The library, I learned, is a Neoclassical building designed by famous architect Daniel Burnham. Burnham was responsible for creating the master plans for a number of prominent cities, including Chicago, Manila and downtown Washington, D.C., so it was pretty neat to learn he left his mark on little ol' Kenosha too.
Former Kenosha mayor Zalmon G. Simmons was responsible for the library's construction after donating $150,000 to erect the building in his deceased son's memory. The 75-foot wide, 60-foot high limestone building was built to last proudly for centuries, as it has – with only a few redesigns and restorations. Fun fact: During the 1980s restoration, the library became one of the first public buildings in Kenosha to be completely wired for electricity.
But as exciting as the exterior of the building was, I was much more interested in the history found inside.
If a guest went to the West wing of the building, one would find a librarian behind a desk in a two-story room filled with books. Instead of looking up a book's location on the computer or wandering the shelves until you found it yourself like we would nowadays, you simply told the librarian which book you wanted. Then he or she would walk through the stacks and bring the requested book back to you at the desk. The much more unexciting East wing was filled only with desks and chairs for reading purposes. Today it is filled with DVDs, CDs and audiobooks.
The tour also lead us to a part of the library normally off limits to visitors. If you go up the narrow, spiral staircase, you'll find a small room filled with the air conditioning system. As some of the other people on the tour stooped to avoid the low ceiling, our guide explained that before electric cooling was installed, the small room was used as a medical library by the hospital to store all of its records.
Next, we descended to the basement of the building to see my favorite part: the children's library.
Simmons Library was actually not open to kids until 1910, and that children's library only lasted for a few years before moving to a different location. The children's library eventually reopened at Simmons in 1980, but it wasn't until much more recently that the room really began to flourish.
In 2005, the Hannah C. Stocker Children's Reading Room was built through a bequest by the Kenosha Public Library Foundation. Stocker was a retired Kenosha School teacher whose generous donation gave new life to the children's reading room used today. It was great to see so many enthusiastic kids rummaging through the shelves, some of which are still the originals.
Seeing all these eager readers made me even more excited to become a public librarian, and it was great to learn a little bit more about Kenosha's history in the process. I had yet another great experience at a library-sponsored event, and can't wait to go to the book sale next weekend.