One Hundred Years of Progress: 1890 – 1990
Dwight Foster Public Library – Fort Atkinson Wisconsin

The following is a history of the Dwight Foster Public Library written by local resident Bill Starke in honor of the library’s centennial.

Part 1: 1890 to 1929

A Start Is Made

In 1890 there were only a dozen public libraries in all of Wisconsin. In 1872 a general public library law was passed by the state which made it possible for cities and villages to establish libraries and levy taxes for their support. Shortly thereafter public libraries began to appear around the state.

Following the provisions of law, the first public libraries in Wisconsin were: Sparta (1874), Madison (1875), Fond du Lac (1877), Milwaukee (1878), Janesville (1883), Beaver Dam (1884), Neenah (1884), LaCrossse (1888), Ashland (1888), Superior (1888), Green Bay (1889), and Menomonee (1890).

These early libraries were really quite restricted in what they could offer their patrons. Their book collections were small, assembled primarily by personal donations and were weighted heavily with classics. There were no trained librarians and the persons placed in charge of the book collections were poorly paid, some merely served on a volunteer basis. Only La Crosse actually had a library building. The others were operated as reading rooms in rented or donated quarters. By 1895, there were only twenty-eight public libraries in the state and only one of these had the services of a trained, professional librarian.

Meanwhile, in Fort Atkinson, two local women’s clubs were endeavoring to establish a free public library for their city. One was the Tuesday Club, founded in 1881 by sixteen members. It is the second oldest women’s club in Wisconsin. It was a women’s study club that met weekly, at which time a member would present a topic for discussion such as a book review, or a paper on Italy, France, England or some such country.

As there was no library in Fort Atkinson, books for study were procured from the State Historical Library in Madison. Finding what a necessity a library was, after some years of this inconvenience, they were determined to have one in Fort Atkinson. They began discussing the possibility of establishing a library with city leaders–many of whom probably were their husbands.

On October 12, 1883, fourteen ladies met in the vestry of the Methodist Church in Fort Atkinson and organized a local chapter of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union. They held monthly meetings and endeavored to do their part to improve the quality of life in Fort Atkinson.

The subject of the possibility of establishing a local public library and reading room was first discussed at their meeting on November 4, 1889, but on March 10, 1890, at the home of Mrs. J. D. Clapp, the twenty-one ladies present actually pledged to raise $100 in 1890 to help fund a new library.

At the W.C.T.U. meeting on December 7, 1891, Mrs. W. H. Rogers, president of the society, acted as chairman and appointed a committee composed of herself, Mrs. U. P. Stair and Mrs. Hilton, to petition the city council to ask the voters to appropriate $500 for a free public library.

On January 4, 1892, the city voted to authorize an expenditure of $500 for library purposes, but later the city council discovered they could not release the funds because there was no money left in the city treasury! The city council then said that local citizens would have to raise $500 to match the amount voted by the electorate, and a committee of men was appointed to do so but nothing was done.

In frustration, on January 12, 1892, at a meeting of the W.C.T.U., a committee of ladies was appointed to raise the $500. The W.C.TU. donated $100 and in a few months the $500 was promised on paper and a group of prominent businessmen was appointed to collect the money.

Again, nothing was done so the women went to work themselves. By May 21, 1892, they had raised $80 by putting on cost suppers, $20 by donations and $400 by pledges that they collected. They then deposited the funds in the Citizens State Bank payable to the Businessmen’s Association because they had promised to sponsor the library project.

The Businessmen’s Association and the city council met as a joint library committee on May 25, 1892. The city agreed to donate the money for equipment and maintenance. Also that year the committee secured a loan of books from the Congregational and Methodist Sunday Schools. They asked Henry E. Southwell for his advice in ordering new books and $866 was spent for books. Many German books were purchased or donated since many residents could read German but not English.

