Located in the county seat of Washington County, the Akron Public Library occupies a one-story brick building constructed in 1931 at the corner of Main Avenue and East Third Street (302 Main Ave, Arkon, CO 80720). The building grew out of more than fifteen years of efforts by local women’s groups to establish a library, expand its collection, and build a permanent home for it. Still an important community institution, the library now receives more than 9,000 visitors and circulates more than 10,000 items per year.
The Campaign for a Library
In 1915 Mrs. William McMurdo established Akron’s first library in the back of the town’s post office. Within a year, locals donated nearly 400 books to the young library’s collection. Soon Washington County started to pay Janette Shaffer $10 per month to serve as librarian. In 1921 Shaffer was succeeded by Bessie Marie Annable. The collection was still stored in the post office.
In the early 1920s, Akron’s women’s groups made a more concerted push for a permanent library building. On April 24, 1922, representatives from several local clubs gathered at Katherine Huey’s house to officially establish the Akron Library Association. With Leah Allen as their leader, the women acted quickly to raise money from local groups, and in March 1923 they elected a library board consisting of four women and three men.
Even as the campaign for a dedicated library building continued, the board sought a temporary library location that would be better than the back of the post office. In March 1924, Washington County allowed the library to use two rooms in the courthouse basement, while the Town of Akron contributed $300 for the librarian’s annual salary.
The growing library became a municipal institution in 1925, when Akron residents voted to establish a permanent library board and authorized a tax to support and maintain the library. By 1928 the tax had generated enough money for the library to buy an old building on Greeley Avenue (now Main Avenue), but the board soon decided that constructing a new building was a better option than renovating an existing one. After the local Masonic Lodge donated several empty lots at the northeast corner of what is now Main Avenue and East Third Street, the library sold its other property and held fundraisers to come up with enough money for a new building. The library’s efforts netted half of the $6,000 needed, and the estate of Guy Sylvester Ford loaned the rest.
Building the Library
Construction of the Akron Public Library started in the summer of 1931, with ground broken on June 8 and the cornerstone laid on July 9. Designed by local architect C. W. Barrett, the square, one-story building featured an eight-sided pavilion roof. Its main entrance projected from the southwest corner, facing the nearby intersection. The exterior walls were originally planned to be cream-colored brick, but during construction they were changed to rose-colored brick. Three large windows on each wall let plenty of light into the building.
The library was completed in the fall of 1931. On the evening of Friday October 30, locals were invited to enjoy tea and cake as they toured the new building. Inside, the walls were lined with bookshelves, while the floor space was taken up by white oak reading tables and the librarian’s desk. In a few corners, alcoves with arched entries provided reading nooks. An office occupied the building’s northeast corner, and a spiral staircase on the west side of the building led down to the basement, which included space for storage and meetings.
The building’s collection of 2,674 books opened for public use the following Monday afternoon. Residents could come for three hours in the afternoon to exchange books, and the building was also open for two hours later in the evening for reading only.
Serving the Community
The Akron Public Library’s first director was Bess Annable, who had already shepherded the collection for a decade and continued to serve until her death in 1960. She was followed by Lavinia Woods in the 1960s and Margaret Cooley in the 1970s and 1980s. Cooley successfully campaigned to add more shelves and books to the library, and she also started several new programs for children, including Story Hour and the Summer Reading Program, which are still offered today. Since 1987 Jan McCracken has served as library director. Under her leadership, the library added its first computers in 1995.
In 2001 the Akron Public Library was listed on the State Register of Historic Properties, and in the mid-2000s the library received nearly $120,000 from the State Historical Fund to rehabilitate and restore its building. Today the library remains the only public library in Washington County. It is open six days a week, allowing more than 900 registered borrowers to access a collection that contains about 7,500 books, CDs, DVDs, and other items.