(Excerpted in great part from MOVING ON DOWN THE ROAD: A General History Of Pawnee, Illinois by Skip Minder. His work and words exist nearly everywhere in the library, which is indebted to him.)
On July 1, 1895, the Village Board voted to build the first calaboose (jail). It was a 16-foot by 24-foot brick building located at the south end of the alley behind the present village offices. It had one jail cage that was purchased from the Springfield Iron & Bridge Company for $125. On December 1, 1902, a petition was presented at the Village Board meeting to construct a new calaboose and village building on village property at the southeast corner of Seventh and Carroll Streets – as soon as practicable.
On motion, it was ordered that a committee of three be appointed to get estimates on the cost of the building – “18 ft. by 50 ft. – with a 13 inch thick brick wall.” The construction was complete in 1903. The jail building had entrances on both its north and south walls. The north wall entrance was into the Village Hall/Justice of Peace offices. To reach the heavy wooden outside door, one had to walk down a passageway between the jail and the old fire truck garage. Inside the calaboose building was a jail cage constructed of 1½-inch metal bars. Attached to one of the cage’s inside walls were two metal bunks, supported at each end by iron straps, where prisoners could sleep. The cage door was also constructed of metal bars and could be pad-locked. One bare light bulb hung from the ceiling. In the early days, only 15 cents per prisoner meal money was allotted. Hammond ’s or the Dozier Bros. Restaurants furnished the meals.
The first library in Pawnee began in 1922 when the Modern Martha Class of the Pawnee Methodist Church decided that a library was needed. They started one at the church with Mrs. Irene Adams as the first librarian. With permission of the church board, they used the pastor’s study and his bookcases. Some of the Class members also volunteered their help and the library was open several days a week. Most of the books were from the State Historical Library. Pawnee residents donated some books. This library functioned for a number of years before it was discontinued. The Pawnee Presbyterian Church then had a small library in the vestibule of the church for a few years. The late Mrs. Mack Young was in charge. During the 1930’s a library was operated under the Works Progress Administration (WPA). It was located at the 1962 – 2003 library location (then the Village Hall).
The late Elmer (Doc) Hudgins, who was mayor at the time, gave permission for the library to be located there. Much work had to be done to get the building in shape. Several men in the community cleaned, painted and installed the shelves. The late Mrs. Cora Sandidge and Mrs. Nellie Larson were librarians for the WPA. Written book reports were required in those days – but Mrs. Sandidge and Mrs. Larson managed quite well. When the government abolished the WPA, the library ceased to exist. There was an interim between then and the time another library was started.
In 1951, a group of the civic-minded Pawnee public met with Mrs. John Holman to discuss ways and means of forming another library in Pawnee. The Village Hall was secured as the site; the Pawnee Lumber Company donated material for the shelving; and LaRue Havenar painted the area. A library dance and supper netted some $360 and provided the funds to begin operation. The library was opened in 1952 and was sponsored by the Pawnee Parent Teachers Association (PTA). The Illinois State Library donated 1200 books – and, by May of 1952, the Pawnee Library was operating two nights a week and Saturday afternoons. In addition to Mrs. Holman, Mrs. Eugene Brady, Mrs. Earl Estill, Mrs. Dorothy Havenar, and Mrs. Meade Mc Williams staffed it. Benefactors included the William Bold, Morris Smith, and Myron Lemen families.
For a time, the library continued to operate in the brick Village Hall at the corner of 7th and Carroll Streets. Then it was forced to move, as the Village needed the space. Dr. John Holman had recently moved the site of his medical practice (the one time location of the practice of the late Dr. Paul Bain and his predecessor, Dr. Mertz) into another building on the northwest corner of the square – just south of the 1962 – 2003 library. He offered his previous rooms to the library free of charge with the provision it keep up the property insurance payments, and thus it then did operate in the old Holman offices in the 500 block of Douglas, becoming tax supported in 1957. The trustees then began looking for more permanent quarters.
In 1962, when the library board became aware the Village Hall was up for sale, they contacted the Village board. Richard Barnes was the mayor at the time. He, and the Village Board decided to sell the Village Hall to the Library Board for $1.00 with the stipulation that it revert back to the village if the library ever ceased to exist or moved to a new facility. Verna Minder was the librarian at that time. After Verna’s resignation, Marilyn Landrey, Mary Lee, Ann Rutherford, Mr. And Mrs. Al Drone, Verda Eichen, Jennnifer Thoele, and Elizabeth Payne staffed the library. Al Drone and the late Elva Dozier were the Presidents of the Library Board for many years. Other long-term board members were Addie Minder, Juanita Willenborg, Mary Lee, Alvora Sandidge, Christine Fowler, Robert Fontana, Leland Landrey, Bill Springer and Mary Turvey.
On May 10, 1967, the library joined the Rolling Prairie Library System of Decatur, Illinois. It was open on a daily basis to “go back centuries, stop at yesterday, or venture into tomorrow.” In the fall of 1968, Ed Day was hired to remodel the old “jail” as a “center room.” Leland Landrey had previously renovated the “old village hall” as the “north room.” In November of 1984 an additional room was added to the south end of the “center room.” (This room was built where a garage once stood which housed the Pawnee fire engine – painted white. The garage later burned down.)
By the summer of 2001, the Pawnee Public Library had been operating for 40 years out of the tiny building at the corner of Seventh and Carroll. It had come to resemble a maze out of a horror novel. The Village of Pawnee, as part of a continuing push for square renewal, offered to donate $225,000, which would hopefully be matched with a Secretary of State New Construction Grant, toward the erection of a new library in the old Clark IGA building property on the north side of the square. Perilously late in the grant application period, Sue Massie of Springfield, who had written the grant for Schultz Park, was contacted about writing one for the library and consented. John Shafer of Springfield, who worked often with Massie, agreed to become the project architect. The grant was submitted to the Secretary of State’s office one day before deadline in October, and those involved had to wait and worry for another month and a half until the highly competitive statewide grant presentation meeting to be held at the Illinois State Library at the end of November. Attending the grant meeting were Bennett Bess, Kathy Aumiller, Terri Ladage, Joette Manning, Skip Minder, Jerry Rhodes, Massie and Shafer.
Pawnee was awarded that day, and did receive the matching $225,000 from the State of Illinois (the New Construction Grant Program was ironically and permanently dissolved before a year would pass) and the Village of Pawnee would eventually contribute another $70,000 to the project. With Otto Baum, Inc. of Decatur the low bidder and general contractor, construction began in the summer of 2002 on the four-times-larger facility.
In the spring of 2002, library trustees proposed and the citizenry passed a village library tax rate increase referendum. Strikingly, it passed by some 60 to 40 percent in an era when almost no library referenda ever passed – and permanently tripled the operating budget which had existed for years at an inconceivably low level. On May 1 of 2003, the New Pawnee Public Library opened its doors to patrons; only a few steps escaped from the old jail, but in a new century.
One year later, Rolling Prairie Library System (a cooperative with 271 institutions) named Pawnee Public Library its “Library of the Year”.