Library History

Serving Our Community Since 1897

In the summer of 1897, a movement began to organize a permanent free public library in Hartland. Organizers circulated a petition and subscription form asking for donations, stating that when $200 dollars had been raised for the purchase of books the Village of Hartland would then be asked to contribute $100 for the maintenance of a new library. The response was immediate and by August the proposal was presented to the Village Board.

Early Development

On August 23, 1897, the Hartland Village Board resolved: "That a free public library for the Village of Hartland to be known as Hartland Free Library is hereby established in pursuance of the authority given by the Laws of Wisconsin. Resolved: That a tax of one hundred dollars be, and the source is hereby levied for the purpose of establishing and maintaining the Hartland Free Library." Myron Warren, son of Hartland's founder Stephen Warren, was elected president of the newly formed library board. Other library board members included: H.W. Goodwin, Mrs. Edward Bergwall, Charles Hasslinger, Rev. W. J. Lemon, Chauncey M. Skinner, G. R. Ramsey, Mrs. Mary LeRoy, B. G. Schneider and Dr. Henry Nixon.

Requests were then issued to the general public for the donations of books, magazines and periodicals, which created quite a stir in neighboring communities.

“While the devoted ladies of the Waukesha Library association are left to struggle along alone in their effort to maintain even a nucleus of a public library, and while the summer guest, to whom everything is deferred, is continually asking why does not Waukesha support a library under municipal authority, our plucky and culture-loving little neighbor, Hartland, has tackled the library question and her citizens are rushing it along at a rate calculated to call the blush to older and wealthier communities.

Up to a few days ago, $175 of the minimum limit, $200, had been subscribed with a prospect of running far above that amount.…..It now remains for President Warren to appoint the nine directors, who will manage the local institution, and it will be set solidly on its feet to be a solace and inspiration to the village for all time to come.

All this has been done in little Hartland with no seismic disturbances, but wealthy Waukesha with her magnificent parks, her handsome business blocks and her thousands of population is evidently willing to go on record as having no time for books and no inclination to even help along the select few of heroic women who are struggling to develop a weak intellectual germ.”

Waukesha Dispatch

A Grand Opening

The Hartland Free Library opened in December. According to the December 11, 1897 Hartland News: “The Hartland Free Library will be open for business today. It is in every sense a public library, and it is hoped the public will so use it. The books belong to the people. They are to be read, and the more they are used, the better the library will serve its purpose. The books are your friends and they are good ones. They will live in the lives of those who make friends of them. Use the books well, don’t abuse the; draw out their best thoughts and inspirations and then return them to be passed on. The News will endeavor to publish from time to time short and pithy reviews of some of the best books so that our readers will see good reason for reading them. It is to be noted that many of our best citizens are doing their best to make the library popular and profitable. Contributions of money and good books will always be in order.”

The Traveling Library System

It appeared that in order to increase the selection of materials, the Hartland Free Library pursued contact with the newly developed Wisconsin Traveling Library System. On Monday, September 20, 1897, Miss Lutie Stearns visited Hartland to help organize Hartland’s participation in the Traveling Library System.

Lutie Stearns was regarded as the Johnny Appleseed of books. Crisscrossing the state from 1895 - 1914, Stearns brought books to all parts of the state, especially those in isolated areas.

A former schoolteacher and superintendent of circulation at the Milwaukee Public Library, Stearns was inspired by a speech by Melvin Dewey of the Dewey Decimal System fame heard at a library conference in Chicago, Dewey spoke of New York state’s traveling library system. Stearns, along with Frank Avery Hutchins and James Stout (founder of UW Stout in Menomonee) created the Wisconsin Free Library commission in 1895 based on the traveling system of New York.

Stout, a wealthy lumber baron, personally funded their first traveling library system by purchasing 500 books. Choosing a variety of materials from children’s classics to cookbooks to history and science, Stout wanted books to appeal to all interests.

The traveling library systems were described in the Wisconsin Magazine of History, “Each library was put up in a strong book case which had a shelf, double doors with a lock and key, a record book for loans, printed copies of the few simple rules, borrower’s blanks and so complete a line of equipment that it could be set up anywhere on a table, a box or a counter and managed as an independent library…it was so simple that any intelligent person could operate it after five minutes of explanation.”

Hartland received its first shipment of 50 volumes from the State Library Commission in August of 1898. All books were new and boasted being of interest to all classes of readers. Books were then circulated over a period of six months. When all the books were returned the box sent on to the next community, a new shipment of books was received.

Each community then would appoint a secretary/librarian who received the "Libraries" and would keep the records of circulation. Mabel Hansen, editor of the Hartland News, acted as Hartland's first librarian.

Theron Haight, in his book "Memoirs of Waukesha County", 1907, states: "At Hartland, there is a free library of about 1,000 catalogued volumes, which originated in 1897 through the efforts of a few interested persons, among whom were H. W. Goodwin, G. F. Ramsey and Mrs. H.G.B. Nixon. The books are kept in the office of the Hartland News and are in the charge of the editor, Miss Hanson, who gives her services in the interests of general education and progress."

Making It Work

The library shared office space with the Hartland News office until 1931 when it moved into the new Community Memorial Building (now demolished on the site of the municipal lot behind 211 Cottonwood Avenue). The library remained in the lower level of the Community Memorial Building until 1980 when the new Hartland Village Hall was completed. At that time, the library moved across the street to the lower level of the Village Hall at 210 Cottonwood Avenue. The Library moved to its current facility at 110 East Park Avenue in February 1995 and completed an addition and remodel in 2012.