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The following is an excerpt from a booklet by Robert K. Beck entitled:
‘The Drake Free Public Library: The story about its gift and dedication in January 1903.’
Centerville originally had what was know as the Reading Room founded by the Ladies of the Reading Room Library Association Group in 1896. However, since Centerville was emerging from a small town into a bustling little city, the need for an up to date library was becoming ever more obvious.
With this in mind some leading Centerville citizens started probing the possibility of securing a modern library.
The most noted financial source for community libraries at the turn of the century was the Andrew Carnegie Library Foundation. This fund had erected libraries across the nation.
Most constructive things that went on in Centerville in those days required consultation with its most esteemed citizen, General F.M. Drake, a former Governor of Iowa, businessman, banker, lawyer, founder of Drake University, adventurer, railroad builder, Civil War General and a major philanthropist. So a delegation of community leaders called on the Governor, who at the time lived in a stately Victorian mansion in the 700 block on Drake Avenue. Among the callers was Joe Huston. Huston was the co-publisher and editor of the Centerville Daily Citizen (1897-1909). He was one of the community stalwarts. Here’s the Huston recollection of that meeting as written in the 1934 Iowegian Historical Edition.
“I went with a committee to call on Governor Drake to interest him in joining a request to the Carnegie Library Foundation for a library. He listened to us and then said something like this: ‘My friends, I cannot join you in this request for the reason that when Centerville gets a library, I am going to give it.’ We walked away on air, and at the next meeting of the city council, the Governor made his propositions, not only to give Centerville a building, but a library of books as well. The proposition was accepted by the city council and the fine library was the result.”
…desiring at this time of my life to show the love for the city in which I have lived so long and to evince my earnest desire for its future good…
The Drake gift proposal was formalized by an April 9, 1901 letter to ‘The Honorable Mayor and the City Council of Centerville, Iowa. Therein the Ex-Governor officially announced his intentions to give the Library to the city. His statement read as per follows: “The undersigned having long recognized the beneficial influence of education on the moral and intellectual development of people, as well as their happiness and welfare, and believing that no greater good can come to the people of the city of Centerville than through the influence of a well equipped and permanent free public library, and desiring at this time of my life to show the love for the city in which I have lived so long and to evince my earnest desire for its future good, I have decided to make the city, through its common council, the following proposition for the establishment and maintenance of a free public library for said city and its people.”
He then spelled out his intentions to give the Library to the City of Centerville.
Drake attached one proviso. The city must promise to maintain the building and pay its yearly operating expenses.
The Drake Library building contract was let July 2, 1901 to J.W. Sanderson of Burlington at the bid price of $23,521. This did not include window glasses and some other items. The official library dedication was held January 15, 1903.
In 1986, the library was updated with a handicapped entrance and an elevator. This work removed the spiral staircase that was a historical architectural feature. This work was the first renovation of the library since its construction.
In recent years, the library building has been tuckpointed and had a roof replacement. The glass dome was refurbished in 2003.
The library board recently decided to give the building interior an update. The board hired historical painters to paint the entire interior. New bookcases were purchased and collections were moved. New carpet was installed throughout the building. This plan was based on architectural blueprints created by FEH Consultants.