Carnegie Library to World Class Railroad Attraction
The Union Pacific Railroad Museum turns 10 in a 110 year old Library
The citizens of Council Bluffs have had a lending library since 1866, but it was not until 1882 when the women members of the Council Bluffs Library Association, including Mrs. Grenville Dodge, petitioned the City Council to place a library tax levy on the ballot, that a viable free public library was possible. After a spirited campaign, the question carried and the Free Public Library of Council Bluffs became a permanent institution. This Free Public Library became the very first in the state of Iowa and was located on Pearl Street. The famous Amelia Bloomer and her husband Dexter, were among the very first to join.
The children's reading room, early 1900s, which is now the Lincoln Room at the Union Pacific Railroad Museum. Image courtesy of Council Bluffs Public Library.
As the population of the City grew, the Library also needed to grow and a request was sent to the Carnegie Library Foundation in 1901 for funding, but was denied. It wasn't until 1903 that Mr. Carnegie finally approved the grant, which was sizable due to General Dodge's intercession, of $70,000. The City of Council Bluffs agreed to raise $7,000 per year and provide a site for the building. In 1904, the cornerstone of the new Free Public Library was laid at the corner of Pearl Street and Willow Ave. This site was noteworthy because Abraham Lincoln was entertained by friends in a home on this same site in 1859.
The new library saw many innovations over the next almost 100 years including open stacks where patrons could browse and retrieve their own library books, in 1912 a library telephone, and the installation of modern lighting in 1948. By the end of the century, the once new library was bursting at the seams with books and new patrons and desperately needed a new home. In 1998 the Council Bluffs Public Library opened at their current home at 400 Willow Ave.
Reference section, mid 20th Century. Image courtesy of Council Bluffs Public Library
This new beginning for the library marked a new era in outreach and expansion for this valued community institution, but left an opening for innovation with the original Carnegie library building. Once considered for demolition by the City, interested community members fought to keep the architectural gem and again make it a gathering place for the community of Council Bluffs. The Friends of the Carnegie Library became the Friends of the Union Pacific Railroad Museum, raising enough money to renovate and rejuvenate the historic building leaving some funding available for exhibits. Union Pacific agreed to move their historic collection to the new building and on May 10, 2003, the Union Pacific Railroad Museum opened its doors to Council Bluffs and to the world. In the 10 years since that opening, the Union Pacific Railroad Museum has played host to more than 200,000 visitors from the US and from 50 countries around the world.
Reading area in the expansive atrium, c1950. Courtesy Council Bluffs Public Library
For more information and resources about the historic Council Bluffs Public Library and the Carnegie Library Building, please visit their page on the Council Bluffs: Proud Past - Bright Future website.