ANNE EICKSTADT PHOTO Belvidere Republican
The Ida Public Library will be celebrating 140 years on March 9.

The Ida Public Library is throwing a party on March 9 from 5 to 7 p.m. to celebrate 140 of existence. Guests will be able to enjoy refreshments, a program, and will be able to help bury a new time capsule.


The history of the library

The Ida Public Library in Belvidere was named in memory of Ida Fuller Hovey.

Ida was born on July 6, 1859 in Belvidere from the prominent Fuller family. Ida was much beloved by her family and very popular in the community. Ida graduated from the musical department of Rockford Seminary in 1875 at the age of 16. On July 6, 1878, she married Theron Adelbert Hovey in Belvidere. Ida was very involved in the Belvidere community, hosting parties, attending functions, performing at concerts, and joining the Belvidere Ladies Library Society.

In the spring of 1883, Ida be-came sick with consumption (known today as tuberculosis). At the turn of the 20th century, tuberculosis was the leading cause of death in the United States. Though various newspapers expressed hope of her recovery, Ida died in Bay-field, Wis., on Aug. 22, 1883, at the age of 24. She was buried in the Belvidere Cemetery on Aug. 25. (The date of death on her tombstone mistakenly says 1888 instead of 1883.

On Oct. 5, 1883, General Allen Fuller wrote to the Mayor and City Council of Belvidere stating his wish to donate $5,000 in order to establish a public library in Belvidere in memory of his daughter. This request was accepted and the Ida Public Library became a reality.

On Saturday, July 25, 1885, the Ida Public Library opened to the inspection of the people.

“Miss Nellie Rice, one of the ladies of the old Belvidere Library Society and member of the new Ida Public Library Board of Trustees spoke these words, “It was a joyful moment to us when we were in-formed that General Fuller had made the city a large gift for a Public Library, In the name of his daughter, Ida, who loved everyone, he wished to benefit the people whom she loved.

“As she was connected with the Belvidere Library, and as he was in sympathy with the feeling that had led to its organization, he thought that he could show her love and his love for the people in no better way than be founding a Public Library and by raising the Belvidere Library into larger life and greater usefulness.

“We appreciate the gift. The ‘Old Library,’ so called, was dear to us; the new library – the Ida Public Library is al-ready our pride, even at its birth and all the dearer in that it is inseparable from the memory of a friend whom everyone loved.”

“Ida Fuller Hovey was and will always be the first lady of Ida Public Library.” (For the Love of Ida A History of Ida Public Library, Jan Knutson & Jean Newcomer,

The library was first located on the second floor of City Hall (which is now the Belvidere Fire Station) on South State St. This kind of library location was not unusual for many small towns and villages at the time. As the com-munity grew and a demand for library services increased, moving the library to its own building became necessary.

In 1909, three people were appointed to approach Andrew Carnegie, the noted Scottish philanthropist, who was providing funds for the building of over 2000 libraries throughout the United States. They then had to wait several months for his committee to make the decision. Certain stipulations needed to be met for the grant to be made – the City of Belvidere had to agree to maintain a free public library and provide a suitable site for the building.

After much discussion about 320 N. State St. site (the City Council rejected it twice due to its cost of $3000), the citizens of Belvidere purchased individual subscriptions to meet the cost so they could have their library. General Fuller’s daughter, Mrs. Rhine-hart, was the first donor. Her contribution of $1000 considerably helped this popular cause.

The library received a grant of $17,500 on April 8, 1910, from the philanthropist and steel industrialist Andrew Carnegie, and with the support of Belvidere’s leaders and residents, ground was broken for new construction in 1912. The building, designed by Patton & Miller, was completed the same year.

On Feb. 12, 1913, hundreds of Belvidere residents flocked to a brand-new, brick library building at 320 N. State St. (on the southwest corner of State and Madison Streets), filling the rooms completely, in order to attend the building’s dedication ceremony. Today, the building is still recognized throughout the country as a beautiful example of Midwestern, Carnegie-era library architecture.