Our First Library

Fort’s first library was located at 115 South Main Street at the northeast corner of Main Street and East Milwaukee on the second floor of the Wigdale building (now J M Carpets). On October 6, 1892, Miss Sue Nichols was hired as librarian for $100 a year and $10 was appropriated for Miss Cornelia Petit to assist in getting the library started and cataloged.

To help promote the library, local ministers were asked to devote one Sunday to preaching on the value of a library and to also take a collection for the library.

In May of 1893, the city council was requested to appoint a library board and Mayor A. R. Hoard appointed nine members. The by-laws were adopted May 24 and it was pointed out that the cumbersome by-laws documented were longer than the U. S. Constitution. It went into every detail as to organization expenditures, committees, the conduct of the library and even the librarian. For instance, the librarian was to give a bond with two responsible sureties for satisfactory perfomance of her duties. The first annual meeting was held on June 13, 1893, at which time Mr. Mayne, the first chairman, resigned and W. D. Hoard agreed to finish out the year as president.

The first library budget was submitted to the city council in 1893 as follows:

Librarian’s salary $100
Electric lights (based on number of light bulbs) $21
Fuel $29
Library (not specified but it was felt it was for rent, books and other expenses) $200
Total $350

By 1894, the library was operating smoothly and was open three days a week from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. The library board recognized the need to improve the skills of the librarian and so, in 1896, it granted an additional $15 to Miss Nichols to attend summer school for librarians in Madison. Her regular salary was now $120 a year.

Residents living outside the city were also desiring to use the library, so in 1898, a resolution was passed authorizing residents of the Township of Koshkonong to become borrowers at the library provided they were sponsored by a citizen residing in the city, who was also a taxpayer. However, they later ruled that clergymen and teachers need not be sponsored.

The 1899 annual report showed a balance on hand of $242.57. It was noted that $15 was received from the Tuesday Club, the women’s organization that worked hard to establish the library and that is still an active club in Fort Atkinson.

Letter from Mrs. U.P. Stair to Governor W.D. Hoard, March 19, 1890.

Fort Atkinson Mar 19 1890

Gov. Hoard, Dear Sir:

I take the liberty of addressing your Excellency in regard to a prospect which we feel assured you will approve, if you think it expedient at the present time: the starting of a public library and reading room in our city. The ladies of the W.C.T.U. Tuesday Club and other associations are very desirious of such an institution in our city, but realizing that to be permanent, the city must take charge of it, making yearly appropriations. To this end a public meeting is called for next Monday evening in the City Hall, for the purpose of agitating the question, hoping to gain such a sentiment in favor of the project that something may be done at our next election.

Would it be asking too much of you to write a few words of approval and encouragement to be read at the meeting. The idea is to try to raise as large a fund as possible by donations, from Associations or individuals toward starting it. The City to take charge and sustain it on the plan of any other City institution. Asking pardon for trespassing so much upon your valuable time, I remain Yours truly, Mrs. C. M. Stair.

NOTE: Carrie M. Stair is Mrs. U.P. Stair

Letter from W.D. Hoard to Mrs. U.P. Stair, March 28, 1890.


March 28/90

Mrs. U.P. Stair, Fort Atkinson, Wis.

Dear Madam:- Your esteemed favor was received at this office last week while I was absent or else it would have received prompt attention.

I am in hearty sympathy with your efforts to establish a Public Library in Fort Atkinson. It is a move along the line of that progressive town life that has ever been, and I hope will continue to be, a vital principle with the people of our brave little City. It was this principle that organized and has maintained our splendid schools and every good thing we have.

A Public Library will prove another attraction to the civilized side of our life. It will encourage the ambitious young and make all of us more contented to live and die in Fort Atkinson. Put my name down as good for twenty-five dollars to aid in the enterprise. I hope I may feel able to give more some future time.

Yours Respectfully, W. D. Hoard

The New Century Begins

The minutes of the March 1901 meeting noted that, because of a new law, Fort Atkinson’s Superintendent of Schools, Professor J.A. Hagemann, was now a member of the board. A committee was appointed to write to Andrew Carnegie the multi-millionaire steel mill magnate and philanthropist, to ask for a gift toward a new public library building. There is no evidence that a reply was ever received.

