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Barry Schrader
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I currently write a column each Tuesday for the DeKalb Daily Chronicle. The column will also appear on this website each week and be added to the archives.

The Articles started December 2007.

 

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Waterman library exudes history

By Barry Schrader.................................May 10, 2011

Visiting the Clinton Township Public Library in Waterman recently brought back a flood of memories.
My mother used to walk me from our East Grant Street homeb – known as the Drake house – the two blocks to the library, where I got the thrill of checking out my first library books. This was in the late 1940s, and the librarian was Miss Joyce Greeley, who held that position for 41 years. I also remember her sister, Clara Greeley, who was the church organist at Waterman Methodist Church.
At the time, I had no idea of the historical nature of that little Carnegie library. It was just recently that I got to meet current library Director Nancy Radtke and learn about its significance. She shared some history about the library that was researched and published in a paper by Joan Metzger of the Regional History Center at Northern Illinois University in 1991.

Library Director Nancy Radtke stands in front of the smallest Carnegie library in the United States, which is in Waterman. Carnegie libraries were built with money donated by Scottish-American businessman and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie.
(Barry Schrader photo)

I had gone to the history center and looked up Metzger’s paper before going to Waterman so I had some background information when visiting with Radtke.
In 1902, the Waterman Woman’s Club was organized. Early leaders in that club are well-known local family names, such as the first president Carrie Fuller, secretary Harriet Brainard and others with the last names of Roberts, Greeley and Kirkpatrick. By 1904, the club had established a reading room above the drug store with dues of $1 a year to help support its purchases.
By the end of 1905, it took the bold step of writing to Andrew Carnegie, who was funding libraries all over the country. But that first contact did not prove fruitful. In 1910, members campaigned for a ballot initiative, which the township voters passed, and a year later (exactly 100 years ago) a library board was named. It became Clinton Township Public Library.
Another letter was sent to Carnegie, and after the proper paperwork had been submitted, club members got the exciting news they would receive $3,500 to build a library. After three years of work, the new library opened Dec. 19, 1914. It has two separate distinctions: Clinton Township’s population was the smallest ever to receive a Carnegie grant, and the building is the smallest Carnegie library ever built, totaling 2,250 square feet of interior space on two floors.
It has not only served the community as a source of reading material but twice its lower floor housed classes from the local school, once because of overcrowding in 1915 and again in 1929 when the Waterman school burned.
The building now houses a collection of some 15,855 volumes and 65 periodicals. It boasts 771 card-carrying patrons, and Radtke reports circulating some 20,000 items in the past year. Helping her share the workload are three part-time assistants – Pam Rice, Janet Miller and Susan Booker.
Keeping up with the latest technology, the library has five computer stations, a laptop computer for public use and an online database, replacing the old card catalog files. Radtke also revealed it is on a shared libraries website where patrons can download e-books and audio books at no extra charge.
I noted some artifacts that are worth seeing if you like antiques. Two grandfather clocks still keep time on the two floors, plus three early American spinning wheels are displayed on the upper floor. Radtke said it is a mystery to her when they were donated or where they came from. If anyone can help her solve that puzzle, she welcomes the input.
In the downstairs children’s reading room, you will find a large flat-panel monitor with a nice variety of videos and games to keep the younger population engaged. My final look at the basement was the genealogy section where my ancestors and many other Waterman family trees are available to peruse. Something that really caught my eye were 20 large scrapbooks kept by all the past and present librarians with news clippings and other material relevant to the Waterman area. What a boon for future researchers of local history.

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Barry Schrader
PO Box 851
DeKalb, Ill 60115