Waterloo library celebrating 125 years - Republic-Times | News

Waterloo library celebrating 125 years

By on September 13, 2017 at 3:22 pm

Pictured is Morrison-Talbott Library director Elaine Steingrubey with the three books to be raffled off at Sunday’s anniversary event: Arrowheads to Aerojets, From Tablet to Tablet, and an original 1916 Centennial Atlas of Monroe County.

When Elaine Steingrubey came aboard Morrison-Talbott Library as director in 1992, she never imagined that a community treasure, now 125 years old, would have been founded on a tie-breaker vote in the city council.

But that’s exactly how Morrison-Talbott Library came to be. The Waterloo mayor in 1892, George Gauen, was the deciding vote that brought the library to life.

“I always thought that was an interesting tidbit,” Steingrubey said.

The library then started with a collection of 2,000 reading materials, thanks to a donation made by M.L. Talbott and Henry Talbott, according to an 1892 issue of the Waterloo Republican.

“Mr. Talbott had for years taken great pride in choosing the best books published for their library at home, and this donation to a city library will be very much appreciated and enjoyed by all,” the article reads.

“When the matter was open to discussion Alderman Cawi made his regular objection to any increased expenses. After some little discussion a vote was taken which resulted in a tie. The mayor cast the deciding vote in favor of accepting the library and was loudly cheered,” the article continues.

Pictured in this 1965 photo that appeared in the Waterloo Times, Mrs. Edgar Sauthoff conducts story hour for children from kindergarten through grade school age. “Mrs. Sauthoff’s story-telling ability is well known,” the newspaper photo caption states. 

“Mr. Talbott had for years taken great pride in choosing the best books published for their library at home, and this donation to a city library will be very much appreciated and enjoyed by all,” the article reads.

“When the matter was open to discussion Alderman Cawi made his regular objection to any increased expenses. After some little discussion a vote was taken which resulted in a tie. The mayor cast the deciding vote in favor of accepting the library and was loudly cheered,” the article continues.

The Talbott Free Library first opened in the August Siegel building at 107 N. Main Street, now occupied by K&D Printing in Waterloo. Some of the original items catalogued at the library in 1894, two years after its founding, include numerous historical texts and atlases. 

History snapshot
Another moment of significance came in 1911 when the library relocated to the Col. Morrison Home at 219 Park Street. The city council voted in 1909 to accept the home gifted by the late Col. William Rawls Morrison’s estate.

J.W. Jackson, who was city clerk at the time, then began a long tradition of living in the Col. Morrison Home as a librarian. The last to do this was Jean Burke, who was librarian for 22 years and passed away in 2011.

“I admired her greatly,” Steingrubey said of Burke. “She would do things like lead children in a parade around the library in a cardboard hat. She was truly a mentor to me.”

Asked what it may have been like living in the library, Steingrubey responded, “It was home. It was just home. It was always kind of interesting. You never left work, but you always had access to reading materials.”

Following Jackson, M.L. Talbott returned from Washington, D.C., to become librarian of the Talbott Free Library for a time. The library was changed to its current name of Morrison-Talbott Library in 1935, three years after M.L. Talbott’s death.

The library ended up in its final home next to the Col. Morrison Home in 1996.

The library went through some undesirable changes over the years as well. One of these included two fires in the Col. Morrison Home within two years of each other — the first happening in 1930 and the next in 1932.

“Mrs. Ed Bode, librarian, was at home at the time and was busy in the sewing room, and unaware that her home was afire until informed by the telephone operator and by a neighbor,” a Waterloo Republican article states of the 1930 fire. 

The rafters and woodwork under the ceiling in the center wing were burnt completely, the article states, while the roof was badly burned. The third floor was also badly burned, but the first and second floors came away with water and smoke damage.

“You can still see the charring on the wood up on the third floor,” Steingrubey said.

Only one room suffered water damage in the home when the second fire broke out in 1932.

Anniversary celebration
To showcase the facility’s extensive history, the library will host a “Morrison-Talbott Library Through the Years Open House” from 1 to 3 p.m. this Sunday at both the library and Col. Morrison Home.

The event will include self-guided tours of both sites, which will include historical artifacts and refreshments. There will also be the unveiling of a plaque at the Col. Morrison Home. Audio books will be playing in the background during the tours.

Some historical artifacts to be displayed range from a Col. Morrison portrait and original library rules book to M.L. Talbott’s vases and some of her paintings. The plaque to be unveiled has information on Col. Morrison and the library’s history.

A raffle to benefit ongoing Col. Morrison Home renovations has three different books for people to win. These include Arrowheads to Aerojets, From Tablet to Tablet by Dennis Knobloch and an original 1916 Centennial Atlas of Monroe County.

For more information on the event, call 939-6232.

A little more than $10,000 has been raised and Steingrubey said renovations will begin with the bathrooms and the kitchen this fall. She is not sure when that will be completed, nor when other renovations will take place. 

Keeping up with the times
Thanks to a decision by the Waterloo City Council in 1962, the library is a tax-supported organization. Steingrubey said this allows the library to collect revenue from a portion of the city’s property taxes and contributes to why the library is still standing.

“It always amazes me that Waterloo has had a library this long. That fascinates me that people (in 1892) wanted that,” she said.

Some may wonder how an entity such as a library has managed to stay relevant with emerging technologies, such as e-books and other electronic applications. However, Steingrubey noted that libraries have continuously adapted to emerging trends throughout the years.

“Yes, people use online resources, but we provide online resources. E-books are just another format we look to offer,” she said. “Sometimes Google gets you where you want to go. Sometimes libraries can give you more.”

In addition, Morrison-Talbott Library serves as more than a place to research, gather resource materials or do pleasure reading. Steingrubey estimated that some 166 people and/or organizations continuously use the library meeting rooms. 

These include the Monroe County Genealogical Society, The Page Turners Book Club, Summer Books and Bagels and more. Some people may also come in to read the newspaper in the morning or attend programs available for all ages later in the day. 

“Anybody can come into here, can spend a day here, read, use the computers, download materials, talk to the staff. We’re here for pleasure reading, learning experiences,” she said. “We are open to everybody. Sometimes we’re just an air-conditioned place on a hot day.

“We have so many things to offer the community. We’re here to serve — bottom line of why we exist. Again, (the utility of the library) is one of those things I take for granted but I shouldn’t because people don’t realize that.”

Sean McGowan

Sean is a die-hard Cubs fan, despite the relentless peer pressure coming from the rest of the Republic-Times staff. He and his wife, Jacqui, have been married for two years. Originally from the west suburbs of Chicago, Sean and his wife moved down to Normal to attend Illinois State University and stayed central Illinois residents for the past four years. email:sean@republictimes.net