In 1904, a committee was authorized to write Mr. Carnegie again and ask for $10,000 to build a new library. Later it was reported that letters had been received from Mr. Carnegie’s private secretary which said Mr. Carnegie saw no reason for superseding the present quarters of the library and the matter was dropped.

A good example of the old expression, “The more things change the more they stay the same,” occurred at the May 10, 1905 board meeting when the librarian asked for suggestions as to how she could keep order in the library!

One board member suggested that more young people would read Charles Dickens if a more valuable and attractive set would be purchased. The board also was concerned about getting more good books for young readers, especially the boys, “as a means of keeping them from reading the trash which many were reading!”

By 1910, the library board was convinced it was time the library was moved from its by now cramped second floor quarters in the Wigdale building and into its own building. A committee, therefore, was appointed to see whether money could be raised by popular subscription to purchase the Frank W. Hoard lot at East Milwaukee and Merchants Avenue. (The present location of the library.)

Frank Hoard house at 102 E. Milwaukee Ave that was used as the first free-standing library.

Frank Hoard house at 102 E. Milwaukee Ave that was used as the first free-standing library beginning in 1910.

The Library’s First Move

On May 9, 1910, the library board appeared at a special meeting of the city council and requested that the city purchase the Hoard residence, taking the deed in the name of the city and the property to be used for library purposes. The request was granted and the property was purchased for $3,000.

Amont the subscribers were the D. A. R., W.D. Hoard & Company, E.W. Wilcox, L.B. Royce, H.H. Curtis, J.F. Clapp, A.R. Hoard, F.W. Hoard, L.B. Caswell, U.P. Stair, N.S. Greene, W.D. James and W.H. Rogers. Others were Jones, Cornish, Swart, Aspinwall, Hopkins, Hagemann, Gates, Barrie, Purdy, Rankin, Bullock, Downing, Burchard and Goodrich. (It may be noted that many of Fort’s street names are from this group of past city leaders.)

The lot south of the library was purchased in 1911. The library board sponsored a tag day and staged an operetta to raise the balance needed to buy the lot.

New Library Is Built

In 1912, Henry E. Southwell of Chicago, son-in-law of Dwight Foster, who in 1836 became the city’s first settler, offered to give the city $10,000 for the purchase of a new library building. His only stipulation was that it be of good design and that it be named in honor of Dwight Foster. The gift was graciously accepted.

In the spring of 1915, the city council appropriated $4,000 toward the erection of the new building and later added an additional $1,100. The Hoard residence, which had housed the library, was moved to a new location on Bluff Street and the new library was built on the old site.

The library board had its first meeting in the new library on April 17, 1916 and at that time, Miss Sue Nichols, who had been the librarian since the library was created in 1892, resigned. On August 1, Mrs. John N. Davis was hired for $65 per month.

New Library Dedicated

The handsome new library was dedicated on October 13, 1916. The program was held on the library lawn and the Fort Atkinson Military Band played a concert. The program continued inside in the new Reading Room with a solo by Mrs. J.S. Hagemann, a financial statement by A.J. Glover, a statement of appreciation by Paul Burchard and a response by Mr. H.E. Southwell and Mr. Charles B. Rogers. The total cost of the library was $16,695.23.

A newspaper clipping from the Milwaukee Sentinel of Sunday, October 1, 1916, commented on the new library. It said that the building was unique in design and that the arrangement was ideal for a small library. “The building is of cement and hollow tile, Kellastone outside finish of green granite and red tile roof. The library has 5,000 volumes and current periodicals.”

Photo of 1916 building

The new 1916 library.

The Minute Book states that on January 10, 1917, Mr. Hagemann and Mrs. Davis, the librarian, were asked to make a list of necessary books and equipment and let Mr. Southwell know the amount required. Mr. Southwell’s daughter, Mrs. Mary Worcester, also gave $1,000 to the library in 1917 and again in 1919.

