Library History

Focus on History
The citizens of Salem, Iowa and the surrounding countryside have long enjoyed a rich educational history.  From one room rural schools to historic Whittier College, Salem has placed high value on education.   This heritage and that of the early settlement and development of the area provide the focus of the history story presented in the library.

The One Room School House and Educational Heritage
As one of the earliest towns in Iowa, Salem enjoys a rich and enduring heritage.  Library planners have elected to include historic interest to library design and program presentation.  Due to purpose and space considerations the history presentation will be specific and focused. It will not rise to the level of a museum – but be an archive.  The focus: the history of one room schoolhouses in Southeast Iowa.  Assembly of a modest collection of books, documents, photographs and memorabilia directly related to rural education has begun.

Annual reunions of area one room school attendees are held on the Salem town square.  Library programs and displays are coordinated with reunion activities.  To insure continuity of this presentation the library board and “Friends of the Library” appoint volunteers as curators of the archive.  These persons have interest in history and its presentation and will be supported in efforts to learn about the archival process.

Interior Décor – Early Schoolhouse
The interior décor and design of the library maintains a consistent theme of what one might find in an early schoolhouse.  With oak trim throughout, narrow board wainscot, traditional blackboard, a schoolhouse bell and desks and Lincoln and Washington schoolhouse portraits, volunteer designers have promoted this theme.  A historic display panel near the library entrance tells the story of the Glendale School, one of the early one room schools in the area.

Crew Family Heritage, Mamie Crew and the Library
M.L (Micajah Lemuel) Crew was born at Crewsville Farm, Hanover County, Virginia, June 13, 1835 and was fourteen when his family moved to Iowa.  His parents were both native Virginians.  In 1849, his father, Walter Crew had sold his Virginia homestead and with his family, consisting of fourteen children, made his way to Salem.

Walter Crew was a great lover of books, an interest passed on to M.L. and his siblings.  Walter was unusually well read and inculcated on his children a systematic course of daily reading, prescribing books and subjects for them to study.  He inherited many books from his father and had an unusually complete library.

These books were shipped to St. Louis where he intended to send for them when settled in Iowa.  Unfortunately, they reached St. Louis just before the great fire in that city in 1849, and were all consumed.  The loss was great to Mr. Crew as he was never fully able to recover them.

Son, M.L. Crew taught school in winter and farmed in summer.  He also served as Principal of the public school in Salem.  M.L. took an active interest in politics and represented the county in the Nineteenth General assembly.  Among other things he sought by bill the adoption of a uniform system of text books for the public schools that contained a provision by which pupils could obtain books at wholesale prices.

A display panel in the library near the librarian’s desk, “For the Love of Books,” tells the Crew family heritage.

The Salem Woman’s Club and a Public Library
The Salem Woman’s Club, not currently operational, dates its origin to 1895.  The main objective of the club has historically been “the improvement of its members by extemporaneous speaking, original essays, debates of anything intellectually, socially and morally enriching.”Library support has always been a very important civic project of the club.

The club began a small library in 1896.  The library function began with a ten dollar bookcase in Mrs. C.A. Stevens’ home.   In 1903, members secured a club room “in the Conrad room at the southeast corner of the square” and organized a public library with 216 volumes.  Collection boxes were placed in the club room and local news office.  The boxes served as collection points for books purchased or donated by members or the public.  Books collected would form the core of the library collection for years ahead.  Club members volunteered their services as librarian for several years and many have served on the Library Board.

The Salem Woman’s Club contributed to the Salem Crew Library Building Trust Fund and has served as a source for library acquisition and library leadership.  An excellent record of the Salem Woman’s Club and its members is available for review in “Place of Peace, Memories of Salem, Iowa, 1835-1996,” Copyright Salem History Book Committee, 1996, from which this account is excerpted.  This book is available at the library.  The records of the club are maintained in the library, Genealogy section.

Education History in Salem Area
Six large format history panel displays are located on the walls above the computer stations.  These panels present aspects of Salem’s rich history in visual form without need for the physical space necessary to a museum.  The primary focus is the history of education in the Salem area.  Library volunteers Joel Jr. and Marlene Garretson of rural Salem researched and edited content of the displays and completed all computer graphic work necessary in their preparation.

Historic Photographs
High on the wall above the central area of the library visitors can view a collection of large 12 photographs gleaned from Lewelling Museum and personal photograph collections.  Volunteer Joel Garretson, Jr. completed all computerized graphic design and photograph enhancement work, selecting photos representative of by-gone years and identifying known citizens in the photos.  A descriptive narrative of the photographs is available to library visitors.

Salem’s Historic Structures of the Past
Visitors to the children’s area can view full dimension building models of seven historic buildings no longer existing in Salem. Planners found these buildings to have varied historic significance to the settlement, growth, culture and development of Salem.   Will Thomson, graphic artist, illustrator and exhibit designer from Iowa City constructed the models based on photographs.   A descriptive narrative of the building histories is available to library visitors.

Public Square Heritage
A large display on the front lawn of the library describes the history of the library building site, how the town of Salem was originally settled and laid out and some of the active businesses in the 1880’s.  Volunteers, retired from the Design Headquarters of the National Park Service assisted Joel and Marleen Garretson of rural Salem with research, content, graphics and design of the display.



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