The History of the Leon Public Library

Compiled and retyped by Sara LeFleur AmeriCorps Youth Launch Member.
At the request of Current Librarian, Darleen Richardson, July 7, 2009
Updated by Sara LeFleur, Decatur County Historical Society Museum, June 11, 2012

Leon Public Library at far right
Courtesy of Decatur County Historical Society Museum
Leon Gets A Library1

Andrew Carnegie, the Philanthropist. Gives $6,000 to
Erect a Free Public Library Building.
 Leon has secured from Andrew Carnegie a promise to contribute $6,000 towards the erection of a free public library building. It is believe that the preliminary arrangements will soon be completed and that the building will be erected during the coming summer.

The library board is composed of Mrs. Dr. Layton, V. R. McGinnis, J. W. Harvey, Geo. E. Hurst, Geo. W. Baker, J. R. Bowsher, Mrs. L. P. Sigler, Charlotte Vogt and Mrs. Marion F. Stookey. About a month ago Senator Marion F. Stookey, at the require of the president of the library board, took up the work of securing a donation from Andrew Carnegie for the purpose of erecting a library building in Leon. He first wrote to Secretary Leslie M. Shaw and Senator J. P. Doliver and secured their co-operation. He next corresponded with Mr. Carnegie and furnished him a statement of the present status of our library, including the number of books, which is 1,500. He also secured form Auditor Scott a certified statement showing the amount raised by the two mill library tax which was $593 for the year 1904. After this information had been furnished the following letter was received:

Office of Andrew Carnegie,
New York, April 20, ’05.
Marion F. Stookey, Esq.,

Dear Sir: --- Responding to your communications on behalf of Leon: If the city agrees by resolution of council to maintain a free public library at cost of not less than $600 a year, and provides a suitable site for the building, Mr. Carnegie will be pleased to furnish $6,000 to erect a free public library building for Leon.

James Bertram,
Private Secretary

Tuesday evening the library board met and appointed the following committed to select a site for the library building: Judge Harvey, Geo. Hurst and Stephen Varga. The committee investigated various sites and may select as a location a lot 44x60 feet north of the M. E. church on the corner. This property belongs to Mrs. Koger and is valued at $1,000. This sum must be raised by the citizens of Leona and we predict that it will be done easily and promptly. Everybody will give something towards the good cause.

This evening the city council will hold its regular meeting and adopt the resolution required by Mr. Carnegie, who has already given away $140,000,000, mostly for the establishment of public libraries. The library will greatly benefit the town and the citizens of Leon are congratulated.


1 This article was taken from the May 4, 1905 edition of The Leon Journal.

Following is a List of Contributors to the Fund
for the Carnegie Library Site.
The Carnegie Library is assured. The committee appointed to solicit the funds for the purchase of a site as required by Mr. Carnegie, have almost finished their labor, and the result shows that the people of Leon take a deep interest in the project, and it is expected that eh actual work on the building will soon be commenced. As announced heretofore Mr. Carnegie, has offered the Leon library $6,000 for the purpose of erecting a library building providing that the citizens will provide a suitable site and that the town council will levy a library tax which will annually provide $600, which they have already done. The committee to secure a site have purchased the corner lot at the corner of Commercial and Church street, 44x60 feet from Mrs. S. J. Koger, paying $1,000 for the property. The site is ideal one and one which will be approved by everyone. While the purchase price of the lot is $1,000, it must be remembered that the only means of providing furniture for the building is form a popular subscription fund, and therefore the committee is still soliciting, as it will require from $400 to $500 to properly furnish the building for library purposes. At this time a little over $1,200 has been raised and all who have not as yet contributed are requested to report to any of the ladies at once.