By 1924, the library was again growing too small and discussions were begun to see what might be done. Nothing was accomplished for several years and in 1927, the board decided to ask the city council for the money needed to build an addition, but apparently it was turned down.

Part 2: 1929 to 1970

Mary Worcester Donates Children’s Wing

On January 27, 1929, a special meeting was called to announce that the daughter of Mr. Henry E. and Mrs. Celeste A. Foster Southwell, Mrs. Mary Worcester, was donating $25,000 to be used as a children’s wing with its own entrance so that they would not disturb those doing research. Her only stipulation was that the architect’s plans were to be submitted to her first and the new wing was to be called the Celeste A. Foster Southwell Memorial Wing in honor of her mother. Her generous offer was accepted by the board.

The new children’s wing was dedicated January 28, 1931, with an appropriate ceremony. Unfortunately, Mrs. Worcester was ill and unable to attend but she was represented by cousin, Mrs. Ted Royce. Mr. Royce presented a portrait of Celeste Foster Southwell to the library. Mr. Royce was then a member of the library board and was believed to have been influential in getting Mrs. Worcester to donate the money. The total value of the library was then estimated at $77,000.

The records show nothing further in the way of building or any unusual event until July 8, 1940, when the library celebrated its fiftieth anniversary. At that time, the staff consisted of Miss Irene Varney (later Mrs. Irene Metke), Miss Miriam Engan, Mrs. Jack Smith and Juanita Schreiner. The guests of honor at this event were Miss Sue Nichols, Mrs. Winifred Davis and Mrs. F.G. Short, all former librarians.

Letters in the library scrapbook show that on October 19, 1944, Mr. C.H. Worcester presented a portrait of his wife Mary to the library.

Celeste A. Foster Southwell Dedication and portrait

portrait of Celeste Foster Southwell

Portrait of Celeste Foster Southwell

Celeste A. Foster Southwell Memorial Wing Dedication

The Celeste A. Foster Southwell Memorial Wing of the Dwight Foster Public Library is dedicated to the children of today and tomorrow in loving memory of the first white chld to adventure the Indian trails at the confluence of the Rock and Bark rivers. To Mary F.S. Worcester, daughter of the pioneer girl of 1836, the children of Fort Atkinson are deeply indebted for this pleasant and inspiring home of books.

Like a great heart in a community, the influence of the library may be felt at the fireside in our homes; it may lend cheer and courage to the disheartened; it may mold for a beautiful and useful life the plastic heart of many a child–it will be immortal. Everyone may say: “I, too, live more deeply because it is here.”

Library Damaged by Fire

The library was damaged by fire on January 22, 1945. The fire started in the kitchen and damaged some 23,000 volumes by smoke and 501 books which had been in the kitchen were destroyed. Six truckloads of debris were removed. The library was temporarily closed and the circulation library was moved to the former wartime Ration Office in the Municipal Building. The library remained closed until June 16, 1945. During this time, the kitchen and a closet were combined into a kitchen-storeroom.

Over the years, one of the most enthusiastic supporters of the library was attorney Charles B. Rogers, who served on the board from 1931 to 1960 and was its president from 1932 to 1959. Also, his mother was one of the founders of the library back in 1890. In his honor, a portrait was commissioned by William and Mary Hoard and presented to the library on September 11, 1951, when Mr. Rogers was 80 years old.

The Museum Moves From The Library

The Dwight Foster Historical Museum was housed in the basement of the library beginning in 1934. It was first sponsored by the D.A.R., but supported by the city. In 1944, Mrs. Worcester gave $5,000 to the Historical Society to be used to purchase a home for the museum. The Historical Society purchased the George S. May home on East Milwaukee with the plan to convert it into a museum but nothing was done and the museum remained in the library.

However, in 1957, William D. Hoard and his sister, Shirley Hoard Kerschensteiner, gave their parent’s home, the Frank W. Hoard home, at Whitewater and Merchants Avenues, to the city to be used as a museum and it became the Hoard Museum. In 1968, Dwight Foster’s 1841 house, the first frame house built in Fort Atkinson, was moved onto the Museum grounds.

