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

Dec. 1856 Fourteen interested citizens met to organize a public library. No further meetings of this organization were reported.
Nov. 15, 1873 At the home of Mrs. George Huling, the first meeting of the Ladies Association was recorded. The group was incorporated in 1876.
Oct. 1895 Interested citizens began to discuss the possibility of establishing a city library. The Kankakee Men’s University Club took the initiative in gathering public support.
Nov. 11, 1895 The city voted favorably after a petition with 200 signatures was presented to the city council asking that the council levy the tax necessary to establish a public library.
Mar. 21, 1896 The first Kankakee Public Library opened in the Arcade Building. Books, prints, etchings, and $1,000 worth of furnishings had been donated by friends of the library. The library’s collection included 600 volumes. Dr. Andrew Cutler donated 50 volumes, including his complete Encyclopedia Britannica. 
Apr. 1896

After two weeks, over 325 people had applied for library cards. In order to obtain a card, patrons had to have a responsible person sign for them, and agree to follow the rules and regulations of thelibrary.

The board of directors continued to order new books for the library to meet the ever increasing demands of its patrons.  By the end of the month, the number of volumes in the collection stood at 1400. Library cards had been issued to 600 patrons.

Oct. 1896   In an address marking the library’s first anniversary, Dr, Cutler noted the popularity of the library, but expressed concern that 63% of the books circulating were fiction.
Mar. 1897  The collection had grown to 1824 volumes. Average daily attendance had reached 250.
Jun. 1897

Leading citizens and friends of the library embarked on a drive to build a library building. Mrs. F. Swannel donated a lot on South Dearborn, but it was deemed too small. Dedicated citizens set about the task of gathering signatures and public support.

The library collection had grown to 2,200 books, the large majority of which had been donated. Over 1,200 people had library cards.

Sept. 1897

The City Council approved a tax levy of $4971 for the purpose of erecting a library building. Mrs. George Huling donated the present site.

The Ladies Library Association donated 3,000 volumes and $5,000. The $5,000 was a bequest from Mr. George Huling given with the conditions that (1)three ladies should always serve on the board of directors and (2) a hall be named for Mr. Huling.

Aug. 2, 1898 The Indiana Avenue building cornerstone was laid with great fanfare. A parade, including local dignitaries and interested citizens, marched from the Arcade Building down Station Street to the library.
Jan. 25, 1899

The Indiana Avenue library building was dedicated. The address was given by Dr. Cutler followed by a musical program in Huling Hall.The Indiana Avenue library was constructed at a cost of $12,000 but the estimated worth was $20,000.

1899-1900 Mrs. Ellis, the new librarian received $40 per month. The janitor received $30 per month.
Jan. 14, 1930 Two lions are approved for purchase from the Gelino Brothers store for display in front of the Library.
May 22, 2003 The lease is signed to move the Library to the Executive Centre building at 201 East Merchant Street.
Sept. 1, 2003 The Library takes posession of the first three floors of the Executive Centre.
Dec. 6, 2003 At 5:00pm the Indiana Ave. building closes for the last time as the Kankakee Public Library.
Jan. 5, 2004 The Executive Centre location of the Kankakee Public Library opens.
Feb. 14, 2004 The Executive Centre location is officially dedicated.
Feb. 19, 2004 Libray staffed are shocked when a program featuring a Tuskegee Airman attracts more than 150 attendees. Already the Library programs are too large for the third floor meeting room that holds only 50.
Dec. 12, 2005 The first podcast is recorded for the Library. It features folk singing legend Arlo Guthrie's visit to KPL.
July 10, 2005 The first "Family Fun Day" is held.
March 17, 2008 The contract to take over the fourth floor is signed by representives of Heritage Development and the Kankakee Public Library. Only four years after moving to the Executive Centre, the Library is adding another 11,000 sqr. ft.
Jan. 24, 2009 The first public program is held in the fourth floor auditorium. It features Dr. Richard Colling discussing evolution.
May 29, 2009 The fourth floor auditorium is used as a concert venue for the first time as host of the first Rock the Stacks two day event.
Aug. 14, 2010 After joining the Kankakee Events Partnership, the Library helps organize Merchant Street MusicFest for the first time. By the third event, the festival will draw 20,000 fans.

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.


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