History of the Southgate Public Library
In the early half of the 1900s, Wayne County was undergoing a time of unprecedented growth, and with growing population comes the need for new libraries. The lower portion of what was then Ecorse Township started hoping for one of their own in February of 1951. Just a handful of months later on July 16th, 1951, the North Line Branch of the Wayne County Library system was established at 13703 Northline Rd.
It was a modest building, only 40 by 60 feet and housed just 3,500 books. Mrs. Alice Stumpmier was the very first librarian and Jean Baron was the first library patron to check out a book there. It truly was cutting-edge for its time, making a note to boast that, “The library will be distinguished by a type of convenient book shelving found in no other public library in the country. All books will be within easy sight and reach.” (Mellus Newspaper, July 4, 1951). But a scant three years after it opened, the library was already experiencing growing pains. Their two modest parking spots weren’t enough anymore, and neither was the 2,400 square feet.
By 1956, talk of a new library building was underway and one of the first proposed areas was at Eureka and Dix - Toledo by the McCann school. Not long after this, in early October of 1958, Southgate was the twenty second city incorporated into Wayne County. Following on its heels on October 24, 1958 the library sent out a memo to the Wayne County Library system regarding its new name change. The Southgate Public Library was established.
Unfortunately, as the years went by there wasn’t much headway on upgrading the library facilities. Notice after notice went out for a new building, and the existing structure continued to get more and more cramped, and was slowly deteriorating. In 1959, the Library Commission and mayor Walter Berklich were championing the land at Homer Howard Park as a potential new location, but in February of 1960, the city of Southgate was in the final process of acquiring lots on Trenton and Superior Roads. Correspondence with Thomas J. Anderson, the mayor at the time, said “it looks as though we are pretty well locked in with that portion of the property we hope some day to put our Library on.”
The site for the new library building was hotly contested between Homer Howard Park and Cobb Park. At the last moment, a dark horse suggestion cropped up, saying that the location on Superior and Burns ought to be considered. Ultimately, the fear of losing a large federal grant was the deciding factor that cemented the plans to put the new Southgate Public Library at 14680 Dix - Toledo in 1965. That same year in October, Mayor Robert C. Reaume presided over the groundbreaking ceremony, taking the first shovelful of dirt for the new library.
On April 11, 1966 the new Southgate library building opened its doors to the public to the tune of $210,000. It more than quadrupled its square footage, now at 10,290, and had twelve times the volumes of books and materials. It also featured a large meeting room (now the staff workroom) and a kitchenette.
November 11, 1984 was a very auspicious day, as our library was formally renamed the Southgate Veterans Memorial Library. It was officially dedicated in a short ceremony, lasting only fifteen minutes. Current mayor James Kandrevas, along with prior mayors Thomas Anderson, Walter Berklich, and Robert Reaume, were there as the paper was removed to reveal the new nameplate on the building’s façade.
In November 1994, the gracious residents of Southgate voted to approve a $1.6 million bond for renovations and expansions to the library. A short stint later and after thirteen months of construction, the Southgate Veterans Memorial Library opened its doors for the March 15, 1997 dedication and open house ceremony. The additions doubled the library’s footprint to 21,000 square feet and included two large meeting rooms, a computer room, five study rooms, the children’s storytime and craft rooms, the front reading room, a kitchen for library staff, and extra space for the expansion of the collection. Also during this time extra funds purchased material acquisitions and a new wave of books, audiobooks, videos, and CDs were added. During most of the construction the library remained open, continuing to serve its community.
This brings us to the library we know and love; its present iteration. Aside from glowing with a fresh coat of sparkling white paint, being adorned with brand new carpeting, and the addition of an outside patio this past fall, we haven’t changed too much from the prior renovation. But its history lingers. You can still feel the line of demarcation denoting where the old building ended underneath your feet as you walk into the expansions. You can catch the occasional volume that still is proudly stamped with our Northline address. And you can always smell that glorious old vintage scent from our library’s oldest veterans, our books.
Library Director - Don Priest
Adult Librarian - Barbara Keresztury