Leach Public Library
In 1966, Congress passed the National Historic Preservation Act to help preserve the diverse archaeological and architectural treasures of America. One example is the Leach Public Library in Wahpeton.
In the early years of the 1900s, only a half-dozen North Dakota cities had secured funding from the Andrew Carnegie Foundation to help construct a library. Consequently, early libraries were mainly located in schools, and there were few books available to the general public. The North Dakota Federation of Women’s Clubs worked to encourage communities to establish libraries or county library associations, and on this date in 1920, the citizens of Wahpeton were delighted that construction on a new library would commence in the spring. Orrin and Cora Leach had offered twenty-five thousand dollars to build the structure. The city was to supply the land and levy a tax to provide for staff, books and maintenance.
Orrin Leach had first come to Fargo from Vermont in 1889 and learned a trade in the retail business. Later he moved to Argusville and then to Wahpeton in 1896. There, in partnership with Edward R. Gamble, he formed a wholesale grocery and fruit business. He added a number of other businesses to his holdings, including a bank. He prospered and became very active in community affairs. He even served as mayor of Wahpeton from 1920 to 1924.
The Leach Public Library was completed in 1923 on a scale and shape similar to the Classic style of the smaller Carnegie libraries from the earlier decade. Originally the design by the architectural firm of Keith and Kurke of Fargo called for a grand portico held up by four ornate pillars on a marble staircase. As expenses mounted, these features were stripped from the plans. The new look, comprising a Neo-classical model with its gray brick veneer, little ornamentation and a ground level basement surrounded by a raised terrace, imparted a stoic, monolithic presence. Two, large arched windows were placed on each side of the main entryway, which was now mounted flush with the surrounding façade. A column on each side of the double door helped frame the entry, and the building was topped with a hipped roof. Inside, an open interior came complete with shelving. When additional funding was required, Orrin and Cora Leach stepped forward to complete their legacy.
With the words, “Free to All” etched above its door, the Leach Public Library continues to serve the people of Wahpeton.
Dakota Datebook by Jim Davis
National Register of Historic Places-North Dakota, Leach Public Library- January 26, 1990
Richland County Farmer, January 15, 1920
History of North Dakota, by Lewis F. Crawford American Historical Society, New York 1931