If you haven’t been paying attention to recent library news, it should be obvious by now: We’re building a new library in Castle Rock. Construction (or rather, the pre-construction destruction) is already underway in the parking lot in front of our current location at 100 South Wilcox Street. Trucks are scraping away asphalt and unearthing trees that will find new homes with the Parks and Recreation department.
More information about the project can be found on the Douglas County Libraries website at dcl.org/build. In spite of the noise, dust and inconvenience this may cause, there are positives to keep in mind:
- Building a new structure on our current site will allow the library to stay open to the public for as long as possible before we shift operations to the new facility.
- The new building is going to be bigger, better, and more beautiful in every way.
- The Archives & Local History department is getting a major upgrade! ALH collection growth has outpaced the storage capacity and service capabilities of our space in the current building, and we are really excited about the improvements to come.
For the groundbreaking ceremony held on May 2, I was asked to reflect on the history of “the Castle Rock library” and this post is adapted from my spoken remarks. My research led down some unexpected rabbit holes (as it often does!) so I am glad to be able to share it in this format, where I can provide more details and links to source material.
Part 1: School Days
I started by looking through ALH reference files—timelines, indexes, lists—compiled by staff and volunteers over many years. Although Douglas County’s public library system officially dates back to the 1960s, we knew there were previous attempts to establish a library in Castle Rock. Information for the earliest dates was conflicting and unclear, so I went back to the oldest sources I could find: the local newspapers. (Thank you to the Colorado Historic Newspapers Collection for being so searchable!)
I was surprised to discover that Castle Rock has a long history with libraries, going back almost to its very beginning.
But the Town of Castle Rock has always been self-aware of its special role as the county seat. After all, it won this honor before anything was built here, in 1874, based on its potential as much as its central location. (According to this news article, there was only one resident at the time.1) In spite of competition from more established settlements, Castle Rock won the popular vote2 based on the idea of what it would become. The founders envisioned an orderly, prosperous city conveniently located near an iconic natural landmark.
Because Castle Rock had a profound sense of civic pride before it even had a civic population, it makes sense that it prioritized architectural projects like the county courthouse and the Cantril Street school, built from locally quarried rhyolite stone3. Historian Robert Lowenberg describes these early developments in his book Castle Rock: A Grass Roots History:
The Courthouse of Douglas County faced the mountains … above the large leafed cottonwoods … showering the square with leaves of gold and brown. … [It] reflected all of the pride and expectations of the people who contributed to the founding of the county and the construction of the building. … These two structures dominated the architectural appearance of the town as indeed education and government were predominant in the minds of its citizens.4
Soon after, another thing on their minds was a library.
To provide some context, this was the era (late 19th century) when public libraries took hold as an idea, developed professional standards, and became the type of institutions we know today. Libraries quickly proliferated across the country thanks to the philanthropy of Andrew Carnegie, who funded the construction of more than half the U.S. libraries in existence at the time of his death.
Conducting a search of Castle Rock’s two local newspapers for the time period5 I found over 80 news articles about new Carnegie libraries being built all over the country and in nearby towns like Pueblo, Leadville, Denver, Colorado Springs, Manitou, and Littleton.
While it’s true they had pretty low standards for what qualified as newsworthy back then (they would report who ate two pieces of pie at the church picnic), the fact that the local papers were reprinting these stories meant the citizens of Castle Rock were aware of them. Carnegie’s libraries helped establish the idea that public libraries were an essential civic institution, and Castle Rock was always clear about its ambitions to be an ideal sort of modern city.
Unfortunately, it would not have a public library building (Carnegie-style or otherwise) for many years to come.
However, a library collection can exist without its own special building, and that was the case for Castle Rock’s early libraries—which were school libraries.
The first mention I found of any local library in the newspapers was December 1, 1886, in the Castle Rock Journal, and there were actually two items. One stated that “The Teachers’ Association voted to create a circulating library in the county for the benefit of the teachers.” The other described the first book purchase ever made for the Castle Rock school library: a 22-volume encyclopedia set.6
Because the newspapers liked to include a great amount of detail in their reporting, we can actually track the development of the school libraries pretty closely over the next few decades. There were many calls for donations of books, announcements about fundraising events (called “Book Socials”), and lists of new acquisitions.
It’s not hard to argue that a school library is a kind of public library, if the collections are funded by the community and ultimately are for the good of the greater community. But I was surprised to discover that the school libraries were also acting as public lending libraries. The evidence? The newspapers printed public notifications when items were overdue. These announcements were generally polite, like the following from the Castle Rock Journal, September 27, 1901: “Any persons having books belonging to the … library will kindly return them at once to the county superintendent’s office.”7
But the rules of this arrangement aren’t clear, and it seems like people were still arguing for the establishment of a public library even though books were available for borrowing from the schools8.
In 1905, an opinion column entitled “What Castle Rock Needs”9 described the importance of having a library that is a physical place, not just a collection:
“Why not have a reading room or some place where the young men of Castle Rock … can congregate and come in contact with good literature? … As it is, the ‘saloon’ alone offers any rest to the weary Pilgrim and seekers after a little social comfort. … Surely this matter is vital to the progress and advancement of Castle Rock.”