The following is the list of contributors and the amount subscribed by each:
John W. Harvey .. $50.00 Kraft Clothing Co. .. $25.00 Thomas Teale .. $25.00
Stephen Varga .. $25.00 L. Van Werden .. $25.00 W. C. Stempel & Co .. $25.00
Farquhar Bros. .. $25.00 W. E. Myers & Co. .. $25.00 Hurst Bros. .. $25.00
H. L. Long .. $25.00 Alexander Bros. .. $25.00 Bowsher & Bowsher .. $25.00
Frank N. Hansell .. $25.00 Harry J. Vogt & Co. .. $25.00 Thompson & Warner .. $25.00
Clark & McClelland .. $25.00 J. A. Harris & Bros. .. $25.00 Forbes & Stout .. $25.00
Bashaw & Gassett .. $25.00 Dr. H. R. Layton .. $25.00 O. E. Hull .. $25.00
Marion F. Stookey .. $25.00 C. W. Hoffman .. $25.00 Dr. J. W. Rowell .. $15.00
V. R. McGinnis .. $15.00 Caster & Jackson ..$15.00 George W. Baker .. $10.00
J. L. Harvey .. $10.00 ____ Teale .. $10.00 C. M. Ketcham .. $5.00
James Grandstaff .. $5.00 Dennis Daughton .. $5.00 E. Housh .. $5.00
W. H. Jenkins .. $5.00 P. F. Bradley .. $5.00 G. W. LaFollette .. $5.00
A. S. Tharp .. $5.00 H. G. Scott .. $5.00 T. E. Wallace .. $5.00
W. A. Poush .. $5.00 J. L. Metier .. $5.00 Roe Caster .. $5.00
Geo. A. Coe .. $5.00 Mrs. Elma Marrill .. $5.00 C. M. Akes .. $.500
Ralph Baker .. $5.00 Dr. O. W. Foxworthy .. $5.00 J. S. Warner .. $5.00
Dr. R. C. Morris .. $5.00 W. B. Kelly .. $5.00 Z. Swearingen .. $5.00
Eli Hutchinson .. $5.00 J. S. Parrish .. $5.00 H. L. Pease .. $5.00
Joe L. Warner .. $5.00C. E. Henderson .. $5.00 B. F. Hamilton .. $5.00
D. E. Gatechell .. $5.00 A. J. Hiatt .. $5.00 Robert Craig .. $5.00
M. Griffin .. $5.00 Dr. J. W. Greenman .. $5.00 Pullen & Perdew .. $5.00
Z. Gore .. $5.00 James Willis .. $5.00 John Ledgerwood .. $5.00
A. P. Olsen .. $5.00 Geo. A. Cowden .. $5.00 J. W. Delk .. $5.00
J. A. Frazier .. $5.00 Dr. F. A. Bowman .. $5.00 J. F. Penniwell .. $5.00
W. S. Chandler .. $5.00 S. A. Gates .. $5.00 S. E. Benefiel .. $5.00
C. F. Wright .. $5.00 L. G. Smith .. $5.00 Mrs. Cora Mullinnix .. $5.00
Marion Woodard .. $5.00 I. N. McPherin .. $5.00 J. R. Conrey .. $5.00
T. S. Arnold .. $5.00 Joseph Hamilton .. $5.00 O. E. Tullis .. $5.00
I. N. Clark .. $5.00 C. E. Gardner .. $5.00 Mrs. Wm. Biggs .. $5.00
Frank Allen .. $2.50 A. J. Allen .. $2.50 G. E. Turner .. $2.00
Dr. R. D. Gardner .. $2.00 Charlotte Vogt .. $2.00 Ida Brooks .. $2.00
Mary La Follette .. $2.00 Margaret Hurst .. $2.00 Hatite Drake .. $2.00
Mary Parrish .. $2.50 Opha Clark .. $1.50 Eva Rhea .. $1.50
Sada Penniwell .. $1.50 Anna Waight .. $1.50 Mary A. Gates .. $1.50
  Nora Biggs .. $1.50

2 This article was found in the files of the Decatur County Historical Society Museum. It came from a newspaper that was published in 1905.
3 When this article was clipped from the newspaper, this name was cut off.

Courtesy of Decatur County Historical Society Museum
History of the Leon Public Library
The earliest history we have of a Library Association in Leon was that of which was formed in 1881.

Miss Laura E. Dye, County Superintendent, was the Librarian. Through the years that followed, the Library, located in the County Superintendent’s office, was primarily, for the Teachers’ Benefit. On April 17ht, 1884, all the books except those in the hands of members were destroyed by fire. The library’s loss was not less than $300. Donations and additions made by purchase than increased the number of volumes to 442. In 1896 there were 653 books in the Library. Several years later about 400 of those old books were added to the new Library.

