievement.
Volume III, the Western Historical Association, 1922, 
The Lewis Publishing Company, Chicago, ILL

Transcribed by Peggy Hooper 2011