The doors of a former mansion opened 100 years ago as Libertyville's first library

  • A historic photo of the Cook House in Libertyville. The 1878 home and grounds were given to the village for use as a free public library and park.

    A historic photo of the Cook House in Libertyville. The 1878 home and grounds were given to the village for use as a free public library and park. COURTESY of Libertyville-Mundelein Historical Society

  • For nearly 50 years, the Cook Memorial Public Library was housed in its namesake mansion in downtown Libertyville. The building and park that are a center for community activities were a gift from Ansel B. Cook, who died in 1898.

    For nearly 50 years, the Cook Memorial Public Library was housed in its namesake mansion in downtown Libertyville. The building and park that are a center for community activities were a gift from Ansel B. Cook, who died in 1898. Courtesy of Libertyville-Mundelein Historical Society

  • A library card from the 1950s. The Cook Memorial Public Library District has been celebrating its 100th anniversary this year with events and activities.

    A library card from the 1950s. The Cook Memorial Public Library District has been celebrating its 100th anniversary this year with events and activities. Courtesy of Cook Memorial Public Library District

  • The Ansel B. Cook Home in downtown Libertyville remains a focal point for community events.

    The Ansel B. Cook Home in downtown Libertyville remains a focal point for community events. Daily Herald File Photo

 
 
Updated 10/22/2021 6:23 AM

The Cook Memorial Public Library District has been hosting a variety of activities in recent months to mark its centennial. But a significant date on that long timeline will pass today without fanfare.

It was Oct. 22, 1921, when the doors officially opened at the former mansion that the library first called home, said Bronwyn Sill, communications coordinator for the Libertyville-based library district.

 

The prominent 1878 home on Milwaukee Avenue was converted to a library at the wish of successful masonry contractor and politician Ansel B. Cook. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the home and park remain an attraction and center of community activities in the heart of downtown.

All year, the district has been celebrating the centennial with events, activities, a podcast episode, blog posts, an oldest library card contest and more.

Books had been available for local residents to borrow in one fashion or another for some time before the Cook home opened as a library. Most notable was a collection assembled by the Alpha Club, a prominent women's group, housed in a drugstore downtown and later village hall.

But community supporters felt more could be done.

In a will written in 1894, Cook made provisions for the property to become a park and memorial hall that would include a free public library upon the death of his wife, Emily Barrows Cook.

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Cook died in 1898. His wife, who was in full agreement with the bequest, continued to live in the home. The fact the property had been designated as a public library became public in 1903, but it wasn't until Emily Cook died in 1919 that the ball began rolling.

"The little book collection that started out first as a hopeful idea and then as a few shelves of books in a drugstore now had the promise of a permanent home," local history librarian Sonia Schoenfield wrote on her Shelf Life blog, in one of a series of entries written for the centennial celebration.

The only historical record of the day the library opened comes from library board minutes of Nov. 1, 1921, according to Sill.

Schoenfield's account indicates there was "surprisingly little fanfare in the press or even in the minutes of the library board."

According to those minutes, 768 books had circulated among 311 borrowers since the facility opened. As of last month, there were 44,808 active library cards, representing about 75% of the district's 60,000 residents. In the pre-pandemic year, 1.2 million materials were circulated.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

The library operated out of the mansion until 1969, when it moved into a new building connected to the old house.

That building has been expanded since. It became known as the Cook Park library with the opening of the Aspen Drive library branch in 2010. An expansion there was completed in 2019.

A tour of the Cook mansion was part of an event Oct. 17. Another centennial celebration is set for 2 to 4 p.m. Sunday at the Aspen Drive Library in Vernon Hills. The Cook house will not be open during that event.

The mansion is home to the Libertyville-Mundelein Historical Society's archives and Victorian museum. Open houses are held Sundays during the summer and the first two Saturdays in December.

For more about the centennial celebration, visit www.cooklib.org.

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