“The public library represents the spirit of the age. The time has arrived where a city’s stage of advancement may be determined by its attitude toward the public library. It makes a city or town a far more desirable place for residence and thus attracts the best class of citizens. More than any other agency, it elevates the general standard of intelligence and brings the benefits of higher education to the masses whom neither the church nor the high schools are able to reach.”
- Frederick M. Crunden
The library movement in Council Bluffs began in March of 1866, when a call was issued for meeting of those interested in such a project. From a subsequent meeting on April 23, the Young Men’s Library Association was formed.
In 1867, the library opened on the second floor of what then was known as the Empire Block, located on the southeast corner of Broadway and Main Street. Several hundred books were donated to the Association to create the library’s collection.
In June 1867, a fire destroyed the Empire block, and along with it, the Young Men’s Library Association and all the books in the collection. (accompanying picture)
In 1870, the Council Bluffs High School Library Association was formed through the efforts of the superintendent of the High School, Prof. Allen Armstrong, for the benefit of the students. Horace Everett donated several hundred volumes from his private library after visiting Prof. Armstrong and the school.
Checkout record for Horace and Mary Everett from the subscription library, 1873.
In May of 1871, the Council Bluffs High School Library was incorporated under the name of the Council Bluffs Public School Library.
In 1873, Anthony W. Street, an active and controlling member of the Young Men’s Christian Association, offered the library free use of a rear room in the Woodbury building next to the corner of Pearl Street and First Avenue, with the understanding that Y.M.C.A. officers would manage the library.
In 1875, an effort was made to levy a tax for a library, but it failed.
In 1878, the Council Bluffs Public Library Association was formed. The incorporators were Horace Everett, Dexter C. Bloomer, Anthony W. Street, Dennis B. Dailey, Ben W. Hight, James F. Evans, W. H. Hatch, and Charles W. Munger. At their first election of directors, they selected seven women to act on the board: Mrs. Mary (Horace) Everett (president), Mrs. Ruth (Grenville) Dodge (vice president), Mrs. Julia (Nathan) Dodge (secretary), Mrs. Gertrude (Nathan) Pusey, Mrs. Mary (Anthony) Street, Mrs. Anna (John) Chapman, and Mrs. Rhoda (Henry) Osborne.
In 1880, the women of the board pushed to establish the library on a permanent basis by having the city vote on an annual tax for its maintenance, as provided by the Code of Iowa. An ordinance was passed to submit the proposition to a public vote, but the mayor at the time refused in his election proclamation to include the proposal, based on advice from the City Attorney that cities incorporated under special charters were not included in the general law.
The women printed the ballots anyway and the proposition carried by a “handsome majority.” The City Council then refused to proclaim the results until Judge C.F. Loufbourow of the Circuit Court issued a mandamus, ordering the City Council to levy the tax.
On November 28, 1881, the City Council passed an ordinance to establish a Free Public Library and a municipal tax of one-half mill* was levied. The City Council appointed the following to the Board of Trustees: Horace Everett, Dexter C. Bloomer, Thomas Officer, Jefferson P. Casady, Joseph R. Reed, John H. Keatley, Rev. Cyrus Hamlin, Anthony W. Street, and W. R. Vaughan. Horace Everett was elected as the first president and Mrs. Maria F. Davenport as librarian.
*A mill levy is a tax rate that is applied to assessed property value. A one mill levy equates to one dollar per every $1,000 of assessed value.
Salary check to Mrs. Davenport, 1882.
In 1884, the Free Public Library had outgrown its space and moved down to 14 Pearl Street and into larger rooms.
On June 24, 1889, the Free Public Library moved to the third floor of the Merriam block, once again needing a larger space.
In 1902, the City began raising capitol to secure a site for building a library, something that had been regularly discussed by the library board since 1884. Starting in July of 1902, the library board began to reach out and inquire about Andrew Carnegie’s willingness to donate money for a new library in Council Bluffs.
In 1903, Andrew Carnegie agreed to give $50,000 to the City, under conditions the City was already meeting. That figure was later raised to $70,000.
On September 12, 1905, the new building was dedicated and Council Bluffs Free Public Library opened it’s doors to the public. By 1945, it was apparent that the library needed a larger space. Various efforts failed to make it a reality.
In 1983, the Council Bluffs Public Library Foundation was formed, partly as a means to build a new library with the help of the private community.
Architectural rendering of the new public library.
In July of 1995, a fund drive began to raise capital for a new building. The City Council appropriated $2.25 million to kick off the campaign. By 1997, over $13.5 million had been raised, with half coming from the Iowa West Foundation. Other donors included companies and foundations, as well as individuals.
On September 1, 1998, the new library opened its doors to the public at 400 Willow Ave.
Council Bluffs Public Library, 1998
Teen Central Open House, January 2010
In January 2010, Teen Central, a space dedicated for young adults, opened on the second floor of the Library.
In September 2015, the Makerspace opened on the second floor of the Library, as a space where technology and creativity can be explored in new and innovative ways.
In March 2022, the Prairie Rose Seed Library was launched, allowing Iowa residents access to heirloom and native seeds.
- Biographical History of Pottawattamie County, Iowa (1891)
- The Daily Nonpareil (various dates)
- "A Dream Becomes a Reality” [VHS]
- Finding List of Council Bluffs Free Public Library (1882)
- Historical Sketch of the Free Public Library of the City of Council Bluffs, Iowa by Maria F. Davenport (1893)