Turning the pages of history

A downtown Marshall building is celebrating 50 years of history with the Marshall-Lyon County Library and the Lyon County Museum

Photo by Deb Gau The Lyon County Museum, formerly the Marshall-Lyon County Library, was built in 1967. The building’s distinctive design was an example of modernist-style architecture, according to descriptions from around the time of construction.


There’s been a half-century’s worth of events and changes at the corner of Lyon and 3rd Street. But the former Marshall-Lyon County Library building has stood through it all, from its construction in 1967 to its renovation as the Lyon County Museum.

Area community members will be marking the building’s 50th anniversary with an open house event in October.

The idea to commemorate the former library’s 50th anniversary grew out of research done to evaluate the building for possible inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places. One of the requirements for historic status was that the building had to be at least 50 years old, said museum director Jennifer Andries. While the museum isn’t currently pursuing a National Register application, Andries said, the museum and the Marshall-Lyon County Library are using what they’ve learned to organize the 50th anniversary event.

Marshall’s first library building was one of many around the country funded by industrialist Andrew Carnegie. In 1903, Marshall was granted $10,000 to construct a library. But by the 1960s, plans were being made to replace the Carnegie building with a larger, more modern one. The Carnegie library was razed, and a new two-story building was constructed on the same property in 1967. It cost about $300,000 to build the 1967 library, Andries said.

During the transition from the Carnegie building to the new building, about 30,000 books were moved to temporary headquarters on East College Drive. Local newspaper articles from 1966 encouraged each library patron to check out 10 or more books to help with the move.

News reports of the time said construction of the library building wasn’t without hiccups. In one from July 1966, the Marshall Messenger newspaper said heavy rains left a foot of water and mud in the area dug for the library foundations. The “swimming hole” had to be pumped out, the article said.

Margaret Bosshardt, a past director the Marshall-Lyon County Library who served for 30 years, said that wasn’t the only time in its history that the 1967 building had water problems.

“We had a sump pump in the elevator shaft,” Bosshardt said.

The new library officially opened in May 1967. The building had a distinctive look that George Hynes described in a July 1966 column in the Marshall Messenger.

“The exterior will have a variety of color and design with columns and windows off-set by brick and redwood paneling,” Hynes wrote. “This with a special roof design will add much to a modernistic appearance.”

The May 14, 1967, edition of the Marshall Messenger reported that the new library had a total area of 20,250 square feet, and offered items like books, newspapers, record and film collections, and typewriters available for use in the library.

Other services offered through the 1967 building over its history included programs to reach rural library patrons, like the bookmobile which used the garage adjoining the library.

“There used to be a program called Mail A Book,” which delivered library materials by mail, said MLCL Administrative Manager LuAnn Anderson. The program didn’t last long, largely because of postage costs, she said.

From the time the 1967 building opened, the children’s department of the library was located on the second floor. But the department did see some changes over time, said MLCL Children’s Librarian Mary Beth Sinclair.

“When they first started, the children’s department had different hours than the rest of the library,” Sinclair said.

The technology used by libraries has also changed a lot over the past 50 years, and the Marshall-Lyon County Library was no exception to the trend. As computers became more commonplace, they started replacing physical checkout systems, card catalogs and some printed reference materials. Checking books in and out of the library used to involve lots of little cards instead of computers, Anderson said.

Maintaining the library’s card catalog, which patrons used to search for books, was another big job, Bosshardt said.

“That was a lot of work,” she said. “I had to bring in volunteers to file cards in there.”

Bosshardt said she also remembered making regular weekend visits to the library, to pick up books from the book return slot.

“I remember when the reference room got changed over to computers,” said MLCL Public Services Manager Paula Nemes. At the time, it was a big change. Today, public access computers are an important resource at the Marshall-Lyon County Library.

The library building had a variety of community organizations in the 1967 building over the years, as well. Bosshardt said Southwest Minnesota State University used part of the library’s upper floor for office space while the university library was being established.

“That was interesting, that the two sort of dovetailed,” Bosshardt said.

When the 1967 library opened, the basement level was home to local senior citizen programs. In more recent years, the basement level was the location for Friends of the Library book sales, and for Marshall’s Studio 1 television.

The Marshall-Lyon County Library operated out of the downtown building for more than 40 years, until moving into its current building at the corner of Saratoga and C streets in 2011. Today, the downtown building is owned by Lyon County and is the site of the Lyon County Museum. While renovations to make room for museum exhibits have changed the appearance of the building, the floor plan is still similar to the library’s.

Through the years, MLCL employees said, the local library has stayed a busy part of the Marshall area.

“The library was very important to the community,” Bosshardt said.

An open house celebrating the 1967 library’s 50th anniversary will be held at the current Lyon County Museum on Oct. 26, Nemes said. The program will include live music and a short performance by the Marshall Area Stage Company.

Andries said visitors will also have a chance to look into the building’s past.

“We’ll have photographs blown up to show people what the building used to look like when it was a library,” she said.