December marks the 70th Anniversary of the Cass County Public Library. To celebrate, we are holding an Opening Tea on December 7th in honor of our seven decades of service to Cass County. The Harrisonville Branch will also host a month-long exhibit of library history, including photographs, newspaper articles, stories, and more.
Here is a brief look into the first days of the Cass County Public Library:
The Cass County Public Library found its beginning in the school election of 1947. It was out of consideration for the rural schools of Cass County that a measure was put on the ballot in April of that year to establish a library district and a tax levy to fund it. The adoption of a new State Constitution in 1945 by Missouri allowed for the establishment of county libraries that were supported by direct taxation. Billed as an “essential” service for the education of school children in rural areas of the county, the proposition passed with a significant majority.
The newly-minted library district was to be well-funded by a “One-Mill” tax on property that amounted to $1 of tax for every $1,000 of property value. The funds required to support the library before the tax went into effect came from a variety of sources including a $2,500 loan, assistance from the State of Missouri, and an Establishment Grant. By the next year, the library was so well-funded that the Kansas City Star ranked Cass County third behind Jackson and St. Louis counties in most available funds. That, unfortunately, is no longer the case for the present-day library.
Harrisonville was the obvious choice for the library’s flagship branch – it was the county seat and centrally located. Mrs. Martha Stuart Johnson, then owner of Hotel Harrisonville, was credited with solving the library’s problem. Johnson spoke with the Foster sisters, who leased the building at the time, and suggested the hotel’s kitchen and butler’s pantry, which had fallen into disuse.
An Opening Tea was held in honor of the library. The brand new Cass County Public Library welcomed nearly 500 Cass Countians, 131 of which became the charter members of the library. For many in Cass County, this was their first experience using a library. There was some confusion regarding how a public library worked – Dorothea Hyle, the County Librarian, had to explain that library cards were free and that the taxes had already paid for access to all the library’s resources.
Thanks to the library’s dedicated outreach and the Bookmobile’s efforts around the county, by the spring of 1948, 2,500 books were being used by students attending all 67 of the schools located in Cass County. During this time, the Bookmobile made 86 stops each month all across the county, providing access to educational materials and library resources in rural areas not served by physical branches. These efforts continue today, county-wide, as the Cass County Public Library also provides new resources like eBooks, adult education programs, book clubs and story times for patrons of all ages, free access to the internet and subscription databases (just to name a few!).
Join us at the opening tea, which runs all day December 7th, to learn more about our history. Come share your own memories of the Cass County Public Library!
For more information about the library’s history, click here.