Dwight Foster Family Great Benefactors

Fort Atkinson owes much to the Dwight Foster family. Not only were they the village’s first settlers back in 1836 but Dwight’s son-in-law, H.E. Southwell, his wife, Celeste Foster Southwell and their daughter, Mary Worcester, over the years gave $164,000 to the library, $275,000 to the hospital and $35,000 to the Historical Society. These were all pre-inflationary dollars when a dollar still had great value.

In 1936, the library first belonged to the now defunct Rock River Library district which consisted of thirteen libraries. Then in 1967, it joined the Capital District. The library scrapbook indicates that on April 17, 1967, the staff consisted of Mrs. Oscar Metke, head librarian, Mrs. Cyrus Walker, children’s librarian, Miss Juanita Schreiner, Mrs. Claude Haferman, Mrs. Sylvia Breister, Mrs. H.H. Southworth, Mrs. Genevieve Hotrum, Mary Brown, page, and Oscar Metke, custodian.

It was also noted that Miss Schreiner, who began working in the library in March, 1937, was stepping down as reference and gneral library assistant on April 25, 1969, after 32 years of devoted service.

Elmore Klement, who had been city manager since 1931 and had been an ex-officio member of the library board all those years, also retired in April 1969.

Part 3: 1970 to 1980

Library Closed For Remodeling

In June 1970, the library was closed for remodeling. New carpeting was installed and new book stacks were added. Other additions were new lighting, new record case, new study tables and chairs, new readers’ guide table, new newspaper rack, new magazine stand, new card catalog and new atlas stand. The library reopened on August 21, 1970.

Lorine Niedecker, “the poet’s poetess,” a lifelong resident of Fort Atkinson, died December 31, 1970, at the age of 67. She had worked in the library from 1928 to 1930. Her husband, Albert Millen, presented her private collection of books, some of which were personally autographed by authors, to the library.

Although Lorine was not well know in this area, preferring to live in self-imposed privacy, the English poet, Basil Bunting, once called her “the best living poetess,” and Jonathan Williams, her British publisher, called her “the most absolute poetess since Emily Dickinson.”

Irene Metke Retires

After 38 years as head librarian, Mrs. Oscar Metke retired on January 1, 1974. She was a native of Greenwood and graduated from the University of Wisconsin in Madison. She served as librarian in Neillsville for 3 1/2 years before becoming head librarian in Fort Atkinson on January 1, 1936.

During her long service with the city, Mrs. Metke displayed many fine traits. One of them was speaking up for what she thought was right. She did just that with her approaching retirement, pointing out that one of the major frustrations of the library staff had been that the library had been expanded to the limits of the present building. She added, pointedly, that the library property included another 60 feet to the south, “but for 20 years nothing has been done to utilize them.”

Mrs. Mary Gates replaced Mrs. Metke as head librarian January 1, 1974. She had been employed as library aide in the Fort High School and also part-time at the public library for six years. She received her masters degree in library science in 1974.

The years rolled on and the library continued to serve our city with a wealth of information, 35,000 volumes, an extensive record and cassette collection, 38 framed pictures for loan, 150 current periodicals, magazines and newspapers. It was truly providing the community with an outstanding education-recreation facility.

Library Joins Interlibrary Loan Service

By 1977 the library was affiliated with the interlibrary loan service of the Wisconsin Reference and Loan System. By belonging to this cooperative system, the number of volumes available to a local reader increased tremendously.

On April 2-6, 1979, the library celebrated National Library Week and the staff was featured in an article in the Daily Jefferson County Union. Mary Gates was head librarian, Catherine “Miss Kate” Oesterrich, was children’s librarian, Shirley Haferman and Carol Bonnett were desk assistants, Gloria Southworth and Connie Green were part-time assistants and Margaret “Midge” Bull was a substitute. There were also two student pages, Sue Weh and Pat Ackerman.

