The following is a 1993 article from the Cambridge Chronicle that outlines the history of the Cambridge Library so well that we’ve chosen to reproduce it here with their permission.
First Library in Henry County
Cambridge library traces its roots back to Jan., 1851
Announcement of groundbreaking for a new addition to the library once again places Cambridge at the forefront of library services in Henry County. The county’s first library was established in the Cambridge schoolhouse on January 7, 1851 when the village was only six years old.
At that time, a committee was appointed to correspond with publishers for the purchase of a library and, at a meeting in February, 1851 with H.G. Griffin serving as chairman and H.R. Lewis serving as secretary.
Area residents could become patrons of the library by purchasing one or more memberships for $1 each, entitling them to withdraw a corresponding number of books.
That first year, 43 members were enrolled, each paying between $1 and $5, plus A.A. Dunn, who purchased ten shares. In all, 77 shares were sold.
Serving on the first library board were Thomas F. Davenport, president and librarian; Zeremba Jackson, secretary; N. Gaines, treasurer; William A. Ayres, Amos Osburn, H.G. Griffin, William Talbott and H.R. Lewis.
A committee was formed to correspond with publishers for the purchase of a library and at a meeting in February, 1851, it was decided to order the Harpers Family Library, consisting of 187 volumes.
On July 11, 1851, the library arrived in Cambridge. Cost was $69.10 for the books, $1 freight from Chicago to Peru, 75 cents paid to A. Ladd to bring them to Cambridge from Peru. In addition, S.C. Welton was paid $4 plus one or two membership shares to build a bookcase for the new library.
Early records do not record where the library was located, but there is no question about it being in the courthouse since all public activities in Cambridge were centered there in those days.
After those early days, records of meetings grew less frequent and, after January, 1854, they ceased altogether.
In 1872, George C. Smithe, editor of the Chronicle, visited the office of the county clerk and found there the small bookcase, “standing in the vestibule of the fire proof and covered with dust.”
He found it contained 153 historical, scientific and travel volumes of the Harpers Family Library plus 18 miscellaneous volumes evidently donated to the library.
In the same edition of the Chronicle, January 10, 1872, the organization of the Cambridge Library Association was reported. This group chose the same name as was used in 1851.
Serving on an organizational committee were W.H. Shepard, chairman; H.S. Comstock, secretary; Ira D. Marston and George C. Smithe.
The members of the association then elected officers, including Hon. Julius Hinman, president; Amos Gould, vice president; Ira D. Marston, secretary; William Shepard, treasurer; M.E. Hepburn, librarian and Hannah Bryan, Rev. Joel Grant and Dr. R.C. Raymond, directors.
By 1876, rooms were rented for the library in the old Henry County Bank building on the corner of East and Center streets. Addie Dean was hired as librarian with her pay set at 50 cents a day.
In May and December, 1879, 358 books were purchased. Books in need of covering were done for two cents each by B.W. Seaton with Mr. Seaton providing materials.
In November, 1889, the library was moved above the Farmers National Bank in Cambridge and four years later, it was moved to the town hall. In 1899, a brick town hall was built on Center Street and the second floor designated for the library.
In its early years, the library used a paper-covered catalogue to track the books. Beginning in 1906, however, the library switched to the Dewey decimal system and a Remington typewriter was purchased.
In December, 1916, the library opened on Sundays during the winter months and in 1917, stereoscopes and stereographs showing industries and places of interest in the U.S. and Europe were purchased.
By July 1, 1917, the library had 7,788 books on its shelves and it subscribed to 30 magazines. Total circulation was 13,337 volumes loaned to 566 patrons in a town of about 2,500.
On August 15, 1928, the cornerstone for the new Gruey Memorial Library was laid and construction began on the corner of Main and Center streets.
The building was constructed of red brick, was to be fireproof and was to be modern in every respect. Constructed of two floors, the lower was designed for community gatherings seating as many as 400 people. Book stacks, reading rooms and the librarian’s office were located on the second floor.
Dedication was held February 15, 1929 when Constant I. Gruey presented the library to the village as a gift from himself and his late wife, Henrietta.
During the move, over 1,000 volumes were sold or discarded, leaving 7,734 volumes available for the 716 registered borrowers.
The library grew during construction, as 97 new patrons registered and many gifts, pictures and books were donated to the library. In addition, service was extended to the aged and shut-ins with the cooperation of the Boy Scouts.
The winter of 1942-43 was especially harsh and oil was in short supply because of the cold and the war effort. In response, the library opened only one day per week, Saturdays, from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. The thermostat was kept at 65 degrees.
The library played a role in each of the nation’s world wars. During World War I, magazines were sent to American soldiers in training camps while during World War II, the library participated in a nationwide drive to secure between five and ten million books for use by soldiers. In Cambridge, 900 books and 238 copies of Reader’s Digest and cash donations were collected.
In 1966, the library board voted to become a member of the Western Illinois Library System, headquartered in Monmouth. This enabled the library to obtain any material from the system which was not available locally.
Library hours were increased steadily through the years. In 1931, it was open 16 hours per week. In 1972, it was open 25 hours per week.
In 1974, a new kitchen was installed in the basement and in 1976, central air conditioning was installed at the beginning of summer.
In 1985, the library became a district library.
At one time the Cambridge Township Library was known primarily for its books. That is no longer the case. Books are still prominent, but the library also features a wealth of equipment, including a facsimile (FAX) machine, computers, a projector, a video recorder and television and a microfilm printer and reader. The library’s newest acquisition is a demonstrator talking book machine.
Printed matter extends beyond the book stacks. The library has an extensive magazine collection and newspapers on microfilm dating back to 1857. “The newspapers are mainly used for genealogy,” librarian Ellie Sponsel noted. “Since we are so close to the courthouse we get a lot of people who come in looking for genealogical information.”