Ghosts of Main Street: Visiting the Library

August 9, 2018

By Julie Traynor
Correspondent

We take familiar and often used things for granted; water from the tap, lights at the flip of a switch and mail in the box. And we don’t often think about how those things came to be or what life would be like without them. For us, those things have always been there. We count on them and do not give a thought as to how they came to be, or what it takes to maintain them.

Going to the library is one of those everyday things we do without giving a thought as to how it came to be or how all of those wonderful books got there. Marion, Michigan is very fortunate to have the library we do. It did not spring from the earth as it is today. And even though it has been at its current site since 1985, and is the only library several generations of school children know, it hasn’t always been so. The library on Main Street was a long time coming. And she left a couple of ghosts behind.

The first moves toward a real place to house books began in the 1930’s. Kathryn Willet was a life long reader and lover of books. She maintained quite a library of her own and was always willing to lend one of her ‘literary friends’. Her home also housed the first mobile collection of books to come from the state. A shelf was designated in the back of VanDeWarker’s Drug store for a book exchange. The popularity of both grew quickly and beyond the spaces provided.

This is a 1950›s Story Hour group who delighted in the books read by Lila Hall, the original Story Hour Lady

This is a 1950›s Story Hour group who delighted in the books read by Lila Hall, the original Story Hour Lady

In 1939 the ladies from the Mentor and Art Club and Twentieth Century Club petitioned the Village for space for their growing lending library. They were given space in the Village Hall, next to the river. Shelving and other necessary equipment was donated by an eager reading community.   

At the end of July 1939, 79 years ago, Marion’s first public library opened in the Village Hall. The Marion Public Library had 417 books. This worked well and soon a library association was formed. State aid was first obtained in 1943 and the Village passed a millage to further aid the library and enabled it to continue to qualify for state funding in 1949.

In 1954 the library was given a home of its own with the generous gift from pioneer Alice Chapin. Mrs. Chapin offered her home of 61 years for use as a public library. At her passing three years later, the home and a generous cash endowment became the M. Alice Chapin Library and the property of the Library Association.

M. Alice Chapin Library on Pickard Street. 

M. Alice Chapin Library on Pickard Street. 

The Chapin house offered plenty of space and came partially furnished. Mrs. Chapin’s dining room table became the place where school kids could study or work on projects. Her kitchen became the home to children’s books and her parlor was fitted with stacks for adult fiction and non-fiction. As the book collection grew so did the stacks.

In the early 1960’s the upstairs of the Chapin house became Marion’s first museum, housing items from our pioneer past and telling our story. It too was a popular place on the days it was open.

After 25 years, the Chapin house began to run out of space and the Friends of the Library was formed with the goal of building a library on Main Street. That became a reality in 1985 when the Marion Public Library and Municipal Building opened. The library had returned to its roots by the river. 

 The square white house at the corner of Pickard and Fourth Streets in Marion was sold and returned to residential status. The library many Marionites of a certain age fondly remember was Mrs. Chapin’s home. To them it will always be the library, holding fond memories and favorite books and always will be so.



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