Kalona Library History

The Kalona News "Library Salute" June 2, 2005:

It was 1934, the middle of the Great Depression.  Money for life’s necessities of food, clothing, and shelter was hard to come by.  Money for luxuries or entertainment was out of the question.

That did not stop one Kalona woman.

Mrs. E.J. (Amy) Hesselschwerdt believed in books and set about establishing, in the midst of hard times, Kalona’s first library.

With the help of two friends, Fred E. Bourgeois and Mrs. Willis (Cleola) Grady Gingerich, she went out and solicited the entire town for funds and books.  Space was provided in the old Legion Hall, upstairs from Charles Strickler’s electrical shop just east of today’s Snair Hardware store on B Avenue.

And the books came.

Attics, basements, closets, and shelves were emptied as the townspeople answered that first committee’s request.  When they finished, the Kalona Public Library was launched with a grand total of 907 assorted volumes.  Mrs. Hesselschwerdt became the Library Board’s first president (a position held until her death on February 15, 1963) with Mr. Bourgeois as secretary-treasurer and Mrs. Gingerich the first librarian.

In 1936, the library moved to the rear room of the City Hall and later that year was turned over to the town to be administered by the Town Council.  It remained there for [25] years until the Post Office facility on 5th Street was vacated in 1961.  For the first time since its founding, the library was on a ground floor, street-facing location separate from any other business.

It would stay there until the fall of 1973 when the former Kalona High School (later the junior high) building was renovated into the Community Building.

Given the school’s former auditorium, the library truly became a resource-reading facility with a wide bank of windows, copious bookshelves, a librarian’s office, storage facilities and considerable space for growth.  There was even room for a children’s alcove complete with table and chairs. 

In the mid 1990s the library in the old high school auditorium began to show its age.

As Kalona grew, so did the demand for more materials and computers, which created a very cramped space.  The steps at the entrance made it impossible for some people to use the library making it hard to hold programs that could include everyone in Kalona.

With a grant from the State Library of Iowa, the library board of trustees hired a library consultant named George Lawson.  George examined the library, community, and surrounding area and with help from the community outlined a plan for a library that would accommodate Kalona for the next 20 years.  That “Building Program Document” was finished in February 1999 and was the start of a plan for a new library in Kalona.

About this time a group of Kalona citizens started the Kalona Library Foundation for the purpose of fundraising and supporting a new library.  With the Rev. Scott Stapleton as president, the group started an annual evening of dinner and entertainment as a fundraiser.  The best donation came from Mrs. Velma Skola in the form of the deed to the Kalona Post Office.  The post office was eventually sold and the money was used to hire an architect to get the building process started.

The architectural firm of Engberg-Anderson Design Partnership was hired to design the library.  On November 4, 2003 Kalona passed a 1.4 million-bond issue for a new library.  It passed by 81%.

Work began on the new building during the summer of 2004.  On March 19, 2005, over 200 volunteers turned out to help move the library and on March 28, 2005, the new library opened for business.

“Basket of knowledge”

One of the more unique aspects of the new Kalona Public Library is the use of three different shades of brick to establish a “basket weave” pattern on certain parts of the exterior wall.

The pattern is intended to fit in with the overall theme of Kalona, which is well known for its handcrafted Amish items, as well as being “Quilt Capital of Iowa.”

The basket weave pattern came out of nearly two years of discussion, planning and public meetings prior to the library’s construction.