Free Public Library, St. Joseph, Missouri

Free Public Library, St. Joseph Missouri, Pre-1915 Library Card No. 2643 issued to Orta Gabbert

Free Public Library, St. Joseph Missouri,
Pre-1915 Free Library Card No. 2643 (front)
Free Public Library, St. Joseph Missouri,
Pre-1915 Free Library Card No. 2643 (back)

Free Public Library, St. Joseph, Missouri

The Free Public Library of St. Joseph had its beginning as a membership library on the 2nd Floor of the Samuels Building at Sixth and Charles Streets.  The space was offered free of charge by Mr. Warren Samuels if money  could be raised for the books.  After a campaign led by Mrs. John S. Lemon, which raised $3000 through the sale of lifetime memberships at $50 each, the library opened on November 8, 1887.  The library inventory held over 3,200 books in its first year of operation.  In 1890, public interest in a free library grew and by 1900, construction on a new building began.  In the meantime, having outgrown the Samuels Building space, the library relocated to Tenth and Sylvanie Streets.  On February 9, 1891, with an inventory of over 5,500 volumes, the Public Reading room opened, followed by the opening of the Circulation Department on March 16, 1891. The library remained at the Tenth and Sylvanie Streets location until March 13, 1902, when the new Carnegie library building opened at Tenth and Felix Streets.  Designed by Edmund Jacques Eckle, the French Baroque style building features terrazzo flooring in the foyer, a glass-floored balcony, and a stained glass dome.  The building was added to the National Register of Historic Places on September 20, 1982.

Free Public Library at Tenth & Felix Streets  built in 1902
(Photo: Edmund Jacques Eckle, Courtesy of United States Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division (no know copyright restrictions) 

Edmund Jacques Eckle

Edmond Jacques Eckel (1845-1934), was a French architect trained at the Ecole des Beaux Arts. He settled in St. Joseph, Missouri around 1870 and established the architectural firm of Eckel & Meier.  Other significant projects include. the German-American Bank Building (now Mosaic), the Corby Building (the tallest building in St. Joseph), the Paxton Hotel in Omaha, Nebraska, and the Courthouse and “Squirrel Cage” Jail in Council Bluffs, Iowa.

Orta Gabbert

Orta Allen Gabbert Conner (1901-1966), was a Missouri native.

Missouri Penitentiary Library, Jefferson City, Missouri

Early 1900’s Missouri Penitentiary Library Card

Early 1900’s Missouri Penitentiary Library Card (front)
Early 1900’s Missouri Penitentiary Library Card (back)

Missouri Penitentiary Library

Missouri Penitentiary, Jefferson City, Missouri (Public Domain, Pre-1923 postcard)

Called the “Bloodiest 47 acres in America,” the Missouri Penitentiary in Jefferson City opened in 1836.  It was Missouri’s primary maximum security prison and the oldest operating penal facility west of the Mississippi River when it closed in 2004.  

Inmate mugshot, Thomas J. Barker (Inmate Photograph Collection, Missouri State Archives, no known copyright restrictions)

Library Rules

  1. Write on Library Card at least twenty numbers precisely as they appear in catalogue.  For example:  4-25, 29-30, 37-9, 54-5 denotes that there are several copies of the same book in library.
  2. In moving, each man must take all books charged to him to new cell. 
  3. Each cell will be furnished with a catalogue.
  4. Each man will be charged and held responsible for all books received.  Changing books from cell to cell is forbidden.
  5. Each man is entitled to one book each week
  6. The librarians will note any injury done to books and report the same at once to the chaplain.  The man to whom the book is charged will be held responsible.
  7. Books will be changed once each week, as follows:





  1. Mechanical and special books from No. 5816 to No. 5950 are issued to those only whose positions in the institution make it necessary.
  2. Reference books from No. 5951 to No. 6083 do not go out of library except by special permission.
  3. Each man will be furnished with a Bible and such school supplies as may be necessary on application.
  4. The library is under the control of the Chaplain.

W. R. Painter

From the 1917 Mexico Weekly Ledger, Mexico, MO

William Rock Painter (1874-1947) served as Prison Chaplain and Librarian from 1901 to 1908.  He served as Missouri State Lieutenant-Governor from 1913 to 1917, and Interim Warden of the penitentiary in 1917.  As Warden, he advocated education to combat illiteracy and abolished “silent meals” in the cafeteria, believing that silent meals should only be used as punishment and not a rule of behavior for inmates.  Painter went on to become a leader in the Democratic Party in the Missouri State Senate serving from 1917 to 1929.

Hugh Stephens

Hugh Stephens (1877-1960) was an American businessman, heir to the Tribune Printing Company and publisher of the Daily Tribune. His wife, Bessie Miller Stephens, along with members of the Tuesday Club, a literary club founded in 1895, helped establish a subscription library in Jefferson City, and later, with the help of a grant from the Andrew Carnegie fund, a free library.