Then and Now: A Short History... A Closer Look ... at the Importance of Keeping our Library Downtown

Historically, in small or large communities, the main public library building is located in the major downtown of the community. Since 1906, this fact has also been true for the Marengo community.

Back then, fostered and encouraged by the Marengo Woman’s Club, the public library was officially established by city ordinance in 1907 following a bequest in 1906 of approximately 1,000 books from the private library of Mrs. M. J. Harrington. This was followed in 1912 by a gift of $4,000 from the A. A. Ryder estate. Then in 1925, coordinated through Dr. Alice Mijanovich’s paternal grandmother, Mrs. H. G. Otis, Robert Strahorn gifted the City of Marengo with the Strahorn Memorial Library building. The building was located at 118 E. Washington Street, in memory of Robert Strahom’s wife, Marengo childhood native, Carrie Adell Green Strahorn. The Strahorn Memorial Library was built by Marengo’s own renown builder, Andrew Lindquist, for a cost of $32,000. Completely furnished for another approximate $3,000, it became the pride of Marengo, not only as a memorial to “Dell” Green Strahorn, but to the proud traditions of Marengo’s citizens, their vibrant investment in their downtown, their role in McHenry County and state government. This downtown Memorial Library served the needs of the community for over 60 years. Today, this magnificent building at 118 E. Washington Street, is owned by the Northern Illinois Railroad Museum and used as their library.

Now, there is an effort by the elected library board (with the exception of two members, Julie LaGue and Peggy Stromberg), to relocate our library to the far eastern edge of Marengo, to a truly insignificant industrial building. Reasons given at a January 17 public hearing were a need for additional space and a location closer to Union taxpayers. As a result, all residents of Marengo and Union will now have to drive to their library. Gone is the safety factor of sidewalks, street lighting, access from residential streets, a traffic signal, pedestrian crosswalk signs, and walking access to local businesses. While our schools all have excellent libraries, our “public library,” a major downtown source of enjoyment for young and old alike, taxpayer and renter, will be gone.

Our elected and appointed officials involved in facilitating this library relocation effort, have requirements they must follow, including the “finding of fact” associated with the necessary zoning reclassification request of the library board for the East Grant building, (including, especially, that the location in question must not negatively affect the “safety, welfare or health” of the community). The fact is that there is no easy, safe, or economical manner to access this relocation site for those benefitting most from the services of our public library. Further, this relocation does not follow the Comprehensive Land Use Plan which was created just six years ago with direct input from the city council, the planning & zoning commission and the library district.

In a three-week’s period prior to January 17, over 700 residents signed petitions against this relocation of our public library from downtown Marengo. This relocation proposal should have gone to a community advisory committee at the very least; or at the most, an advisory referendum in the April elections. Why was the library board not willing to actively pursue public input prior to entering into a $1,250,000 contract to purchase a truly, industrial building, far removed from the population center of our community?

(The above article is a submitted article and does not reflect the opinion of The Marengo-Union Times).