In 1900-1901, a permanent Library Association was organized by the prominent and women of the City.

On January 7th, 1901, a meeting was held at the Hotel Leon and a Board was chosen.

Rules governing the loan of books, borrower’s cards, by-laws, etc., where made in accordance with the State Laws. A mass gathering of the Citizens, for and against the plan, was held at the Opera House. A total of $135.00 was raised for the library purposes.

From January 1st, 1901, to January 2nd, 1902, there was raised by various means $608.86 and from January 1st, 1902 to January 1st, 1903 $506.87. The Boards used this money to increase the stock of books. Leon now had quite a Library but no building.

In the election of 1903, the proposal to levy a tax for maintenance of a Free Public Library was submitted to the voters and Carried.

About this time Andrew Carnegie was making gifts of money to towns and cities for the establishing of public libraries.

In 1904, a committee form the Board of Trustees corresponded with Mr. Carnegie, with the object of securing a donation such a gift.

On April 20th, 1905, Mr. Stookey as notified that a donation for $6,000.00 would be given when the usual requirements were met.

Immediately upon receiving this information a committee was appointed by the Board to solicit funds for a building site. The lot across from the Methodist Church was chosen. The contract for the building did not include furnace, finishing of the interior, painting of the walls, wiring, light fixtures, the floor or furniture. Tables were donated by the New Century Club, P. E. O. America, in 1906 and are still in fine condition5 . Later the Priscilla Club gave a picture. Other Clubs and Organizations gave freely of cash for the added expense.

This building was finished and on November 1st, 1906, was indicated. From this small beginning we have our present day library. Supported by the City (with the Mill Tax,) which gives it over $1,100 per year. The last book entry was 10,895. All books are classified according to the Dewey Decimal Classification which is usual in the majority of Libraries.

Our Library is a busy place, during the month of February; our average circulation was 119 books and 17 magazines. Largest Daily Circulation, 211 books, 13 magazines, and the smallest, 8 books.

One hundred and ninety-two people from out of town used our reference books during February. Our yearly repot is not made out until the last of the month of March, but I would like to give you part of last years’ report. Our Adults, we loaned 14,000 books of fiction for home use. To the children, we loaned 5,598 books. (The Children have a separate division for their books in the Library) and the total number of books loaned during the year was 20,500.

We answered 2,640 Reference questions (questions that needed special assistance). We have 1,064 registered borrowers.

Our Library Board consists of nine members, who are appointed by the Mayor and serve without compensation.


(The following is was crossed out on the original document, but is interesting so I added it to this document.)

The President is Mrs. Virge Penniwell; Vice President, Roy Gammon, other members are Mr. Shina, Mrs. Rothardd, Mrs. Frank Doies, Mrs. Clup, Mrs. G. Scott, Mrs. Chas Pyfer, and Mrs. Olin Rippey, Mrs. C. R. Barnum, Secretary to the Board.

Mrs. Charles Pyfer and Mrs. Olin Rippey are the members of the Book Committee. They give freely much time and thought to book selection. The school is always the first consideration.


(Handwritten at the bottom of the original document)

Mrs. Grace Wallace is President. Mrs. Chas Pyfer is Vice President; other members are Mrs. Frank Slade, Mrs. Olin Rippy, Frank Boires, Mrs. C. Archibald; Mrs. Griver Humdim, Mrs. Theodore Robison, Mrs. Robert Carpenter, Mrs. C. R. Barnum is Secretery.

Mrs. Sada Forbes Stout has been librarian since 1913.

This report was made in 1937 or 1938.


4 This article was taken from some old papers that were found in the back of a file drawer. There are editing notes all over this document. I have taken liberty of removing information that was crossed out. This document could have possible been a rough draft of a newspaper article.
5 As of 2012, these tables and chairs were still being used in the Leon Pubic Library. 
History of the Leon Public Library
The Leon Public Library probably dates back to 1881. It was in that year the First Leon Library Association was formed. This first library was probably chiefly for the benefit of the teachers in Decatur County schools and was located in the office of the County Superintendent of schools, Miss Laura E. Dye.