Part 2: We Can Do It!
(The Woman’s Club Era)
Although the anonymous author of “What Castle Rock Needs” envisioned a reading room where young men could “enjoy a social smoke,” it was women who heeded the call. The Woman’s Club of Douglas County opened Castle Rock’s first non-school public lending library in 1922.
The woman’s club movement was not unique to Douglas County, but a national trend, one of many social reform organizations of the Progressive Era. We often associate these women’s groups with issues like temperance and prohibition, voting rights, child welfare laws—but helping to establish public libraries across the country was another project with long-lasting impact.
In Castle Rock, the Woman’s Club library began in the “Recreation rooms” of the county courthouse with public hours on Thursday afternoons10. We know it started as a very small collection because it was only up to 300 books four years later (1926) when it moved to the “County Agent Room” in another part of the courthouse11.
Based on the lists of newly acquired books published in the newspaper, the Woman’s Club seemed to be developing a certain kind of collection. Unlike the school libraries, which collected history, biography, classics and textbooks, the new library had popular fiction and magazines12.
This could explain why the community continued to agitate for a public library, and utilized that library, in spite of being able to borrow books from the schools. School libraries didn’t provide a general-interest collection—the books you would read for entertainment or leisure. This was the gap the Woman’s Club library worked to fill.
And the work wasn’t exactly easy. Although the club here was affiliated with the larger Colorado Federation of Women’s Clubs, I don’t believe that came with any kind of fiscal support. The statewide group may have provided coordination or a sense of direction, but not library materials.
Just like in the previous case of the school libraries, our local newspapers printed frequent solicitations for donations to the Woman’s Club library. Members contributed their own books to the collection, used a portion of their club dues to purchase books, and volunteered their time to manage the library and keep it open (albeit only 2:30-4:30 p.m. on Thursdays).
On top of that, finding an appropriate physical location for the library seems to have been an ongoing issue. The collection moved so often that it’s difficult to pin down all of the addresses.
Between 1922 and 1936 we know it occupied different rooms in the county courthouse. In 1936 it moved briefly to the “grade school,” which likely means the building on Cantril Street.13 (It’s worth noting that specific addresses hardly ever appeared in the newspapers at this time, even in business advertisements. Presumably, in a small community like this, those details weren’t necessary.) Later in 1936 the library moved into a new home at “Town Hall in the building formerly occupied by the Castle Rock State Bank.”14
There must have been a relatively stable period after this, because the Woman’s Club was able to expand the library’s open hours to a second day of the week (Saturday afternoon, 2-5).15 For the rest of its existence, the library remained within the Town Hall, although Town Hall became City Hall and moved from the “bank building” to a new location in 1942.16
By 1954, however, the Douglas County Woman’s Club was talking about disbanding17, and in 1956 it gave the library collection to the Castle Rock school district (to be further redistributed if deemed appropriate by the PTA). Among the reasons cited were a lack of volunteers necessary to keep the library open and the need for a “more suitable location.”18
So, 50 years after that anonymous newspaper column, Castle Rock still didn’t have a public gathering place to rival the saloon—and Castle Rock’s first non-school library ended up at a school anyway.
Part 3: Modern Times
(Or Keeping Up With the County)
The modern history of the library begins soon after the dissolution of the Douglas County Woman’s Club (and the decline of women’s clubs in general). From here, the chronology is much easier to keep track of—not only because it’s more recent, but also because it is better documented. This is the institutional history of Douglas County Libraries (although that name came later).
As an institution, we owe a lot of thanks to Genevieve Mead (better known as Nicky) whose advocacy efforts began in the 1960s. Her campaign for a publicly funded library led her to form the Friends of the Douglas County Library group in 1966, and she served as its first president. She organized community planning meetings and fundraisers, secured donations, and lobbied the county commissioners to create the Douglas County Public Library system. In 1967, Mead was appointed to the library’s first Board of Trustees, and everything was set in motion to establish a new public library in Castle Rock—officially its first.
But, again, there was the question of a building. Where should the library live? Nothing that already existed was adequate. This is where local businessman and philanthropist Philip S. Miller stepped in, along with his wife Jerry, and pledged $25,000 to fund the construction of a new library building. It was the first of many generous gifts the Millers made to the library district over the next decades.
From 1967-1968, while the new library was designed and built, DCL operated out of a temporary location at 311 Third Street in Castle Rock. Finally, the brand-new building at 303 Gilbert Street (specifically intended to be a public library) was completed at the end of 1968. And, although the modest one-story building was expanded in 1975, the library outgrew it by 1986.
If you know anything about the demographics of Douglas County, you’ll realize this time period corresponds with an explosion in population. Between the mid-1960s and mid-1980s, the number of people living in Douglas County doubled or tripled every few years—increasing from about 5,000 to approximately 50,000. Of course, this growth wasn’t all within Castle Rock, but the addition of library branches in other communities didn’t change the fact that ours was too small.
