Walter E. Olson Memorial Library

203 N. Main Street (715) 479-8070

Library History

Article: "Early History of Walter E. Olson Memorial Library" by Diana Bloom Anderson. 
Published in Eagle River, Wisconsin: Its History & People.
Compiled and published by the Eagle River Historical Society,  Eagle River, WI, 2008.

The following portion was written by Mort Cook, an early resident of Eagle River

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 Woman's Club operated the library for a time in a back room of the building now housing the Arrow Gift Shop.  

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 Rub 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.

Excerpt: "Early Days in Eagle River Wisconsin".
Published in History of Lincoln, Oneida, and Vilas Counties Wisconsin.
Compiled by George O. Jones, Norman S. McVean and Others. H.C. Cooper Jr. & Co, c1924.

In or about the year 1910 some of the residents of Eagle River formed a library association and took up subscriptions for the purchase of books.  A small sum was realized by this means, the members purchased cards at 50 cents apiece, and the town board donated one hundred dollars.  The first books purchased were kept in a building which stood on the site of the present First National Bank.  The building subsequently burned down but the books were saved.  Subsequent purchases and donations have since increased the number of books in the library to 915 (June 1, 1923).  

After the library had been in existence for about four years [1914], the Woman's Club took charge of it and has since been the main factor in its support, raising necessary funds by giving entertainment's and taking up collections among the business men.  The Inter Se society, another woman's organization, has also helped by donating books. 

The library has been housed at different times in various store buildings.  the custom of charging 50 cents a year for ownership of cards entitling bearer to the privileges of the library, though for some time in abeyance, has been revived.  Mrs. Delia D. Austin has been chairman of the library board and also of the financial committee since the library was started.  Though small at present, the books mostly confined to fiction, the library may be regarded as the nucleus of a future institution that shall have a home of its own and prove an important factor in the educational advancement of the community.  
This is the end of the excerpt.
The library is one of 30 library members of the Northern Waters Library Service (NWLS), a system serving eight northern Wisconsin counties. Member libraries formed the Merlin Integrated Library Service Consortium and share resources available for patrons to browse and request from the Merlin library catalog.

Library Directors

 1970s - 199? Roberta Prange  
 -1993 Vicki Ahlswede  
 1993 - June 2014 Diana Anderson  
 July 2014 - Current Nan Andrews  

"The soul of a community is on display at its library."

When you come through our doors we want you to feel at home, to know that you are not an interruption of our work; you are a pleasant diversion from our work.

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 Tuesday 9:00am - 6:00pm 
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Olson Memorial Library · 203 N. Main St. · P.O. Box 69 · Eagle River, WI 54521 · Phone 715-479-8070 ·Fax 715-479-2435