Fort Bragg’s Library History

The Kelley House Museum has been researching the growth and development of library services on the Mendocino Coast. This week the city of Fort Bragg gets the attention.

An early view of the 1913 Fort Bragg Library on Main Street near Laurel Avenue. The building to the right was the Fort Bragg Commercial Bank, and is today’s “Town Hall.” (Courtesy Fort Bragg-Mendocino Coast Historical Society)

As mentioned in previous segments of this series, “reading rooms” played a big part in the founding of libraries. Fraternal organizations often had such informal libraries as part of their meeting locations. In 1890 the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union sponsored a reading room in the White House Hotel at 135 N. Franklin, which later burned down in the 1906 Earthquake. 

In 1910 the Union Lumber Company (ULC) had a library in their boarding house and the city set aside tax money towards a library. That same year two rooms in the Jefferson building (now the Headlands Coffee House) consolidated the existing reading rooms into one location. In 1911 ULC offered a building lot next to the Fort Bragg Commercial Bank (now Town Hall) on Main near Laurel street, and by 1913 the city had a library. 

The $2,500 wooden structure was 35’ x 55’ with a mezzanine measuring 14’ x 35.’ The interior was paneled in waxed redwood. Seven plate glass windows and ten transoms provided excellent lighting. Power and steam heat were brought over from the ULC mill. Mrs. F. Roberts was the Librarian. 

The community loved it and by 1923 it had close to 6,000 books. Initially open from 2 pm until 5 pm and 7 pm until 9 pm (closed Sundays and holidays), over the years its hours of service and its book collection grew.

A push for a full county library system with shared resources was under way in the 1960s, as Mendocino County was one of only six counties in the state not providing free library services to its citizens. After a bookmobile demonstration project out of Ukiah was a big hit, voters approved the county library idea and Fort Bragg joined it in 1966.

A Friends of the Library group formed in 1974 and this group’s dedication has carried the library through times of thick and thin and arson fire. Proposition 13 in 1978 caused drastic reductions in service and Friends helped fund the Library. In 1987 this beautiful old library burned to the ground in an arson fire. The firebug was never caught.

Then in 1988 an old funeral home on Laurel and Whipple was purchased and remodeled to be the new library and the donated library book collection was installed. Funding for libraries was a constant battle as every county service was begging for a limited amount of tax dollars. While the creation of a special tax district helped stabilize county library funding, it was the Friends, who had been wisely investing years of accumulated funds, that gave extra support. 

In 2006 the library collection moved across the street for a year to the Veterans Memorial Building while the library building was seriously remodeled. The Friends contributed $470,000 of the $520,000 needed for the remodeling job.

Fast forward 14 years and again the library is outgrowing its space. It was the first library in the county to offer internet access in 1996 and it needs more computer space, bookshelf space and meeting space. The building lot directly behind the north wall of the library has been purchased and plans are in the works to build new space for the ever-growing library.

For more information on this community treasure and the 14 librarians who ran the library, go to https:/