Streator Public Library History
The Streator Public Library was established in 1870 in a room above the Streator National Bank building by Mrs. Ralph Plumb and Mrs. Virginia Le Roy. The first collection was made up of books from their husbands' personal libraries. As the collection grew from donations, so did the volunteers to run the free library. By 1900 the library had taken over several offices above the bank and needed more room. The ladies heard about Andrew Carnegie and his foundation. The Carnegie Foundation had been donating money for the construction of libraries, medical centers, and music halls.
Since Col. Ralph Plumb, Streator’s founder and first mayor, had a longtime relationship with Carnegie it was decided he should write a letter requesting grant money for the establishment of a public library in Streator. Due to his age and failing health, his nephew Fawcett Plumb went to Philadelphia in his stead when Carnegie requested his presence to make the request. Instead of the $10,000 grant that was standard for a Carnegie library, Streator received $35,000!
One of the stipulations of the donation was that the library be located near the downtown area and that all the money be used on the building of the library. The city then bought the property of The First Congregational Church on the northwest corner of Park and Bridge Streets. Col. Plumb then bought the property from the city and donated it for the construction of the library. The cornerstone was laid in 1901 and the library was dedicated in 1903.
The Streator Public Library has been a dominant feature of the downtown area for almost 120 years now and is listed on the National Registry of Historic Places.
The Streator Public Library has been a Streator icon on the downtown landscape since it’s dedication on February 3, 1903. Generations of Streator residents have climbed the limestone steps up to the front doors between the massive cement columns on the front facade of the building. The library was built in the manner of the ancient Roman Parthenon. After you ascend up the large wide staircase and through the front doors, you enter into a small vestibule. Once you enter the vestibule you pass through the original swinging doors into the rotunda. Under the dome is our large library desk. The desk was a gift from former Streator resident Robert Endres. He dedicated the gift to his parents. On the south side of the library is the children’s room, recently refurbished by Bruce and Janice Hart, longtime patrons and supporters of the library. The room to the north is reference resource room. It also houses the computers for our patrons. The grand staircase is to the front of the building and as you go up the staircase you’ll pass by the portrait of John E. Williams, the first President of the Board of Trustees. At the top of the staircase from the balcony you can get a good look at the three murals that adorn the dome. These murals have been hanging for over 115 years. They were placed here in December of 1905. They were painted by a well known artist out of Chicago, Gustav Fuchs. On the second floor to the south of the dome will be our new meeting and program room. It is currently being refurbished by a generous gift from the Reuban Soderstrum Foundation. On the north side of the dome is the Ralph Plumb room. The room is named for Streator’s founder and first mayor. Plumb was a personal friend of Andrew Carnegie and because of their connection Streator received three and half times the standard donation from the Carnegie Foundation. The Plumb Room also houses the Poundstone Flag, a civil war flag that bears the blood of Sgt George Poundstone. Poundstone was a La Salle County native who died trying to preserve the flag at the siege of Jackson, Mississippi in July of 1863. It is one of only seven preserved civil war flags on display in the state of Illinois.
The library was built with a very generous grant from the Andrew Carnegie Foundation. In the late 19th century and well into the early years of the 20th century books were a rarity in rural America. Andrew Carnegie grew up poor without the luxury of having reading material available. Books were very expensive and luxury the common American just didn’t have. In the late 1800’s volunteer libraries were becoming common in small towns all over America due to the numbers of schools being built. As more and more of the poor and middleclass citizens were becoming more literate, the demand for books became evident. Mrs. Virginia Le Roy and Mrs. Marilla Plumb filled the void when they began The Streator Ladies Library above the Streator National Bank with books they borrowed from their husband’s libraries. After the rooms above the bank proved to be inadequate for their needs the ladies decided to appeal to Andrew Carnegie and his foundation for the funds to build a new public library. Because of his relationship with Col. Ralph Plumb Carnegie donated $35,000 for the purpose of erecting a library building in the downtown area. Construction began in 1901 and the building was dedicated on Feb. 3, 1903. Col. Plumb wrote a dedication speech for the occasion titled “The Meaning Of The Gift”. Due to his declining health his nephew Fawcett Plumb read the speech.
The Streator Public Library has always been a municipal library operating under the auspices of the City of Streator. The nine member board serves at the discretion of the mayor. John E. Williams was selected as the first President of the Board of Trustees. The board hires a library director to over see the day to day operations of the library.