Members of the board that year were Margaret Waterman, president, Jane Knox, secretary, Maxine Meyer, Alan Jones, Jr., James Schafer, William Rogers, Roland Hunsader, Robert Martin and Mary Gates, ex-officio.

“Friends of Library” Group Formed

A new organization was founded on October 23, 1979, when Maxine Meyer, Valerie Kerschensteiner, Elizabeth Seybold and Barbara Starke established the “Friends of the Dwight Foster Public Library.” The first officers were Barbara Starke, president, Joanne Moon, vice-president, Liz Seybold, secretary and Kathy Gross, treasurer.

The goals of the “Friends” were to present the needs of the library to the community, to develop an interest in library projects and programs, to stimulate gifts and bequests to the library, to deliver books to shut-ins, to set up educational exhibits at the library, and to help with special activities as requested by the board.

On January 1, 1980, the library joined the Mid-Wisconsin Federated Library System composed of Jefferson, Dodge and Fond du lac counties. This meant the resources of all three counties, consisting of 24 separate libraries, would now be available through the patron’s library card. New services began to flow into the county, including the services of a book van which traveled between the libraries of the three counties bringing books, films and other materials from one library to another whose patrons had requested them.

Earlier in 1979, the county’s eight libraries had formed themselves into a countywide service called the Jefferson County Library Services available equally to rural and urban patrons with the blessing of the county board of supervisors. Dwight Foster library was selected the Resource Library for Jefferson County. In November, 1980, Cambridge was added to the county system.

More rural patrons began taking out library cards as county tax support, through the county budget, replace the patchwork payments formerly made in behalf of rural users by township governments or by patrons themselves. It was now possible for a card holder to use any library in the county or any library in the Mid-Wisconsin System.

With Cambridge, which was a member of the South Central System, now added to the Jefferson County System, an agreement was worked out whereby Fort’s library now also had access to the South Central System that included Dane, Sauk, Green and Columbia counties. This meant that Dane county libraries, including Madison Public Library, together with nineteen other counties, were now open to Jefferson county residents.

By 1981, all these improved services began to strain the ability of the Dwight Foster Library to cope with the increased workload. The library had been bursting at the seams just from increased local patronage. Now the pressure was increased because of the new county and area library systems which made the library even more appealing and useful to areawide patrons.

Part 4: 1980 to 1990

Large Library Addition Is Planned

In 1980, the L.D. Fargo Library in Lake Mills had been badly damaged by fire and their library board had engaged the services of Sample and Potter, a Madison architectural firm to remodel the library. The Dwight Foster library board was so impressed with what Potter had done in the remodeling of that old structure that they in September, 1981, sought the services of Ross Potter to do a feasibility study on possible expansion of the Fort library.

The addition, which would be the first since construction of the Children’s Wing in 1930, would more than double the total floor space to about 22,000 square feet and the cost was estimated at $600,000.

Two local architects, Helmut Ajango and Gene LaMuro, also asked permission to submit preliminary sketches for revamping the library, which was granted by the city council.

After several weeks of study and discussions and “letters to the editor” about the relative merits of the three proposed plans for remodeling the library, the library board recommended the design submitted by Potter Design of Madison on January 12, 1982.

The city council, after much discussion, finally agreed on February 1st to accept the library board’s recommendation to hire Potter Design and authorized the financing of $300,000 for the city’s share of the cost.

Weeks went by and the plans were drawn up and submitted for bids. However, in August the bids came in disappointily high; the lowest bid being $633,944. The library board went to work pouring over the bids and examining every detail. They managed to eliminate $25,465 from the estimate.

In 1982, the country was suffering from a downturn in the economy. Interest rates were very high, inflation was soaring and unemployment was also high. Several local citizens felt this was not the time for the city to borrow money for the library addition and in September, they circulated a petition to call for a city referendum on the library addition.

