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History of the Deschutes Public Library: 1904 - 1948

Bend Bulletin November 15, 1907
Bend Bulletin November 15, 1907

The first library in Bend, Oregon—called the Bend Magazine Club and formed shortly after the city incorporated in 1904—was a small subscription library suggested by early pioneer John H. Overholt. Members paid annual dues to the club, which in turn subscribed to a variety of national magazines. Club members could be found throughout Deschutes County, including Powell Butte and Sisters. The Bend Magazine Club was housed in Mrs. McIntosh’s Millinery store in Bend and included in its collection books donated to the club from local citizens as well as books borrowed from the State of Oregon’s traveling library.

The Bend Magazine Club was superseded four years later by a new organization called the Ladies Library Club. The club organized on February 16, 1908, and circulated books and magazines to members who paid an annual dues of $1.00. Mrs. E. D. Wilson, the “first librarian” of the club, wrote this report about its formation and early years of operation:

“A number of ladies met at the home of Mrs. J. E. Sawhill the afternoon of Feb 16, 1908 for the purpose of organizing a library club. It was decided by the ladies to open a public library and reading room. Officers were elected for a year – President, Mrs. C. D. Rowe; vice-president Mrs. F. F. Smith; secretary-treasurer, Miss Coleman. The next thing was to raise some money for magazines and current expenses. It was decided to give a social the following Saturday night, February 23. All ladies were requested to bring baskets containing lunch for two, baskets to be sold at auction, hot coffee to be served during supper, then music and dancing. $68.90 was the result, only $1.00 expense. A list of 17 magazines and five weeklies were ordered and arrangements were made with the Oregon Library Commission to send the traveling library, consisting of 50 books, to Bend every six months, with the local club to pay the freight both ways.”

Lawrence Building, Wall St, 1910s. Public library sign in left window
Lawrence Building, Wall St, 1910s.
Public library sign in left window

“Mrs. E. D. Wilson was elected librarian. The library was opened April 6, in the J. M. Lawrence building on Wall St, open every evening 7 – 9, Wednesday and Saturday afternoons 2 – 5. On the shelves in addition to the 50 books from the Commission were 38 books left by a former magazine club, but very soon the friends and club members commenced donating books, and with a round of suppers, dances, and amateur entertainments the club has succeeded in keeping up expenses and buying books…”

“The library occupied the room in the Lawrence building for two years, rent being donated by Mr. Lawrence. The building was sold and we thought for awhile the library would have to close, as we could not afford to pay rent. At last the commercial club came to our rescue; the library was moved into the store room in the Johnson building and the club paid the rent for a year. When the Bend Co. built a building for their electrical supplies, the building was large enough so the library was moved into one room, which it occupied rent free.”

First National Baptist Church, Irving St, 1910s. Public library sign on right.
First National Baptist Church, Irving St, 1910s.
Public library sign on right.

After using the Bend Company room, the library moved to an unused saloon building under the ownership of the U. S. National Bank. The directors of the bank offered the building to the library club for free if they would arrange to move it. The library directors eventually raised the capital to move the building and attach it to the First National Baptist church.

In 1919, the city of Bend approved an annual budget to support the library and in 1920, Deschutes County contracted with the City of Bend to expand library services across the county. By this time, Redmond Public Library had been in existence for nine years, having been established shortly after the town incorporated in 1910. Its first librarian, Ms. Laura Jones, was the niece of Redmond’s mayor. The Redmond library contracted administration of the local library to the new countywide system.

A county library board was soon established, hiring Lillian Sabin to be the first professional librarian for the county. Serving on the first board were Mrs. J. M. Lawrence, R. W. Sawyer, George A. Paddock, Mrs. Max Cunning, and Fred Wallace. At this point in time, the library held 3,488 volumes in its collection. Branch libraries or stations were soon opened across the county in La Pine, Lower Bridge, Sisters, Tumalo, Redmond, Terrebonne, the Brooks-Scanlon Lumber Camps 1, 2, and 3, and Shevlin Hixon Lumber Camp 1.

H C Elis Building, Bond St, 1924.  Library on right.
H C Elis Building, Bond St, 1924.
Library on right.

The Bend library, which had stayed for a number of years in the former saloon, moved to the upper floor of the Bend Amateur Club (across the street from the current library administration building) in 1920, and then, in 1921, to the H. C. Elis building on Bond street.

In February, 1924, the Bend Company donated a downtown lot to the library which was to be used for construction of a new building. Noted Portland architect A. E. Doyle was hired to draw plans for the new library building. In 1929, Bend architect Hugh M. Thompson reviewed the plans and estimated a significant cost savings if the building were made of wood instead of the proposed brick. However the onset of the Great Depression significantly delayed construction and it wasn’t until 1938, with the help of Public Works Administration and Works Progress Administration grants, that enough capital was raised to build the new library.

The library board hired Whitehouse and Church, a Portland architectural firm, to draw up plans, and Byron McDonald of the Van Matre Construction Company in Bend to arrange for the construction. The extent to which Whitehouse and Church’s design for the new building relied upon A. E. Doyle’s original plans is unknown. Final costs of the 8,100 sq ft space totaled about $27,000. It was completed in 1939.

Completed library building, Wall St, 1938
Completed library building, Wall St, 1938

The original library building today serves as the administration building for the library district and is listed with the National Register of Historic Places. Additions to the building occurred in 1957, the mid 1960s, the early 1970s, 1978, and 1985. The building is one of few surviving examples of the Oregon Rustic or National Park Style.

That same year, the Redmond library received its first permanent home, an 800 sq feet corner of the new City Hall at 6th and Evergreen. Until that time, the library had moved between various tents and rented rooms in Redmond.

The Sisters Civic Club also decided it was time to build a proper library in Sisters. Previously, the Deschutes County Library left books at one of the stores in Sisters for pickup from local patrons. The women of the Sisters Civic Club raised funds for construction through card parties and cake walks. Local men donated their labor to construct a 14 x 20 ft building with lumber from the mills. With shelving space for 1,000 books, Sisters residents donated books to supplement those borrowed each month from the Deschutes County Library. The Sisters library officially opened on January 27, 1939.

Sisters Library and Bookmobile, 1957
Sisters Library and Bookmobile, 1957

In 1946, the Deschutes County Library ordered its first bookmobile, a 1.5 ton Vanette bookmobile with a Ford chassis. The bookmobile serviced the local schools of Deschutes County, increasing school circulation by 1000% in its first two years of operation.

Sunset Home, Now Central Oregon Health Care, 1957
Sunset Home, 1957
Now Central Oregon Health Care

The library’s first bookmobile was destroyed in a garage fire in 1948, only a few weeks before the start of school. A new GMC truck was purchased in Bend, however it needed considerable alteration to function as a bookmobile. A local truck dealer, a cabinet maker, and a blacksmith collaborated on the job and finished it just in time for the start of school in 1948.

In addition to the schools, the bookmobile serviced outlying communities of Deschutes County, including Alfalfa, Brothers, and Terrebonne, as well as the Sunset Nursing Home and the Brooks-Scanlon Lumber Camp at Sisters.

Do you have any old stories or photos to share about the library? E-mail Community Librarian Nate Pedersen at nathanp@deschuteslibrary.org.

Photos generously provided by the Des Chutes Historical Musuem.

News articles from Historic Oregon Newspapers.

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