In the Beginning...
For over one hundred years the Kankakee Public Library has been meeting the information needs of the residents of the city of Kankakee. In March 1896, the first Kankakee Public Library opened in the Arcade Building, located at the northwest corner of Schuyler and Merchant Street. By the fall of 1897, a drive was underway to build a new building to house the Library’s growing collection of 2,200 books. The building, constructed on the corner of Indiana Avenue and Station Street, opened in January of 1899 and remained the Library’s home for nearly 105 years.
Kankakee Public Library Chronology
The Original Board
Members at the first meeting of the Board of Trustees, November 12, 1895
J.H. Brayton: Mayor of the City of Kankakee
Andrew S. Cutler - President: Dentist, bookstore owner, Civil War veteran, licensed Baptist preacher, presented first public library petition.
Henry A. Magruder: Member of Board of Directors City National Bank of Kankakee, later Mayor of the City of Kankakee..
Alexis L. Granger: Lawyer in firm Granger & Granger, Officer of The Illinois Eastern Hospital for the Insane, attorney for First National Bank and Legris Brothers’ Bank.
Albert Schneider: Businessman in fire insurance, Secretary of Kankakee Building and Loan, Director of Eastern Illinois Trust & Savings Bank.
Emory Cobb: Capitalist, Kankakee land investor, Western Union Chicago Office Manager, Trustee of the University of Illinois, initiated building projects in Kankakee, constructor of electric street cars in Kankakee.
Daniel H. Paddock: Former State’s Attorney.
Herman W. Snow: Teacher, Lawyer, Civil War Lt. Colonel, member of the Illnois General Assembly, United States Congressman from the 9th district.
Hamilton K. Wheeler: Lawyer, Illinois State Senator from the 16th district, United States Congressman from the 9th district, defeated Herman W. Snow for congress).
A, Davidson: no information available
Members at the time of the dedication of the Indiana Ave. building, Jan. 25, 1899
(By the time of the building dedication, Davidson, Snow and Wheeler where no longer board members. J.H. Brayton had been replaced as mayor by Henry Magruder.)
Helen Huling: Donator of real estate for library building. Library third floor auditorium originally named Huling Hall for her husband, George, the former assistant mayor.
Alice R. Hamlin: Wife of Kankakee Postmaster, daughter of Momence Postmaster.
Ida W. Spencer: Wife of prominent Kankakee physician, daughter of Kankakee pioneer and Judge C.C. Wilcox.
The Big Move
For more than ten years, the Kankakee Public Library struggled to find a path out of their cramped 13,000 square foot 105-year-old limestone home. Projects came and went, including ideas to expand the existing facility, and others to build a completely new library. All the projects proved logistically impossible or cost prohibitive. In 2002, a corporation left the Executive Centre, a seven story office building in downtown Kankakee, making available a large downtown space. Late in that year, city leaders hatched the idea of moving the Kankakee Public Library into the first three floors of the office building, while leaving the top four floors available for private office rental. This idea came with a host of concerns. Firstly, no one had heard of such a dual-use public/private facility before. Could a public library co-exist with an office building? Library staff, Heritage Development’s Joe and Scott Franco and Architect Marc Moline worked closely to develop a plan that would create two separate facilities under one roof, complete with separate entrances, elevators, stairways, and even mailing addresses. The plan would maximize the space without interfering with the missions of either enterprise. A deal was also worked out to allow Heritage Development Corporation to retain ownership of the entire building, thus continuing to pay property taxes, while the Library would lease the three floors it would occupy. After 20 years, the City of Kankakee would own the entire building to do with as they see fit, thus creating a “rent to own” arrangement. In January 2003, the Kankakee City Council approved a $4.5 million bond for the innovative plan. Soon after, demolition began on the closed restaurant on the first floor and the office space on the second and third floors. Enormous steel beams were installed to reinforce the floors up to Library standards. Many factors could have gone wrong to permanently derail the risky project. Amazingly, none came to pass. On January 5, 2004, a scant ten months after renovation began and 105 years to the day after the opening of the previous library, our newest home opened. The new facility offers 3 times the space, five times the number of public computers, more than double the seating, meeting rooms, quiet study areas, a coffee bar, teen zone, and 200 parking spots within view of the main entrance. The amount of services provided since the move has exploded. Patrons immediately embraced the new facility. Program attendance, circulation statistics, and computer usage sky rocketed. The success of the Library has sparked more downtown renovation, including a new bank and a university satellite campus. We are proud that our Library is serving to create a renaissance in the City of Kankakee. In 2008/2009, the Library took over the fourth floor of the Executive Centre to create a 240-seat auditorium, a computer lab, and a media recording and editing space. The Library is now up to 44,000 square feet. It is rare that a library is able to do an expansion only five years after a move. However, with the close partnership between Heritage Development, the City of Kankakee, and the Kankakee Public Library still strong, our city’s beloved 110-year-old institution is more vital than ever.