Jacksonville Public Library's History

Thursday, September 26, 2019


For over 100 years, the Jacksonville Public Library has been serving the community by providing information and enlightenment to all. It's changed drastically since its conception, so here are some interesting facts you may not know about the library's history:

1. Jacksonville's public library history actually began in 1878. "The Jacksonville Library and Literary Association" was formed on January 22, 1878. Misses Florence Murphy and May Moore are generally credited with this achievement. A series of events designed to raise money were staged so Jacksonville could have a public reading room. The necessary funds were soon raised by using the proceeds from a series of moonlight excursions, concerts, and plays. Jacksonville's first free public reading room was opened in the old Astor Building on the southeast corner of Bay and Hogan Streets during the winter of 1878-79. 

2. Andrew Carnegie donated the first official library building. Less than one year after the Great Fire of 1901, the local Library Association approached Andrew Carnegie for a donation to build a new library. Mr. Carnegie announced that he would donate $50,000 for a library building if the City of Jacksonville would provide the site and appropraite not less than $5,000 annually for library support.

Your Public Library, 50 years of service

3. Jacksonville Free Public Library was designed by architect Henry John Klutho. In 1902, City Council called for a primary election so the public could vote on levying a tax for the library and on accepting the Carnegie donation. Results of the primary were close with 640 votes in favor of acceptance and 625 against. The Library Association bought an 80 x 85 foot lot on the northeast corner of Adams and Ocean Streets for the library site. In 1903, City Council created a Public Library Board, and ground was broken for the new building. On June 1, 1905, Jacksonville Free Public Library, first tax supported library in the state, opened with George B. Utley as librarian. Designed by architect Henry John Klutho in the Neo-Classic Revival style, the library was two stories tall, made of limestone and copper. Its design was Greek Ionic, typical of Carnegie libraries, and featured four columns on the facade. It has been described as nearly fireproof, with wood only in the floors, doors and sash.The book collection consisted of 6,600 volumed and 50 periodicals.

Opening of the Jacksonville Free Public Library

4. By the 1950s, Jacksonville outgrew the first Main Library. The Carnegie library was housing over 200,000 volumes, and every available bit of space was crowded. In 1958, John Hall, then librarian of New Orleans Public Library, did a report on the Jacksonville Public Library. Jacobs' conclusion was that the number one need was for a new main library. In 1960, city administraion approved the site for the old City Hall on Ocean Street as the location of the new building with an added 60 feet of property formerly occupied by the Windle Hotel.

Haydon Burns Library Proposal

5. The Haydon Burns library was named after Mayor Haydon Burns, the longest standing mayor in Jacksonville. On April 3, 1962, a special bond issue for $3,900,000 for new main library and relocation of the Wilder Park Branch went to the polls. The bond issue was passed with 6,650 voting for and 2,982 against. On March 18, 1964, ground was broken for the new main library and on  November, 29, 1965 the Haydon Burns Public Library opened at 122 North Ocean Street. The Main Library was named after Haydon Burns, former Mayor of Jacksonville (1949-1965) and Governor of Florida (1965-67).

Haydon Burns Library Groundbreaking Invitation


6. In September 2000, Former Mayor John Delaney introduced the Better Jacksonville Plan including a new Main Library, six new branches, and the remodeling of old branches. On November 12, 2005, the new Main Library opened to the public. The opening is a historic event for the library system and the City of Jacksonville. It marks the completion of an unprecedented period of growth for the system under the Better Jacksonville Plan. It adds to the city's architectural and cultural landscape and provides a wonderful gathering place downtown for the entire community. The new Main Library offers specialized reading rooms, public access to hundreds of computers and extensive collection of books and other materials.The Main Library remains the centerpiece for a library system which has developed and grown dramatically for over a century. 

BJP Main Library Drawing

7. The owl on the exterior of the Main Library's name is "Wisdom." Wisdom is a 20-foot tall bronze sculpture of an owl perched atop a stack of books with a gilded key above it. It's located at the southwest corner of the building's facade. Washington D.C artist Larry Kirkland created the scultpure and it was the new main library's first public art installation in 2005.

Owl sculpture drawing

8. Willowbranch isn't actually the oldest branch library, just the oldest existing branch library. The Wilder Park Library opened at Lee and Third Streets on November 14, 1927, and the Springfield Branch Library opened at 2010 Silver Street on January 2, 1930. Jacksonville also began its first bookmobile service in Florida on October 20, 1928.

Chronology of Branch libraries

All materials featured in the blog are housed in the Special Collections department at the Main Library. For the full outline of the Jacksonville Public Library's history, click here.


Get a Library Card

Jacksonville Public Library card

Want the book hook up?

Image representing the Book Hook Up newsletter sign up at the Jacksonville Public Library

Sign up to get the hottest titles in your favorite genres sent right to your inbox each month