In 1898, the River Forest Women’s Club put in motion the process of establishing a public library for River Forest. They created a committee whose actions resulted in the calling of specials elections to establish a tax levy in support of the library and to elect the members of the first library board of trustees.
Throughout the next couple of years, the Women’s Club and the library board worked to get a library building constructed. A site was available, however, there were not enough funds for the construction of a building. A request was put in for Carnegie monies but it was denied because neighboring community Maywood had recently received Carnegie funds.
Finally, in 1904 a contract was signed with W.A. Gerts to begin construction on a building to house the library at 508 Park Avenue, just north of Lake St. On September 26, 1905, the library officially opened with 1,000 volumes on the shelves. The first librarian was Mrs. Stella H. Nida, who received a salary of $15 per month.
In October of 1908, the library board approved the use of the library for programs and throughout the next several years, use of the library steadily grew. The hours of operation increased, new volumes were added and varied library programs were developed.
In July of 1923, the library and the River Forest Park District entered into a 99 year lease for the property at 735 Lathrop Ave. so that a new building could be constructed. In 1928, a bond issue was passed by the residents of River Forest, allowing construction to begin on the new building. Designed by Prairie school architect William Drummond, the new brick building featured fireplaces and leaded glass windows. It was officially opened to the public on October 13, 1929 although the basement was not yet complete.
Throughout the 1930s, 40’s, and 50’s library use and volumes continued to grow. During the 1960’s the library became air conditioned and switched to gas heat. Circulation was over 100,000 volumes per year by this time and in 1966 the library joined the Suburban Library System. In 1975, the Friends of the Library was started and they held their first biennial Book Sale in 1976.
Throughout the 1980’s discussions on expanding the building were held, architects hired, and plans approved. On September 9, 1989 ground was broken on the new addition to the library. The original building was lifted four feet off of the ground during the process and the two parts of the building were connected with a large skylight. On October 25, 1992, the newly expanded library had its grand opening celebration. During the late 90’s the library added computers and joined the shared Suburban Library System catalog SWAN.
In the last decade, more patron Internet computers were added and the library began subscribing to subscription databases, providing patrons with access to a whole new world of resources. Library materials offered continued to grow and expand, with new materials such as DVDs being added to the collection. Today, in addition to the more traditional library resources, the library also circulates eReaders and digital content. Traditional library programs such as our fireside chats, storytimes, and summer reading programs are still popular, and we continue develop and expand our program offerings each year. Current favorites include our immensely popular annual Family Fireside Halloween program, monthly Teen programs, and computer classes for Adults.
“A History of the River Forest Public Library” by Susan Hanes. Published in the pamphlet River Forest Public Library, 1900-2000, Celebrating 100 years. May, 2000; River Forest, Illinois.
Reflections: A History of River Forest by Harriet Hausman. 1975.
River Forest: a Suburb of Chicago by Albert Hall. 1938