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Finer Things in Life


Many of the tales told about the early days of western North Dakota are about the rough and tumble men, and occasionally women, of the west. Cowboys and cattlemen, rustlers and outlaws. But not everyone from that era was of that nature. A letter to the editor from a 1908 early spring edition of the Dickinson Press indicates that some folks were concerned with culture and some of the finer things of life still missing in these young pioneer towns. The letter is headlined "200 Years Ago" and begins thusly. "The Press: As Dickinson is now interested in securing a public library, the citizens of this burg may be interested in reading an extract from the diary of John Evelyn who lived in London over 200 years ago. While a library would not be of much value in keeping our preachers straight, they are pretty good anyhow, yet the principle of the thing holds now as well as then. The extract is taken verbatim."

The writer of the letter to the editor (again, written in 1908) then quotes directly form the diary of the Londoner, John Evelyn, written in 1684. "Dr. Tenison communicated to me his intention of erecting a Library in St. Martin's parish, for the publiq use, and desir'd my assistance with Sir Christopher Wren (one of England's most famous and highly regarded architects of all time) about the placing and structure thereof. A worthy and laudable designe. He told me there were 30 or 40 young men in Orders in his parish, either Governors to young gentlemen or Chaplains to noblemen, who being reprov'd by him on occasion for frequenting taverns or coffee houses, told him they would study or employ their time better if they had books. This put the pious Doctor on this designe; and indeed a great reproach it is that so great a City as London should not have a publiq Library becoming it."

Now back to the author of the 1908 letter to the editor of the Dickinson Press who writes, "Unfortunately we have no Wren as architect but we are lucky to have a Carnegie ready with money and Dickinson will certainly not let the opportunity slip by."

Well, the movement to get a library built worked. The city got a $12,500 dollar gift from the Carnegie Foundation and the original Dickinson Public Library opened for circulation on Monday January 3rd, 1910. The current modern library has two entrances, including its historic entrance at 139 3rd Street West, which includes the original cast stone steps, cast stone lettering above the door designating the date of construction as 1908, and the original "Public Library" sign.

Dakota Datebook written by Merrill Piepkorn

Sources: April 4th, 1908 Dickinson Press

Dickinson Public Library website: www.dickinsonlibrary.org