History

Early History of Walter E. Olson Memorial Library


As written by Morton Cook

At one time, prior to the year 1897, Alva G. Richison operated a store in a small building which stood east of the O’Connor building {later housed the First National Bank}. He sold tobacco, candy, and notions.  He also operated the Western Union Telegraph office, the income from which was a big item in his business.  The late Robert Ziebell, then in his teens, worked for him.   [That location] is where he learned telegraphy, which prepared him for a successful railroad career.

At that time, our little town had about 20 saloons.  Mr. Richison, being a religious man, thought that the people, especially the young, should have some other place to go, so he started what he called a “Free Reading Room” in a part of his store.  That, I believe, was Eagle River’s first library.

In a very short time the little building became too crowded, so Mr. Richison moved across the street into a vacant store building.  In addition to Western Union, he secured the agency for the American Express Co.  He also put in a stock of hardware and paint.  In the meantime, Rev. H. C. Todd, pastor of the Congregational Church, took charge of the reading room.

From there on up to recent years, my memory of the library is rather sketchy.  I do remember a fire [in which] the building was destroyed, but the books were saved…I am not sure of the location.

Later, about 1910, some of the townspeople formed a Library Association, took subscriptions, received a cash donation from the town, and sold library cards at $0.50 each, thereby giving the library a new lease on life.

A few years later [1915], the Woman’s Club took charge and were (sic) given an assist by the Inter Se, another women’s club, in the form of donated books.  (This is the end of Mr. Cook’s account.)

The library was moved into the second floor of the old City Hall building on Division Street during World War II, subsequently relocating downstairs as its collection expanded.  Eventually, it outgrew that location and a new library was built in 1979 on two lots at the corner of Main and Spruce Streets. It officially opened in 1980 as the Walter E. Olson Memorial Library.       

Funds to build the library were donated by the Walter E. Olson Foundation.  Mr. Olson was the founder and owner of Olson Rug Company in Chicago; he owned property in the St. Germain area on Big St. Germain Lake and Moon Lake.  His Foundation sold the property after his death; the library was one of the beneficiaries of the proceeds.