History of the Library

Columbus Public Library in 1912

Columbus Public Library in 1912

1887 First Library

The Columbus community formed a library association on January 20, 1877, with the donation of 54 books from former Governor and Columbus City resident James Lewis. It was located in two rooms located over a store 1 block down at 100 S. Ludington Street the former Griswold building and current Sharrow Drug Store.

The library moved to the front two corner rooms of City Hall in 1867, at which time the library was a subscription library.

Columbus Library Association was formed in 1910.

The Columbus Women's Civic Club solicited the Carnegie Foundation for a $10,000 grant for a library. So they could get the deed to the two lots the club loaned the city $3. On October 14, 1910 the city purchased them from Mrs. Mary Griswold. It was a beautiful lot with oak trees.

The Women's Club raised additional money to furnish the library.


1912 Carnegie Library

The library was designed by master architects Louis W. Claude and Edward F. Starck in 1912. It achieved statewide architectural significance as one of the most original designs of a firm noted for its distinctive libraries. The library's one-story Prairie School design is built of stucco, wood and brick. Normally the building belongs in the general class of their Prairie works but the design is also strongly influenced by the English Arts and Crafts movement. The deliberate combination of stucco and brick and vaguely Tudor-like ornamentation is more closely related to the craftsman design philosophy of the Arts and Crafts movement.

The cottage-like library was designed with a T-shaped floor plan featuring an open reading room, central circulation desk, with built-in benches and bookshelves made of oak and offices in the rear completed the building. The residential elements such as the front porch, residential setback, and flower boxes give it an inviting feeling.

The library was dedicated on November 1, 1912 for the contracted cost of $9,888.10.

The library has been in continual use since opening. Many activities have been carried on in the basement over the years. During World War II Red Cross classes in First Aid and Home Nursing met, and in the 1950's The Youth Center met there. It was also used as the Senior Citizen Center for a few years in the 1970's and a pre-school in later years before being converted into a children's room and meeting room in 1990.


Architects Claude and Stark

Both architects were Madison natives. After working in Chicago for Louis Sullivan and other progressive designers, Claude returned to Madison and formed a partnership with Edward Starck, who had worked in Chicago and also for noted Milwaukee architect, E. T. Mix. Their firm, Claude and Starck (1896-1929), not only was noted for their many outstanding prairie style buildings in Madison, but also for their small library buildings constructed throughout the Midwest.

The library is located near Louis Sullivan's Jewel Bank the Farmer's and Merchant Bank.


1990 Renovation

The architectural firm of Noble Rose Architects was hired to keep the library historically accurate. It was renovated to include a new children's area, improved lighting, the circulation desk was relocated, meeting room with kitchen was added along with a handicapped accessible entrance, and elevator.

The Women's Club furnished the basement to use as a dining room and kitchen. They continued to hold their meetings at the library until they disbanded in September 2002.

Money from the city and donations from the community paid for the renovation.


Swartout Property

The library board purchased the Swarthout property, 239 W. James Street, in 1999 for future expansion.The house on the property was sold and moved February 2002 to a new location on Highway 16.


Century Birthday

The library celebrated its 135th anniversary since its founding and 100 years in the present building in 2012.


Awards and Honors

The library was added to the National Register of Historic Places November 15, 1990 and the State Register of Historic Places.

Certificate of Appreciation on March 29, 1992 from the Columbus Historic Landmarks and Preservation Committee in recognition of the effort that had been made to maintain the building in keeping with its historic appearance.

The library was awarded South Central Library System Library of the Year on September 8, 2000. The library shared this award with American Family Insurance corporate library as winner of the special library category. Columbus Public Library received the award for innovative library service.

The Wisconsin State Legislature presented the Columbus Public Library on January 20, 2002 with a citation for 125 years of library service and commitment to the community.

The 2008 Chester Pismo Snavely Memorial Award for a Nifty Activity was presented to Peggy Kindschi and the staff of Columbus Public Library for their response to June flooding in that community.

Phyllis Davis, System Director, stated:

"Kindschi and her staff took the lead and helped residents begin filling out FEMA forms and distributing information. For those who had to leave pets, staff took down information that was passed on to the fire department. They also served as the go-between for those people who needed additional information.The library served as a drop off site for nonperishable food, diapers, canned pet food, toiletries and cleaning supplies. Staff took names for the cleanup kits that were distributed by the Fire Department, area churches and the library. Kindschi modified the library website to provide up-to-date disaster information as it developed. Columbus Public Library served its community with distinction in a time of dire need, and Peggy and her staff are deserving of this year’s Chester Pismo Snavely Memorial Award for a Nifty Activity."