The second public library building in Castle Rock19 (named after Philip S. Miller, who once again provided funding) was built at 961 South Plum Creek and served as the library’s home from 1987-2003. This was another period of intense growth and change, and not just for the county’s population (which quadrupled again). Libraries in general had to adapt to a lot of new technology (e.g., computers, the internet, switching from index cards to online catalogs). An important mile-marker in our history came in 1990 when the formation of an independent library district was approved by a public vote. The citizens of Douglas County approved the measure—with funding—by a margin of nearly 2-to-1.
Out of everything described so far, this vote was the most significant statement of community support for the library. It has allowed us to continue serving the people of Douglas County in a more sustained and steady way through subsequent decades of growth.
When we outgrew our second library building in 2003, we moved to our current location at 100 South Wilcox Street. This retrofitted grocery store (built in 1977) has done its best for nearly 20 years. In fact, it has been home to Castle Rock’s library longer than any other structure to date.
Now it is time for a library building worthy of the history of Castle Rock and the community that has advocated for its existence for well over 100 years.
Part 4: Today
I think I can speak for all DCL employees at this location when I say we’re pretty excited about the new building and the improvements it will bring. But on behalf of the Archives & Local History department, I can affirm that we are the most excited.
ALH is getting the largest space increase—not because we’re greedy or bribed any of the architects, but because properly caring for historic collections requires special facilities and a lot of space. Archival collections only ever grow larger; they never shrink. When we add collections to Archives & Local History, we make a commitment to care for them in perpetuity. That requires a lot of resources, including resources we can’t even anticipate yet. (Archives of the future, for example, will be increasingly digital and occupy different kinds of space.)
We believe the investment is worthwhile, because the alternative is: We just don’t know our history. If we don’t collect it, it disappears.
Another outcome? If we don’t provide a home for history, it will go to live somewhere else. Many local archives end up stored in a central repository at the state or federal level. They may be safely preserved, but they’re inaccessible to the people whose history it is.
The worst outcome of all is to lose everything to an unforeseen disaster. That has already happened right here, to this community, and not that long ago! In 1978, when the county courthouse burned down, Castle Rock lost a unique architectural treasure along with historic documents from the town’s early history.
This is why it’s important to plan ahead, think about infrastructure, and put systems in place to protect what we value. We want to keep the history of Castle Rock (and Douglas County) right here because it belongs to you and your community. Being responsible stewards of history now ensures that it will also be here for your children’s children.
I ended my speech at the groundbreaking ceremony with a quote from the Rocky Mountain News from 1874. My source for the quote was Robert Lowenberg’s Castle Rock: A Grass Roots History, which I mentioned above and highly recommend if you’re looking for a book on the subject.
The Rocky Mountain News ran the following editorial April 14, 1874, after the citizens of the county voted to choose the new location of its government seat, and it rather accurately predicted the future:
“Douglas County did the right thing in voting to locate her county seat as Castle Rock. … [It] cannot avoid becoming one of the most prosperous towns in Colorado. It will have the immediate advantages of a railway, post office and telegraph and will become the focal point for the entire local trade of the county. … Douglas is a growing county, rich in agriculture, grazing and dairying capacities and certain to be one of the wealthiest and most productive in all Colorado. Castle Rock … is certain to be well patronized and sustained by the local pride and interest.”20
On behalf of the Archives & Local History department, thank you for the sustained pride and interest that helps keep Castle Rock’s history alive.
1 Colorado Springs Gazette, January 23, 1875 (pg. 3)
2 With 315 out of 597 votes cast. Sedalia was the runner-up.
3 Constructed 1889-1890 and 1896-1897, respectively.
4 Pages 32-33 of the 1986 paperback edition.
6 See “Pencil Points” section (pg. 3), Castle Rock Journal, December 1, 1886.
7 See also the Record Journal of Douglas County, March 23, 1917, pg. 1.
8 The earliest I found was from the Castle Rock Journal, October 28, 1891, pg. 4.
9 Castle Rock Journal, January 6, 1905, pg. 1.
10 Record Journal of Douglas County, March 31, 1922, pg. 7. (See also RJDC February 7, 1936, pg. 1, confirming the location.)
11 Record Journal of Douglas County, February 5, 1926, pg. 1.
12 Ibid. and Record Journal of Douglas County, May 26, 1922, pg. 1.
13 Record Journal of Douglas County, February 7, 1936, pg. 1.
14 Record Journal of Douglas County, September 4, 1936, pg. 1.
15 Record Journal of Douglas County, July 2, 1937, pg. 5.
16 Record Journal of Douglas County, February 27, 1942, pg. 5.
17 See: Records of the Douglas County Woman’s Club, C-92018 (https://alh.archives.dcl.org/repositories/2/resources/10).
18 Douglas County News, February 23, 1956, pg. 1.
19 Rumor has it the library collection was then, briefly, housed in an industrial warehouse on Park Street while awaiting the completion of the new building.
20 Lowenberg, pg. 24 of the 1986 paperback edition.