On September 16, a local business group offered a loan of $300,000 on liberal terms to the city. Then on September 28, two local banks, the First American Bank and the Bank of Fort Atkinson, offered to match the group’s offer and the city council accepted the bank’s offer. The financing issue was settled.

Because of this method of funding, the motion to hold an advisory referendum on library borrowing failed to receive a second in the city council and was dropped.

Under the terms of the agreement, the city council agreed to fund only $300,000 of the building project. The balance of the funding would have to come from a citywide fund drive.

Led by Joan Jones and Nancy Wilcox, a fundraising drive was held and was very successful. A tour of homes was presented and several business persons’ lunches and many other activities were staged.

Contributions were sought with various levels of giving recognized; benefactor, sustaining, sponsor, donor and supporting. All who donated $100 or more were to be recorded on a permanent plaque mounted in the library. The original goal had been $140,000 and actually $177,000 was raised. The balance of $195,791 was received from the library’s Worcester Fund.

The library had contained 8,640 square feet of space with 4,420 square feet on the main floor. The new addition now would have 11,073 square feet on the main floor and 10,197 in the unfinished basement. The library now would have room for 61,444 volumes.

Veteran library board member, Attorney William Rogers, gave a short history of the library and spoke on the value of reading books. “As long as there are people on this earth, computers can never take the place of books,” he said. He thanked all contributors and those who helped with the project. Rogers credite library board President, Margaret Waterman, with being the catalyst for getting the entire project under way and completed. “When you think library, you think Margaret Waterman,” he said.

She quoted the late Louis Armstrong, the great jazz trumpet player, who said, “Once you discover how much fun it can be to read, life is never dull. I can talk with great minds of the past, with philosophers, outlaws, adventurers, with kings, queens and common sailors. It is all there waiting for me.” The group then moved inside for refreshments, tours and music by a string quartet. The new library was ready for business.

On January 11, 1984, it was announced that Catherine “Miss Kate” Lorenz, children’s librarian for 14 years, would be leaving to become director of the Jefferson Public Library. Susan Knudson of Madison was hired to replace “Miss Kate” as children’s librarian in April 1984.

Special projects, such as brown bag lunches, children’s films, income tax help, book week, used book sales, video cassettes and quilting programs, followed one another as the weeks went by. The library was a veritable beehive of activity.

In September of 1984, Susan Knudson resigned as children’s librarian to take a position in Sturgeon Bay. She was replaced by Connie Schuette of rural Fort Atkinson. She received her degree in marketing at the University of Wisconsin, Whitewater in 1982 and was working on her masters degree in library science at the UW-Madison.

Library Building at 102 E. Milwaukee Avenue after the 1982 addition

Library Building at 102 E. Milwaukee Avenue after the 1982 addition.

Margaret Waterman Retires

Margaret Waterman, who had been on the library board since 1943 and its president since 1959, announced in May 1985 that she was retiring from the library board. She had vowed that she would continue serving until the then-crowded library was expanded and remodeled.

Also stepping down was Alan Jones Jr., who had served on the board since 1952, much of that time as financial officer. The were replaced by Barbara Starke and Duncan Highsmith. Attorney William Rogers, who had served on the board since 1969, became the new president.

In June 1985, it was announced that former librarian, Irene Metke, who had been killed with her husband, Oscar, in an automobile accident in Texas in 1983, had willed $45,509 to the library from their estates.

Discovering that the library had lost 730 books worth more than $3,000 in the past two years, in June 1986, the board installed a new $10,000 3-M theft detection system. It was expected to pay for itself in about three years. It was also revealed that patrons had checked out a record 139,794 items in 1986.

Poet Lorine Niedecker Honored

The library set up a permanent display cabinet in June 1983 in recognition of the late Lorine Niedecker, the local poet whose works have been likened to those of Emily Dickinson. The handsome wooden cabinet, designed by Arthur Waterman, contains the works and private library of the late poet.

