From an Idea to an Institution
A short history of MacDonald Public Library
Before World War II: No Center of Knowledge
As many people in today’s society look upon the public library as an irreplaceable institution, it’s almost unbelievable to think that no public library existed in New Baltimore prior to World War II. From today’s viewpoint, it’s an idea that’s almost impossible to believe -- but it’s true!
A Seed is Planted
In late 1940, a group of concerned citizens of the Catholic Study Club met to consider the establishment of a library, concluding the undertaking was too large. Word of the meeting spread to long-time community leader E. Leigh Skinner, however, who spearheaded the challenge. By March, 1941, Skinner had rounded up support from local organizations, churches and city officials to go forward. Skinner tapped the area’s resources and gave this "think tank" a mission: collect enough books and money from the community to establish a fledgling collection. Marie Marsh, New Baltimore's first library Director, went door to door collecting books to start the collection. It was thought that with a head start on books and funds, it would be easier to ask the city to donate a place for the library. In today’s dollars, the amount they collected in pre-war money ($300.00) sounds absurdly small, but then it totaled enough to approach the city to make the idea of a public library a reality.
(A decade later, Skinner's wife, Grace, would write the first volume of Skinner's History Stories of New Baltimore. A second volume was added a few years later.)
Securing the Building
As it became apparent there was a groundswell of support for the project in the community, Mayor Harold Engelman and the city council offered the committee part of the city’s motor garage at 51150 Washington St. for the temporary library building. The small space (only 15’x 30’) was remodeled with the help of Andrew Meldrum, the city superintendent. By the end of May, 1941, the library began to take shape.
The First Months
Donations and books poured in, and the library board planned for the opening. On June 14, 1941 the New Baltimore Public Library opened its doors with 400 books lining its handmade shelves. The mayor checked out the first book, and the open house was a success. The City Council agreed, and the library became a City Department. By August, the library doubled its collection, and was open 16 hours per week.
The First Years: Growing Pains
By the end of 1941, the library had quadrupled its collection and had received more room in the city garage. But though the library was a reality, it still relied mostly on donations. Permanent funding was needed, and a one mill tax was voted on in 1942, which newspaper reports of the day say passed "almost unanimously." The library was finally on firm footing and, by 1949, had taken over the whole building. Remodeled extensively, the Washington St. site would be the library’s location for 47 years.
Although a functional building, the library resembled the garage it once was during its formative years. That image, however, changed in 1955 with a major facelift and remodeling inside and out. The Historical Museum occupied the left area of the building. The project was supervised by board member Dr. Aloysius Weimer, a University of Detroit art professor, and Roy Bauer, a local builder. The reconstruction was funded by penal tax money and donations.
The results were stunning. Mrs. Marie Marsh, long-serving librarian, later said, "only Dr. Weimer could see an old garage and envision it as a library." The building was rededicated on June 14, 1958, its 17th anniversary. By its 20th year, the library owned more than 6,000 books and was open 31 hours per week.
Through the 60’s and 70’s remodeling occurred, but the structure’s exterior remained the same.
Making a Move ...
As urban sprawl slowly made its way to the Anchor Bay area, the library facility on Washington St. slowly became inadequate for the growing population. By the 80’s, it was apparent to many that a new facility was warranted if the library was to meet current expectations. Money for a new building, however, was a problem, as there was no surplus in the budget to buy land for a new location.
In stepped perhaps two of the city’s more generous citizens, Stuart and Velma MacDonald. Stuart MacDonald, a local businessman in the plastics industry, donated a storage facility that he owned on Main St. Soon after, the building was remodeled, and the renamed MacDonald Public Library opened to the public. Major contributors to the library were the Bay-Rama Committee, which donated $25,000 to purchase new furniture, the Citizen's Advisory committee and the Lions Club for the landscaping.
... to Main Street
By February, 1988, the new library was completed and the move to Main St. was underway. It took several carloads of volunteers, and the city's DPW workers to move all 28,000 volumes to the new facility. But by the end of the month the move was finished, and the building opened on March 1, 1988. The building was officially dedicated on May 22, 1988 on a beautiful sun drenched afternoon. Most residents approved of the building’s stucco facade and pillars in the Greek revival tradition.
In September 2009 the library underwent Phase I of a much needed renovation and expansion project adding an additional 3,078 square feet to the existing structure. The exterior of the building was replaced with a new modern brick facade. Larger community rooms, new front entrance and lobby, new roof, new restrooms and the addition of a “Friends” room were some of the improvements to Phase I.
Phase II A, renovation of the children's area was completed in August, 2011. Improvements to the children's area included, removal of the interior wall that separated the children's area from the old community room to allow for a much needed expansion with more available square footage. The additional space allowed for a new children's storytime room and much needed additional shelving. The additional shelving will allow the Juvenile Biography, Reference, Non-Fiction, and Juvenile Fiction collections to grow. Additionally. new windows were added to this area.
Phase II B, partial renovation of the adult area was completed in December, 2015. Improvements included the addition of two study rooms and a new technology center.
MacDonald Public Library is currently raising the necessary funds to complete Phases III - the renovation of the Circulation area and finishing the adult services side which includes replacement of all lighting fixtures. Currently, the library houses 47,000 volumes, the Internet, WiFi , and online databases. First-time visitors often compliment the staff on the library's pleasant appearance.