Reading in Park City has been a long-standing hobby and core value of the community. How did our beloved library come to be?
In September of 1888, the Park Record announced, “Miss Lizzie Barbee has been appointed librarian for the Ladies Library Association library.” Thus, the first library in Park City was born. Always a forward-thinking community, Park City opened a library before Utah achieved statehood in 1896 and before modern libraries began. To put this year into context for us, Boston Public Library allowed public access in 1854. Carnegie libraries were built primarily between 1883 and 1929.
This first library was housed in the basement of the Congregational Church, which was located on upper Park Avenue, with a grand total of 327 books and was open to all who wanted to use it. At this time, Park City’s population was around 5,000. Libraries use the statistic of how many books are in a collection per population. Understanding that publication rates were much lower in the 1800s, the opening collection was less than one book per person in Park City. Today’s Park City library has a collection of 22 items per person.
A notice was published in the Park Record on September 1st, 1888 to highlight the opening of the Library:
“Public Notice: The Library and Reading room under the auspices of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union of Park City is open daily from 1pm to 10pm. Strangers and the public generally are cordially invited to make use of the opportunities of the institution and delve into the current and standard literature. The ladies of the C T U meet every Saturday afternoon at 3 o’clock in the Reading room.”
The Congregational Church was destroyed by the “Great Fire” of 1898, leaving nothing but a few partial walls and a chimney. The church was later rebuilt and subsequently overseen by the Methodist Organization.
The Ladies Library Association was a women’s organization that operated during territorial years, primarily in the Salt Lake area, with a mission to establish public libraries as private libraries were more common at this time. While they had collected numerous books, their funding was very limited and they disbanded. Unfortunately, there is then a gap in Park City Library history until 1917.
In 1917, the Park City Athenaeum Club, then called Women’s Athenaeum Club, played an essential role in creating a new library – this is what we consider the beginnings of the Park City Library. Founded in 1897, the Women’s Athenaeum Club is the oldest women’s club not only in Park City, but in the entire state. Women who were married to local miners formed the Women’s Athenaeum Club to contribute to important issues facing the Park City community. One of their goals was to educate themselves. How do you do that without a library?
Once again, the Congregational Church welcomed the Library into their basement in 1917. The women worked tirelessly to set up the library’s collection and keep it operational until they outgrew the space in 1919.
The Library’s next home was on Main Street. Stay tuned for the next history blog post about this historic location.