The Hayner Public Library District
The Hayner Public Library District began as the Alton Library Association and was started in 1852. Originally, the library was a privately owned and funded entity. Falling apart due to debt, the library was auctioned off in 1866 to a group of "concerned ladies" from Alton who collaborated to pay off the library's $165 debt and buy an additional $300 worth of books for its collection. The women organized for a room of the old Alton City Hall to be set aside for library use and coordinated lectures, dramas, concerts, suppers, fairs, and more to help educate the City of Alton and fund the archive. Famous lecturers like Horace Greeley, George Alfred Townsend, and Ralph Waldo Emerson spoke publicly in support of the library.
By 1888, it was clear the library needed more space to grow and, after the death of Jennie D. Hayner, Director of the Library Association, husband, John E. Hayner, purchased a lot on State Street and 4th on which to construct a suitable building. Theodore C. Link, the renowned architect who designed St. Louis' Union Station Railroad Depot, designed the new library which was named in honor of Jennie D. Hayner and finished in 1891.
In the spring of 1901, Andrew Carnegie offered to build a Carnegie Library for the City of Alton; the offer was respectfully refused on grounds that the new Carnegie library would charge a tax on all citizens and the Alton Library was meant to be free to all Altonians. This made the Alton Library the only free library in the country!
Facing higher maintenance costs, the library was purchased by the City of Alton in 1952 to absorb the library's costs and operations. In 1972, voters approved a referendum establishing The Hayner Public Library District, allowing the library to be run by its own governing board. The district includes the Downtown Library at 326 Belle Street, the Genealogy and Local History Library located in the original building, and the Alton Square Library.
The Genealogy and Local History Library contains many resources for genealogical research efforts including a digitized local newspaper collection, Alton Telegraph archives dating back to 1836 and connections to national and international archives. The lobby of the library contains an original piece of abolitionist Elijah P. Lovejoy's printing press. The yoke of the press, pulled from the Mississippi after an angry mob murdered Lovejoy and tossed the press into the river in November of 1837, is made of black iron and weighs half a ton. The library holds the piece in honor of Lovejoy, his sacrifice, and as a testament to the free press.