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 centennial Herald Masthead 
  home > news > centennial front > Monday, October 20, 2003 

Pay to borrow a book? Early residents did
This September 1951 photo shows the Bellingham public library that sat atop a rocky hill at what is now the parking lot next to Crown Plaza Executive Suites. Demolition of the library began that month, weeks after the new main library opened at its current site on Central Avenue. HERALD PHOTO

he first libraries on Bellingham Bay were private operations - readers paid a fee to borrow books.

In Fairhaven, tycoon Charles X. Larrabee and other prominent citizens started a private library in 1890.

What folks were reading:

In 1903

"The Lane of Little Rain," by Mary Austin

"The Souls of Black Folk," by W. E. B. DuBois

"The Little Shepherd of Kingdom Come," by John Fox

"The Ambassadors," by Henry James

"The Story of My Life," by Helen Keller

"The Call of the Wild," by Jack London

'The Pit," by Frank Norris

"Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm," by Kate Douglas Wiggin

In 1904

" The Crossing," by Winston Churchill

"Nostromo," by Joseph Conrad

"The Deliverance," by Ellen Glasgow

"Cabbages and Kings," by O. Henry

"The Golden Bowl," by Henry James

"The Sea-Wolf," by Jack London

"Porter Freckles," by Jean Stratton

"History of the Standard Oil Company," by Ida Tarbell

"The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism," by Max Weber

"The Descent of Man," by Edith Wharton

The following year, 12 women of New Whatcom, including poet Ella Higginson, started one where patrons paid $1, plus 50 cents a month, for the privilege of checking out one book at a time.

Then, in 1903, Fairhaven obtained a $12,000 grant from industrialist Andrew Carnegie to build a library at 1117 12th St., on land donated by Larrabee. Carnegie later gave $3,500 more to the library.

The Fairhaven library, now a branch of the Bellingham system, was dedicated on Dec. 20, 1904, though construction didn't wrap up until the following July.

In 1906, Bellingham became one of only two cities to win two Carnegie library grants, garnering $20,000 for a new downtown facility. That library, which opened to the public in 1908, stood atop a rocky hill next to what is now Crown Plaza Executive Suites, the former Bon Marché store.

Bellingham's main library opened at its current site near City Hall on Aug. 19, 1951.

The Carnegie library downtown was torn down two years later. Given the building's nightmarish plumbing and its 57 front steps, not everyone lamented its demise.

- Bonnie Hart Southcott

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