Within a few years, after Russell was settled in April 1871, a circulating library was begun in the home of Mrs. F. S. Weed. This was in September 1878. In May 1879, a Russell paper advertised the “Russell Circulating Library,” with subscriptions for the balance of the year available at $2.00. In July 1881, a meeting was held at the Ackerman home “for the purpose of organizing a Literary Society with a public reading room and library as its ultimate goal.” Only one woman’s name is found in the records of a public library establishment in Russell and it is that of Miss Arabella Geer (later Mrs. Charles A. Wolcott), a native of Boston, Mass. Mrs. Wolcott, L.A. Parks, V.K. Hoover, E.L. Bouton, and J.H. Franklin petitioned the State of Kansas and received a charter for a free public library in Russell on February 11, 1888. Books were donated and a small collection was opened to the public in the Nelson Wolcott Drug Store.
J.C. Ruppenthal, a longtime library supporter in Russell, presented a petition with more than 50 signatures to the city council on February 21, 1900, asking that the question of establishing “a free public library and reading room” be submitted to the voters at the April 2, 1900 election. The measure passed by a vote of 205-72.
The library was opened to the public on March 1, 1901, in a building on Main Street. Furnishings and books were donated. The location was seen as prime, for, as the local paper reported, “With such a place at their disposal, young men can certainly have no excuse for loafing about the streets while the library is open until 10 p.m. and strangers in the city waiting for night trains will have a place to spend a couple of hours in a profitable manner.” The library was moved in March 1905, to space in the Farmer’s State Bank.
The Carnegie Library
In the spring of 1905, J.C. Ruppenthal began a correspondence with Andrew Carnegie, and on June 8, 1905, from his summer home at Skibo Castle in Scotland, Carnegie made an offer of $5,000.00 for a library.
Several lots were offered for sale to the library board, but a site at Main and Seventh Streets, the “old courthouse lots,” was chosen and the county commissioners sold lots 6 and 7, Block 86, of the City of Russell to the library board for $900.00.
The building was designed by Paul O. Moratz, an architect in Bloomington, Ill. The contract was let to C.D. Lechner for $3,900.00. Work began in April 1906, and the cornerstone was laid with no ceremony in May. The building was completed in March 1907.
Description of the Building
The library building was rectangular, one story above a raised basement, of native hard limestone. There was a small porch at the front entrance, and a tablet, surmounted above the door, bore the words “Public Library.” This stone, and another bearing the words “Carnegie, 1906,” used for the cornerstone, were of Bedfore (Ind.) stone. Eleven stones were used in each of the seven window arches. The stairs and window sash frames were of ash, with plain oak or yellow pine used in the first-floor design.
Later Library History
In March 1947, the library received $16,100.00 as a bequest from Mrs. Ada Dean Yoxall, a member of a pioneer New England family in Russell. The money was realized from the sale of her home. Of the bequest, $5,000.00 was used to build an addition to the library which was used as a children’s room.
By 1955, the building was deemed inadequate for a library, and Russell became the first city to use the 1955 legislation which allowed a library to vote and accumulating tax for building purposes. On April 3, 1956, the voters approved a $60000.00 bond issue to construct an addition to the building. The funds accumulated, and on April 4, 1961, voters approved an $80,000.00 bond issue to construct a new library building. The groundbreaking ceremony was held on November 4, 1961, and the new library, located at Sixth and Kansas, was dedicated on Oct. 27, 1962. The cost of the new building was $145,004.45. J.C. Ruppenthal, who was a member of the first library board when the library was set up in 1901, was present for the dedication of the new library; he was then 93 years old. The Ruppenthal Reading Room is named for him. The Ada Yoxall Memorial Room serves as the fine arts center of the library is named for the philanthropist who left a major bequest to the library.
The old Carnegie Library building was purchased by George Holland on March 12. 1963, for $10,000.00. The lots were completely cleared of the stone building and trees, and the basement was filled in with blow sand and an eight-inch dirt top.
Grace E. Stephens 1901-1916
Nellie I. Kirkman 1916-1951
Leta Phinney 1951-1957
Maxine (Dixon) Teel 1957-1971
Dan Robinson 1971-1982
Elaine Machin 1982-1983
Maxine Ganske 1984-2007
Jan Williams 2007-2014
Jessica M. McGuire 2014-2023
Denise Ketchens 2023-present
Handbook of Kansas Libraries, 1902.
Kansas State Library. Kansas Library Bulletin (various issues).
Ruppenthal, J.C., “A History of the Public Library of the City of Russell,” n.d.
Ruppenthal, Margaret Cameron Eastland, “The Russell City Public Library (Carnegie Library),” n.d.
“The Russell City Public Library, Carnegie Library.”
Russell County News, Russell, Kansas, Nov. 24, 1932.
Russell News, Russell, Kansas, Feb. 22, 1951.
Russell Record, Russell, Kansas, Sept. 12, 1878; May 22, 1879; July 7, 1881; Mar. 16, 1901; Apr. 1, June 22, Sept. 14, 1905; March 29, Apr. 5, Apr. 12, May 17, 1906; Jan. 29, 1914