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Our Story

Over 100 Years of Library History in West Chicago 

In 1849, the newly formed Galena & Chicago Union Railroad headed west from the city of Chicago to the prairies of western DuPage County. That same year, the St. Charles Branch Railroad connected with the Galena & Chicago Union Railroad (G&CU), forming the first railroad junction in the state of Illinois, and giving our community its first name: Junction, Illinois! It was at this junction that a town started to spring up. Incidentally, what is now the City of West Chicago was the first community in Illinois formed as a result of the railroad(s). 

John B. Turner, local prominent land holder and president of the G&CU, platted his land and began selling off land lots in 1855, under the town name of Junction. A few years later, other local landowners began selling parcels and called their plat Turner after the railway president. This meant that there was the town of Turner, and the town of Junction, from then on informally referred to as Turner Junction. 

After the Civil War, the G&CU was renamed the Chicago & North Western railway, and the town continued to grow. In 1888, the Elgin, Joliet & Eastern railway built a freight line through town, offering free factory sites for any industry relocating along the line’s right-of-way. The story of our library begins during this era.  

Members of the Temperance movement (an anti-alcohol political movement) within the Railroad Men’s Association established a small “library” and reading room in Turner Junction so local workers could borrow books for learning and entertainment. A fun railroad excursion from Turner Junction to Lake Geneva was planned and used to raise money to build our community’s first reading room.

In 1894, the Turner Reading Room & Library Association formed and rented two rooms in the Bolles Opera House for $7 a month (about $250 a month in 2023). Mrs. Bolles used all profits from the rent to purchase books, which were then donated to the Reading Room & Library. In 1895, the Reading Room opened officially to the public! This Reading Room & Library was not free; members paid a $1 annual subscription fee (about $37 in 2023), or $0.25 quarterly for reading and borrowing privileges. In 1896 the town was renamed West Chicago, and was incorporated as the City of West Chicago in 1906. 

The 20th Century for Book Lovers in West Chicago 

The Reading Room & Library persisted through the First World War and beyond until 1929, when Harriette Hills and the West Chicago Women’s Club opened a modest library in a corner of the City Council chambers at 132 Main Street. The library contained only 451 volumes at the time, and the books were “shelved” in orange crates! Various organizations (including the West Chicago Women’s Club –pictured below–, DuPage Soft Water Laundry, the Lions Club, the West Chicago Garden Club, and the Young Mother’s Club) raised large sums of money for the library’s further development; these same organizations also provided volunteers to staff the library.

A photo of the West Chicago Women’s Club from the 1920’s.

In 1934, the Women’s Club turned over the care of the library to the City of West Chicago, and the city began collecting a small tax to maintain the library. Under city control, the West Chicago Library was moved and reopened on January 5th, 1935 in a rented space on the first floor of 102 Main Street . The library had grown to 3,000 volumes. A city appointed library board led by Ms. Harriette Hills and other key local figures (Mrs. T.L. Jones, Mrs. A.H. Almendinger, Mrs. R.B. Bond, John Elliott, Ms. Helen Isherwood, George Murphy, Paul Dempsey, and William R. Tye) appointed Helen Hartman to be the first librarian. 

1935 was a big year for the library in West Chicago when Cornelia Neltnor Anthony and Frank B. Anthony donated more than 10,000 bookplates. This collection was once considered second only to the bookplate collection at the Library of Congress. You can still see these bookplates at the library today (by appointment) or online through the Illinois State Library! 

That same year, the library in West Chicago started its first Story Hour for children between the ages of five and eight. After a positive response from the community, the story hours were established as a regular program every Saturday morning. The tradition of youth storytimes at the library is still strong today with various storytimes being offered to patrons. Check out our page For Kids to learn more! 


The Search for a Permanent Home Continues 

In 1940, the Library Board appealed to the City Council for a library building tax levy which was approved. The board and the City Council began accumulating funds over the next 16 years. Throughout the second world war, the library provided patrons with invaluable entertainment and resources, while being a center for local engagement with the American war effort. 

After buying a plot of land on Fremont St., and selling it for a profit when it was found to be too small, the library board had to find another new home for the library as the building at 102 Main St. was sold. A new temporary location was selected at 119 Main St., and the now 7,000+ volumes were moved. The board purchased a lot at 332 E. Washington St. to begin planning and constructing a new library building. 

Ground was broken for the new West Chicago Library building under the supervision of architect, Walter Kroeber, and the H.R. Kier Construction Company of Chicago. At last, in 1954, the new building was opened with 8,200 volumes. Ruth Macek was appointed as the librarian, and over 500 locals gathered for the grand opening. Speeches were given by West Chicago Mayor, Walter Fawell, and State Senator Lottie Homan O’Neill. An additional wing was added to the building in 1958 to accommodate the library’s and community’s growth. 


The West Chicago Public Library District is Founded 

Many years later in 1986, West Chicagoans held a referendum to convert the library from a municipal library, run by the city and paid for by municipal taxes, into a district library. This referendum paired with a grant of Library Services and Construction Act (LCSA) funds from the Illinois State Library allowed the district to expand their service to over 6,000 residents in unincorporated areas outside the West Chicago city limits. Only two years after the West Chicago Public Library District (WCPLD) was founded, they had expanded their service to a district population of 27,444 residents. 


The Library Makes its Current Home 

On November 5th, 1991, the people of the West Chicago Public Library District passed a referendum authorizing $3.825 million in General Obligation Library Bonds to construct a new building at 118 W. Washington Street. Construction began on August 15th, 1992 and was opened to the public on October 9th, 1993. The building at 118 W. Washington St. has been the home of WCPLD ever since. The interior was remodeled in 2003 under the direction of R.V. Norene & Associates. Their work can still be seen today.  

As our community and our library continue to grow together, we will keep adding chapters to this story. If you or someone you know has a story, photographs, artifacts, or records of the library’s past in the West Chicago community, please share it with us! Unfortunately, we do not have an abundance of information on the library between 1954 and 1993, so anything you have or know would be appreciated. You could give us a call, send an email, or drop by in person to discuss our story. 2026 will officially mark the 40th anniversary of the West Chicago Public Library District as a governmental entity, and it will further add to nearly 150 years of library tradition in West Chicago. This information was compiled thanks to the careful work of a past WCPLD History Committee, in partnership with the West Chicago City Museum, and the City of West Chicago. Thanks for reading, and we’ll see you at the library!