When the courthouse burned in April 17th, 1884 all the books, except those in the hands of borrowers, were destroyed. The citizens quickly responded with donations to restore the library’s collection.

In the period of 1900-1901, a permanent Leon Library Association was organized by the prominent men and women of the community and in 1903, the proposal to levy a tax for the maintenance of a free public library was submitted to the voters, and was adopted.

About this time Andrew Carnegie, the great steel manufacturer, was making gifts of money to towns and cities for establishment of free public libraries. In 1904, a committee from the library’s board of trustees began corresponding with Mr. Carnegie with the object of obtaining such a gift for Leon.

On April 20th, 1905, the board was informed that a donations of $6,000 was being given by the Carnegie Foundation if the usual requirements were met.

From a clipping of the county paper of 1905 we quote: “The Carnegie Library is assured. The committee appointed to solicit funds for purchases if a site is required, have almost finished their labor, and the result shows that the people of Leon take a deep interest in the project, and it is expected that the actual work on the building will soon be commenced.”

Mr. Carnegie’s generous gift gave the people of the community a place to start, but did not cover the cost of finishing the interior of the building. The money for things like a furnace, wiring, light fixtures, furniture, and even floors (more than $1,600) was raised by citizens of Leon. The building was finished, and on November 1st, 1906, was dedicated.

In June 1978, the basement of the building was remodeled and a Children’s Library was established by M. N. Viner, the library’s first Children’s Librarian.


6 This was taken from the Leon Public Library Cookbook that was published in 2006 to raise funds. Rene Fierce was the librarian at the time of publishing and was responsible for the information within. 
The Leon Public Library as of 20067 
After 100 years, the Leon Public Library still resides in the same building which was dedicated in 1906. The building itself has not changed much from the original, but the services provided to the community have greatly expanded. Users may still come to the library to check out books, as in the time of Miss Dye, but they are now just as likely to come in to use a computer to get on the Internet and fill out job applications; check out an audio books to listen to on a long road trip; check out a video or DVD; research family history or participate in one of our preschool programs. Some of the things that are currently available to library users are: books, magazines, newspapers, audio books, videos & DVDs, puzzles, puppets, copy machine, four public access computers, Preschool Activity Time (Friday at 10:30am during the school year), Summer Reading Program and much more. The library is open six day a week, offers approximately 18,000 items for check out (in a variety of formats) and has three knowledgeable, well-trained staff members to help you find the information you need. Funding comes primarily from the City of Leon, with contributions from Decatur County, State of Iowa programs and private donations. An endowment fund has also been established, in memory of M. N. Viner, with South Central Iowa Community Foundation, for the benefit of the Library.


7 This was also taken from the Leon Library Cookbook. 
Courtesy of Decatur County Historical Society Museum

Former Librarians
Miss LAURA DYE 1881-1882
MISS BECK 1911-1913
SADA STOUT 1913-1961
MRS. ESTER SNARE 1962-1964
MRS. RENE FIERCE 1990-2006

The M. N. Viner Memorial Endowment 
In 1998, the Board of Trustees of the Leon Public Library chose to look towards the future and plan for emerging needs. Therefore, the M. N. Viner Memorial Endowment fund was begun. This is a permanent found, managed by the South Central Iowa Community Foundation, created to generate earnings that may be used for the benefit for the library. Currently, the fund stands at approximately $60,000. It is the goal of the library board to raise the capital in the endowment fun in $100,000 by the end of the centennial year, 2006. At this level, the earnings from the fund would be used to help fund special projects of the Summer Reading Program, possible future building improvements (including handicap accessibility) and more.

Contributions to the fund may be sent to:
South Central Iowa Community Foundation
P.O. Box 258
Leon, Iowa 50400

Make Checks payable to the foundation and write in the memo line “M. N. Viner Memorial Endowment.” Thanks.  
Post Card courtesy of Sharon R. Becker for Decatur County IAGenWeb

Submission by Sara LeFleur, Decatur County Historical Society Museum, January of 2014 
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