Sycamore Public Library, 103 E. State St.
The Sycamore Historic District: Location 7A By Steve Bigolin
While the west side of North Main Street from State Street to Page Street is completely within the boundaries of the Sycamore Historic District, only one parcel on Main's east side is within the district. At 103 E. State St. stands the Sycamore Public Library, constructed in 1905 on the site long occupied by one of the city's first buildings. The effort to establish a public library in Sycamore began in 1875, some 30 years before the structure at State and Main streets was erected. A women's group - the Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle - was formed to work for the creation of a library, later changing its name to the Chautauqua Athena Literary Society, according to the 1991 book “The Carnegie Library in Illinois.” Following a successful fundraising campaign, and with support from the city council, a reading room was opened on July 2, 1892. (This happened almost a year before a similar one opened in DeKalb.) It was an upstairs back room in the Waterman Block at 202 W. State St., over Hoyt & Rogers Dry Goods Store - now PJ's Courthouse Tavern & Grille. The society's ultimate objective, however, was to have a building of its own in which to have a library. The movement to erect a library building in Sycamore gained new momentum in the early 1900s, especially after the offer of a monetary donation from a prominent local widow. Mrs. E.F. Dutton, whose husband had been a general in the Civil War, stated she would make a gift of $10,000 for a library building, as long as the facility bore her husband's name. City officials had to provide the site and pay to maintain the structure. Just as Sycamore and DeKalb battled in the early 1900s over where the county courthouse would be erected, so local factions disputed where in Sycamore the library should best be placed. As a result, Mrs. Dutton's generous offer was in vain. Philanthropist Andrew Carnegie was contacted late in 1901 by Sycamore Mayor James Branen about granting the city $25,000 to be used in buying and remodeling Sycamore Hospital for use as a public library. The building, which was at Elm and Somonauk streets, was then a year old or so. Carnegie Corp. secretary James Bertram rejected this request because Carnegie frowned on the idea of remodeling existing buildings, preferring to provide for the construction of a structure intended from the outset to function as a library. A little more than three years later, on Jan. 13, 1905, Sycamore was notified that it would receive $10,000 to erect a library. The squabbling over where Sycamore's new library should be located ended when banker and former mayor Frederick B. Townsend, a grandson of banking mogul Daniel Pierce, offered the valuable lot on the northeast corner of East State and North Main streets for the purpose. Since 1839, that parcel had been the site of the historic Mansion House, then Sycamore's oldest building. Over the years, the venerable hotel had been called home by many people who went on to become the movers and shakers in the city. Townsend had the structure moved to the southeast corner of the street. --- Steve Bigolin is a DeKalb County history expert.