The roots of the Dixon Public Library reach back to 1872 when firemen of of dixon Hose Co. No. 1 began a small subscription library. The library was open only to the men of the hose company for a short time, but in 1873 it became a public subscription library open to men only. The fee in those days was one dollar a year or the gift of one book a year. That first library was open only on Sunday afternoons. It wasn't until 1879 that women were given library privileges. Friday night became ladies night. The facility remaine dopen on Sundays for men only. In 1884 ladies night was changed to Wednesday.
Early in April of 1895 a group of men met in the Lee County Courthouse to begin making plans for a public library. the first committee was composed of Orris B. Dodge, George Steel, J.C. Jocelyn, E.E. Wingert, J.L. Hartwell and William Jenkins. These men visited libraries already established in Rockford, Freeport, Aurora, Mendota, Sterling and Polo to investigate the ways pursued to start a public library. The committee appeared before the City Council on May 3, 1895, asking the city fathers to appropriate a tax levy on two mills per dollar for library purposes. Property valuation in Dixon at that time would provide $2,200 for library operation, they said.
Steel explained rent, fuel lights and other expenses would cost the library $900 that first year. The council acted favorably. Two weeks later, May 17, 1895 the council passed an ordinance establishing the Dixon Public Library. Since it required a year for Dixon to levy and collect that first library tax, the hose company continued to operate the library until June 1, 1896. The hose company's collection of 2,600 volumes was turned over to the first library board appointed by the city council. The Dixon Library's substantial book collection of today, especially those on biography, history and travel, contains many of the old book plates from the first Hose Company Library. That first board was composed of nine men influential in business, civic and educational affairs. Named wer O.B. Dodge, J.C. Ayres, J.B. Charters, B.F. Shaw, G.H. Squires, J.B. Dille, William Jenkins, J.C. Jocelyn an E.E. Wingert.
The old Hose Comany Library was located at 121 E. First St. as the infant Dixon Public Library, it remained in the same place. The law offices of Dixon, Devine, Ray and Morin occupy that site today. The library as we know it today, emerged when Dodge, the first president of the library board, approached the city council on Aug. 4,1899 and offered to build a library building on Hennepin Avenue, between Second and Third streets. Dodge, who served as president of the board until his death in 1919, donated the building, and the site on which it still stands today to the city. It was known as the O.B. Dodge Library Building and above the big central desk, facing the people who camein, were these words in mosaic. The handsome stone-faced building in Romanesque style has a roof of Conesera pattern tile. In carved frieze under cornice of tower are book plates of the early publishers of England, Germany and France. The exterior of the original building was 60 x 75 feet.
When first opened, the building had a balcony and ballustrade, at the four corners of which were four electric torches. There were two bookcases in the balcony for reference works. The balcony was in communication with the lower floor by speaking tube and electric bell. (There was formerly a skylight which has since been removed). The adult and childrens' department were on the main floor and the basement, where children's department was later located, served as janitor's quarters. At the time Dodge made his donation to the city, the building and property were valued at $20,000. The architect for the structure was Morrison H. Vail of Dixon, assisted by W.H. Otis of Chicago. The contractor was W.J. McAlpine of Dixon.
On Feb. 16, 1901 the "O.B. Dodge Library Building" was formally opened to the citizens of Dixon. The librarians, Miss Elizabeth Camp and Miss mary F. Wynn, held open house for the children in the morning and the adults in the afternoon; music was furnished by W.H. Smith's orchestra. Engraved invitations asked "yourself and Ladies" to the dedicatory exercides at 7:30 in the evening, with B.F> Shaw as chairman. Dodge formally presented his gift to the city, Mayor C.H. Hughes accepted for the city; E.E. Wingert spoke for the library board and Judge R.S. Farrand accepted for the citizens of Dixon. This service lasted 30 minutes. Henderson's Orchestra, stationed on the balcony, played for the evening. Five hundred eighty-five people visited that day.
The new addition, which changed the librar to its present layout, was the result of a fund-raising effort which started in 1967. The new addition ws opened in 1969. AN early gift which helped the library during its beginning years was a $15,000 inheritance from the estate of Theron Cumins. The money was to be invested and the interest to pay for books. Men, only, served on the board until 1918. The first two women were appointed that year. Miss Ruth Dysart served 30 years and MRs. H.C. Warner was a member for 42 years. Today the library boasts a collection of 62,000 adult volumes and approximately 14,000 more in the Junior Department. The library subscribes to 136 magazines and periodicals. These are kept on file for five years. There are approximately 2,600 albums in the recording section.
The library is particularly proud of its local history collection. Although far from complete, it is a sizable and very useful collection of books, pamphlets, and pictures relating to the early history of Illinois, Dixon and Lee Count. The nucleus was the gift to the library in 1922 of the William Barge Collection by his brother, Charles Barge. From that beginning it has grown. Among the choiest items are the handwritten diaries of Charles E. Hubbard, early Lee County pioneer, given to the library by J.B. Lennon, and the scrapbooks made by Frank Stevens and donated by his daughter Mrs. Grace Stevens Hicks.
This collection also includes the genealogical material purchased by the local chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution.
he most nearly complete file of the Dixon Evening Telegraph in existence and other papers published n Dixon are included in local history material. These papers were formerly bound and are now on film from 1851 to the present.
The Dixon Evening Telegraph February 28, 1976