Above the cabinet is a portrait of the late Jane Shaw Knox in recognition of her efforts to bring the significance of Niedecker’s works to light. Mrs. Knox had been a member of the library board since 1969 and had served as secretary from 1971 – 1986 and as president in 1986. Her leadership was vital to the formation of the Jefferson County Library Planning Committee in 1978 and the Jefferson County Library Service in 1980. She was chairperson of both organizations.

Mrs. Knox led the county into the Mid-Wisconsin Federated Library System in 1980 serving first as its vice-president and then, from 1982 – 1984, as president. In 1983, she was named to the Wisconsin Library Trustees Board. Mrs. Knox died July 2, 1987.

In June 1988, it was announced that Moore food Products Co. and the Clorox Foundation, which owns Moore’s, gave a grant of $10,000 to the library to be used to purchase a selection of high quality educational videocassettes to add to its children’s collection. The library planned to purchase only specially selected titles, not the kind available for rent at the local video stores.

Ever since the library’s building expansion in 1983 the number of items checked out by its patrons had risen by 50 percent and library cardholders had increased by 25 percent. The number of volumes had increased 15 percent, while enrollment in the children’s summer reading program was up 183 percent.

Library Fund Established

With all this increase of patrons checking out books, magazines and videocassettes, it was felt by the board that additional contributions were going to be needed to finance the purchase of more materials in the future. In December 1988, Hugh Highsmith, a board member, spearheaded the creation of a fund through the Fort Atkinson Community Foundation designed to help the library keep up with the demand for services. By using this library fund, which is part of the Community foundation, local citizens can make tax deductible gifts and bequests to the library. Persons may contribute cash, securities or other property in any amount during their lifetime or by bequest or will to the Library Board. It is an ideal method for anyone interested in making a gift to our beloved community.

Maxine Meyer, who had been a valuable and active member of the library board for 18 years, and was also past president, was given a very special honor on October 25, 1989 when she was named Library Trustee of the Year by the Wisconsin Library Association. She had also been a member of the Mid-Wisconsin Federated Library System board, the Wisconsin Library Trustee board and the Wisconsin Library Association Foundation Committee.

In September 1990, it was announced that Shirley Haferman had been an assistant librarian for a quarter of a century, having joined the library staff in September, 1965.

Library Enters Second Century

The Dwight Foster Public Library has progressed mightily these first hundred years. From its humble beginning on the second floor of the Wigdale building, where its total budget for the year 1893 was $350 to today’s handsome 22,000 square foot building is a dramatic change indeed. Where in 1892 the library had borrowed some books from the Congregational and Methodist churches to get started, we now have more than 56,000 books.

But that’s only the beginning; there are now available computers, meeting rooms, hard-cover books, paperbacks, large print books, magazines, newspapers, pamphlets, audio-cassette books, music cassettes, video tapes, records, compact discs, films, educational games, art prints, encyclopedias, directories, indexes, microfilm and microfiche, a fax machine and more. It is a veritable cornucopia of methods for receiving information.

The breakthroughs that are being made almost daily in the information industry foretell that there will be spectacular changes in the way information is received and delivered in the next century. All libraries will be sorely challenged to acquire the finances with which to keep up with this explosion of high tech communication.

The Dwight Foster Public Library enters its second century with a proud record of achievement. Since its inception in 1890, it has added greatly to the quality of the cultural life of our community with its constantly expanding variety of educational and informative materials and services.

The library board and the library staff have, over the years, always offered a very high quality of service and have constantly strived to improve the physical plant and the availability of books and related information sources for the public. From the beginning, one of its chief goals was aimed at helping young people gain a life-long habit of using the library’s resources.

Over the years, records have continually been set for circulation and number of registered borrowers, so it is quite evident that Fort Atkinson owes a sincere vote of thanks to all those scores of civic-minded people who, over the past century, have unselfishly contributed their time and their gifts in order that we might all enjoy the benefits of a truly outstanding public library. Our first century has been one of steady growth and progress. The second century promises to be both exciting and challenging. We are confident that our community and our future boards and staff will be equal to the challenge.