Before There Was a Thomas Ford Library

In 1925, eighty-five Western Springs residents decided the town needed a free public library. So they petitioned the County to place the issue before local voters.

Original Western Springs Library – circa 1926
Original Western Springs Library – circa 1926

Since the early 1920’s, Western Springs residents had discussed the pros and cons of forming a free public library. And, in a 1925 village-wide election, 324 voted for the proposal and 138 against. Thus, the Library Board was born.

In 1926, the Board took one of its first actions by leasing a vacant 30’ by 70’ storefront facing Grand Avenue, just south of what is now the Oberweis Dairy Store. Located in what was known as the Gustorf Building, the space was previously occupied by Mohr Hardware. See first photo.

Since the Library Board was dependent on future tax receipts, much of its original book collection came from public donations. For example, Coe College in Cedar Rapids, Iowa donated a number of excellent reference books. Locally, the Library Board published “request lists” of desired volumes. In response, many residents and businesses purchased the requested titles for the Library, with one family donating 500 books. The Patterson family even donated library shelving and plumbing fixtures.

In anticipation of its grand opening, the library held a reception in February 1927. It featured harp music, floral decorations, and refreshments, including cake and coffee. At that time, a representative of the State Librarian’s Office described the village’s 900 book collection as “… the best and most complete small collection I have ever handled.”

The official grand opening came on March 1, 1927. The Library’s rules specified that only two books could be checked out at once, with overdue fines of 2¢ per day. In addition to the regular books, a collection of modern fiction was offered for rental at 5¢ a day.   

By October 1927, the collection had grown to 1,364 books and the number of library cards to 587 (out of a population of 1,100). And, by 1929, the Library had tripled its circulation.

In June 1931, Mrs. Edith Ford announced that she would donate a new library building in memory of her late husband, Thomas A. Ford. The building would be four times the size of the original facility. The donation even included the purchase of the property at Wolf and Chestnut where the Village Club’s tennis courts had been located. See photo.

On January 9, 1932, the new Thomas Ford Library opened to rave reviews. And, while the old Library’s book collection was transferred to the new facility, the quest for more books continued throughout its early years. Since then, the Library has gone through two major expansions, one in 1962 and another in 1996. The Library’s collection now approaches nearly 80,000 volumes.

But, what became of the old library building? Today, the space is occupied by the BMO Harris drive-up facility. See photo.

Each week, the Western Springs Historical Society presents a “Blast from the Past”. To view prior stories, visit us at www.westernspringshistory.org.  



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