While all this was going on, the library also had to change the way they operated to adapt to the new Dewey Decimal System. The library’s collection had grown to contain 16,244 books, which all had to be adapted to the new cataloguing system. (It took five years before the staff was able to update the collection completely) In its first full year in the new building, circulation totaled 25,598 books.

In 1967, a dark unused room, holding 50 years of clutter, was visualized as a Children’s Room. Clutter was removed, walls and ceiling were painted a sunny gold color, tweed carpeting was laid, and 98 boxes were carried in. The custodian, the librarian, and her husband spent the weekend putting together shelving and furniture. A bright, inviting Children’s Room emerged from the chaos. All that still needed to be done was to bring all the children’s books downstairs.

Girl Scouts volunteered to carry books. With librarians posted upstairs and down directing the scouts, the books were quickly arranged in place. The new Children’s Room opened on Jan. 17, 1969. The results were so impressive that new carpeting was ordered for the upstairs as well. Over the next two years, all-night lighting was installed at the rear of the building, two book drops, and, at the suggestion of the public, a drinking fountain were added.

In 1973 the front steps had been replaced, new sidewalks were laid, the roof was treated to prevent pigeons from roosting. By 1975, a water heater was installed and the library was able to offer a popular new service – a copy machine!

In 1982, the house next to the library was razed and the library acquired the property to create a parking area. This additional property made it possible to consider an addition to expand the library and City Council discussed it in a meeting on Feb. 4, 1984. At the time, the Ida Public Library was so crowded that there was shelving in every available space (except suspended from the ceiling), catalog drawers were so crammed that it was nearly impossible to read, and there was a sign-in sheet for students to indicate what materials they needed and how long they would need to use the study tables. Some students began sitting on the stairs instead.

It required an Illinois State grant plus the assurance of lo-cal funds to start the new construction. They counted the votes for the local referendum to raise funds and kept the State Library apprised of the count and assurance of the lo-cal funding. Three months later, the State awarded the

Ida Public Library the maxi-mum amount allowed for libraries. Secretary of State Jim Edgar came in person to compliment Belvidere for their overwhelming support of the library by a seven-to-one mar-gin.

The addition tripled the library’s space to 15,000 square feet. Carnegie libraries were generally built in the Classical Revival style but the Ida Pub-lic Library was designed in the Prairie style (with Classical Revival columns). Even with its addition and remodel in 1987, the building remains true to its original style.

A time capsule placed on the lower level containing such items as programs from the dedication, the groundbreaking ceremony, and from the 100th anniversary of the library, along with photos of it in its three incarnations – the 1885 City Hall, the 1912 Carnegie Building, and the re-modeled 1987 building – is in-tended to be opened June 7, 2087.

Today, Ida Public Library houses approximately 80,000 volumes, collecting in both English and Spanish. It pro-vides patrons with an ever-expanding range of services that include public computer access, free access to thousands of digital e-books and audio-books, a balanced variety of database resources, and a local history collection with re-search assistance. The library also provides community programming that includes classes, workshops, story hour, and book discussion groups, and it is able to boast that it also has a community garden to provide fresh vegetables to the community (in season).

Early in 2022, the library purchased a (used) bookmobile to expand its services to residents of all ages and students who are unable to visit the library building due to health or transportation issues. The bookmobile visits different organizations, neighborhoods, schools, and parks in the com-munity such as the YMCA, Four Seasons, Washington School, or General Mills Park.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Ida Public Library, 320 N. State St., Belvidere, offered no-cost distance-learner library cards to all students en-rolled in a K-12 school in Boone County. These special library cards were offered free to students whose districts chose full remote learning and therefore didn’t have access to their classroom or school libraries. Governor Pritzker chose to extend the deadline for these cards and then en-acted the Cards for Kids pro-gram to allow libraries to continue to serve children under the age of 18 even if they are outside of the immediate district and pandemic restrictions have been lifted. To sign up a child, bring a photo ID to the library. If the child is under 18, a parent or guardian must be present to sign up for the card.

Ida Public Library is overjoyed at being able to continue to serve all the children in Boone County and looks for-ward to the time when Boone County residents vote to allow it to become a district library for all of Boone County.

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