The library, in one form or another, has been a part of Harvey County history almost from the beginning. The very earliest library was a semi-private library organized by leading women in the Newton community; however, the books in the “Ben Franklin Library” were not available to everyone. By 1885, the Newton Public Library Association had been formed with leadership from the local chapter or the Women’s Christian Temperance Union. For an annual fee of $1.00, members could use the library.
In 1886, the Kansas legislature passed a law allowing second class cities to levy a tax for support of a free library. This levy was approved by Newton voters in 1886 and the “Newton Free Library” was established. Rooms were rented above the N. Barnum and Co. Store at 517 Main. Miss Lucinda McAlpine was hired as the first librarian. Her salary for the seventeen years she worked at the library was $40 a month.
Lucinda McAlpine was 49 years old when she agreed to serve as librarian. Born in Factoryville, PA on 11 November 1837, Miss McAlpine was well educated. She attended a country school in Pennsylvania, followed by Waverly Academy. In 1862, she graduated from Claverack College in New York. Following graduation, she taught at Claverack College, and Albion Academy in Iowa before coming to Kansas in 1884. After teaching a year in Kingman, Ks, Miss McAlpine moved to Newton where she taught first grade at Lincoln Elementary. Typically, Miss McAlpine would devote her mornings to teaching and then in the afternoon she would be at the library.
She wanted to share her love of learning with all, a sentiment that she expressed often in her reports to the library board. She sought “to make the Newton Free Library the most interesting institution in our city.” To meet that goal the library hosted lectures and concerts in addition to providing research assistance and reading materials.
In selecting books and magazines to include in the library, Miss McAlpine noted that “careful attention has been given to reference works for clubs and schools.” She also was concerned about the types of books available to young impressionable readers. In selecting materials to include in the library for young people “she . . . kept a careful eye over their reading.” Help was provided for researchers “and none turned away unsatisfied if possible to find the required information.”
Her obituary noted that
“it was as librarian that her influence was chiefly felt, and through that medium she had the opportunity to touch the lives of young and old in a way the meant much to the culture and uplifting of the community.”
In 1899, the library was moved to the second floor of the Randall Building at 6th and Main. The library board rented the space for $15 a month. This new location was not without problems. The rooms on the third floor were rented to other people. Cleanliness of the shared spaces, the stairs and hallways, soon became an issue. The library board addressed the issue by requesting the third floor tenants clean the stairs and the hallway. When that approach did not work, the board decided that the area be “scrubbed on Mondays and Thursdays and the bill presented to the tenants of the flats.” Unfortunately, the issue continued, and at a July 1902 meeting the board decided that “the librarian should apportion the cleaning cost among the upstairs renters and collect from them.” Miss McAlpine was less than happy with this new task “imposed” on her by the board.
Miss McAlpine retired as librarian in 1902, but she remained involved as library board secretary for six more years. In 1911, the library board expressed their appreciation of her years of “excellent and efficient service.” They noted that under her care, “the library grew from a few volumes to many, and it was largely [her] understanding of the needs of the public that directed the purchase of books.”
Due to an injury in her youth and increasing difficulty with rheumatism, Miss McAlpine spent that last years of her life in the home of her niece, Lulu Knight Raber, as an invalid. On January 31, 1922, Miss Lucinda McAlpine passed away.
- Evening Kansan Republican1 February 1922, 2 February 1922
- Newton Kansan 50th Anniversary Issue, 22 August 1922, p. 75-76.
- Western Journal of Commerce, 1901. HCHM Archives.
- HCHM Photo Archives
- Allbaugh, Alden. “The Newton Public Library 100 Year History, 1886-1986” HCHM Archives.
This was originally posted on March 2014 on HCHM’s old blog site with the same with the same title.