Kaukauna has a long library history.
Kaukauna has a rich library history, with the first private lending collection available in the 1880’s. The Evans sisters used Kellogg’s drug store (204 West Wisconsin) as their lending room, charging patrons 10 cents a week to borrow titles.
This method continued for over a decade while citizens, particularly the Women’s Club, continued to press for a public library. In 1899, Dr. H. B. Tanner heard their plea and brought it before the city council. The motion passed unanimously — $500 was allocated for a library, and a board of nine directors was chosen, including Tanner, Oscar Thilmany, and local author Elizabeth Dayton.
The first public library was set up inside the city jail, at the base of the Lawe Street bridge. On opening day, November 25, 1899, every one of the library’s 690 books were checked out!
Being attached to the jail meant the library was noisy and librarian Lillian Bell was given access to a revolver… just in case! The collection moved to what was then called the Stevens building, on the northeast corner of Main and Second (known today as the Pechman building).
With 2,344 books (many in German) and 1,900 card holders, the library needed a permanent home. Elizabeth Dayton wrote a letter to Andrew Carnegie, who had gained a reputation for funding such projects. She wrote of the problems when the library was attached to the jail. The response took almost two years, but Carnegie’s secretary proposed a donation of $10,000 for a building on the condition that the city provided the land and upkeep. The proposal was accepted in January 1903.
In August 1904, a donation from the Green Bay and Mississippi Canal Company was accepted – a plot of land on the island, neither north or south.
Many of the Carnegie libraries were grand structures with large columns, but Kaukauna preferred something more modest and functional. They picked the plan that had been used in Richland Center, and hired architects Claude & Starck out of Madison to make an exact duplicate of the Prairie School architectural style library. Costs came in under the $10,000 mark, leaving $800 for furnishings and beautification. The building opened to the public on January 1, 1906.
Various changes were made over the years, with small expansions here and there. The original librarian, Lillian Bell, stayed on a full 28 years. The next major growth wouldn’t happen until 1975, when director Craig Lahm petitioned the city to fund an expansion.
Kaukauna integrated with OWLS (approximately 28 northeast Wisconsin libraries) in 1994. Despite television and video games, attendance kept increasing every year, through the excitement of Giovanna Feller’s youth activities, so Director Lahm petitioned the city for another expansion. A study was conducted but the proposal failed; however, an elevator was installed. Lahm retired in 2005 after over 30 years.
Discussions of expansion or moving never ceased, and the Carnegie building began to fall into disrepair. The roof suffered leaks, the heating system had not been replaced in 32 years and gave out, and being below the water level caused the river to seep up through the basement. By 2012, the city conceded the issue couldn’t be pushed off much longer. Stadtmueller & Associates met with city planner Bob Jakl, and an idea was formed to move the library into the former Thilmany Eagle Mill – a move that would double the library’s square footage.
The city pledged to furnish the new library at no cost to the taxpayer. With help from the Kaukauna Public Library Foundation and Director Tony Wieczorek, over $600,000 was raised within only a few months. The grand opening came on February 29, 2016.
Today, the Kaukauna Public Library, under the guidance of Director Ashley Thiem-Menning, continues to provide innumerable services to Kaukauna and surrounding areas. While the core of any library will always be the circulation of books and other materials, we are proud to offer other services at no cost: internet access, meeting rooms, genealogy resources, food and clothing drives, educational programming for both children and adults, and much more. We strive to bring the best service of any library in not only the Fox Cities, but throughout the state.
Enhancing people’s lives and opening doors for curious minds.
The Kaukauna Public Library is here to help with all your information, education, entertainment, and technology needs. Call us at 920-766-6340, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, or chat with us.
Help us continue to enrich our community.
Donors have helped the Library offer additional programs and services beyond our municipal budget. The Kaukauna Public Library Foundation helps offer the library future financial sustainability and the Friends of the Library help with special immediate projects and needs through funding and volunteerism. For more information on a tax-deductible, charitable donation to the library, please call Director Thiem-Menning at 766-3342 or email her at email@example.com.