Created: Wednesday, 13 April 2016 15:33
Flames still flicker in the fireplaces. Nineteenth-century oil paintings tell the story of Alton past. Gleaming display cases hold treasures borrowed from local collectors and from the library’s own cache. Visitors often ask if the library was originally a church. They’re awed to discover that the building has always been a library.
The Jennie D. Hayner Memorial Library opened 125 years ago, on May 21, 1891. Local businessman John E. Hayner funded construction of the library in honor of his late wife, Jennie. The library association hired Theodore Link, a highly respected St. Louis architect who designed St. Louis’s Union Station Railroad Depot, to design the building. Link also designed the First Presbyterian Church at the corner of Fourth and Alby and both the main building (after a fire destroyed the original buildings) and the Harriet Newell Haskell Memorial Gate at Monticello Seminary, now Lewis & Clark Community College in Godfrey.
The library’s architecture is known as Old English, Gothic style, with a vaulted ceiling and dog-tooth trimmings. The building materials are red brick, with Alton and Bedford stone over windows and entrances, and a basement of Alton limestone. Inside, the wood is oak and yellow pine. Fireplaces with oak mantels and iridescent blue and green tiles grace the turret room and the back wall of the main room.
In 1906 John Hayner’s grandson, John Haskell, announced he would provide funding to build an annex to the library building. The new annex was designed by U. S. Nixon and opened to the public in October of 1907. In 1970 the adult collection was moved out of this building and into the Belle Street building. The children’s collection remained in the Hayner building as the Hayner Children’s Library.
On May 21, 2011, the original Jennie D. Hayner Memorial Library building reopened as the Genealogy & Local History Library. Therefore, in addition to May 21, 2016, being the 125th anniversary of the building’s completion, it is also our five-year anniversary. People come from all over the United States to use our collection, and our staff has corresponded with researchers in other countries as well. We are extremely lucky to have such a beautiful building dedicated fully to genealogy and local history research.
In December of this year we will have a special holiday open house, and Genealogy & Local History Manager Lacy McDonald will give a presentation on the architecture and history of the building. In the meantime, check out the #HaynerGenealogyGems hashtag on The Hayner Public Library District Facebook page. We’re posting 125 gems of the Genealogy & Local History Library throughout the year, one every few days. The gems will also be posted on the History at Hayner blog http://www.haynerlibrary.org/history-at-hayner-blog.
The Genealogy & Local History audio tour, available any time the library is open, is also a great way to learn more about the library’s history in Alton, the building, the Hayner and Haskell families, architect Theodore Link, and our significant artwork.