The Star-Herald

An icon for 114 years

For those of us who like to read or anyone who uses the many services provided today by the Mark & Emily Turner Library in Presque Isle, July is definitely a month to celebrate. The Presque Isle Library first opened its doors on July 1, 1908, with 2,000 books.  

The library’s collection started out as books donated by local readers in 1874 when a group of interested citizens formed the Presque Isle Library Association.  This group held meetings and kept minutes with the objectives of social exchanges, mutual improvements and raising funds for a public library.  However, there was no permanent site for the collection at the time, so the books “traveled” from business to business around town, and each business owner became the temporary librarian.  

The books were first placed in George Rowell’s drugstore, which we believe to have been across the street from what is now the Northeastland Hotel.  The collection then moved to the Post Office, where Mrs. Luce, the postmaster’s wife, served as librarian.  The next stop for the collection was the millinery shop owned by Laila Smith, located where the Braden Theatre is today.  In 1905, the collection was moved to Holmes Jewelry Store (located where Gary’s Furniture & Appliance Center is today) with Mr. Holmes serving as the temporary librarian.

In 1907, the citizens of Presque Isle voted to build a library.  Thomas H. Phair, the “starch king,” purchased a lot from the Dudley heirs for $1,000 on the southeast corner of Second and State streets.  Phair then donated the land to the library and local citizens raised additional funds of just under $1,000 to purchase the small adjoining lot.

The library was fortunate to obtain a $10,000 grant from Andrew Carnegie, the steel magnate whose favorite cause was to donate the seed money to cities and towns around the country to build libraries.  The terms of his “challenge” grants required the local town to provide the building site and to annually provide 10 percent of the construction cost to support the operation of the library.  In his lifetime, he helped establish more than 2,500 libraries and gave away $350 million.

At the Presque Isle town meeting on March 18, 1908, the public library committee was appointed.  The committee was charged with finding a librarian and establishing rules for the general management of the library.

As the city grew, so did the need for a larger library.  Using state funding and a matching donation of $60,000 from local businessman and philanthropist, Mark Turner, an addition was added to the front of the existing building.  On April 30, 1967, the newly expanded (and renamed) Mark & Emily Turner Memorial Library opened to the public.

In recent years, the library was once again remodeled and expanded with funds from another homegrown philanthropist.  

If you haven’t visited the library lately, it is well worth the trip, as it is so much more than the large collection of books available.  You can get assistance in obtaining your passport or in doing family genealogy, use the computers to look for employment, have your fingerprints taken for certain jobs, check out the art in the Akeley gallery, and so much more.

Kimberly R. Smith is the secretary/treasurer of the Presque Isle Historical Society.

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