Plano's Greatest Need


IN MAY of 1900

By Kristy Lawrie Gravlin

As parents and neighbors listened to the high school graduates' orations and musical numbers, James and Emily (Cox) Sears were pleased when their daughter's presentation on "Plano's Greatest Need" was well received by the audience. The need was, Ora Frances strongly proclaimed, a public library, inviting all to have the opportunity to read and to educate themselves.

By 1901 citizens had begun meeting to devise a method whereby Ora's dream could be realized. The Founders of the Plano Library were: Dr. Isaac E. Bennett, Prof. Alfred Cook, Edgar Wade Faxon, Loren Denslow Henning, Julian Rumsey Steward, and, as the first President of the Board, James Morris Sears.

Industrialist Andrew Carnegie had made it known that he, too, valued libraries and was willing to use a portion of his fortune to assist small communities to construct appropriately worthy buildings. A letter of application was written and the response was $5,000 for the project. Eventually a second request was filed, and another $4,000 was gifted to the Plano citizens.

Maude Applegate Cook Henning was chosen as librarian and began the task of collecting materials. It became her life's work. She was about 34 years old at the time and a graduate of Northwestern University.

She divided her time and energy between the materials and the patrons, becoming "Auntie Maude" to every child who mastered reading in the room on the south side of the building. Generations of children learned to love the books they found there by the time she retired in 1951.

The next concern of the library's founders was finding an appropriate site for the structure. While the committee considered the possibilities, the town experienced a major fire.

John B. Robbins, son of one of the earliest pioneer families in the area, had a livery stable just one block north of Main and Center. For nineteen years he had run a large and successful livery, keeping quite a number of horses and rigs for others as well as for himself. The fire was fast and hot, claiming the building and a number of animals. Two nearby homes, and several businesses on Main Street also suffered damage but the citizens of Plano gathered and, working together, were able to save all of the other buildings. Rather than to rebuild, John sold his land to the Library Committee for the new building.

John Brisbane Gilpatrick was hired to build the library. He used no architect but drew up his own plans based upon his skills at building. Arthur Ellsworth Hinckley was employed as his assistant; a number of workers helped to complete the project.

All of these Plano residents gave their talents and energies in order to create a building worthy of the next 100 years.

Published May 13, 2004 in the Plano Record, Plano, Illinois

Used by permission of Editor Kathy Farren.

Last Modified on 2012-12-20 03:07:53-0600 CST by Elmer Dickson