Monroe Historical Society board member Valeria Rae walks around the upstairs space, formerly the library, at the historical society’s downtown building Wednesday in Monroe. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

Monroe Historical Society board member Valeria Rae walks around the upstairs space, formerly the library, at the historical society’s downtown building Wednesday in Monroe. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

Historical society restores a piece of Monroe’s past

Monroe’s original library at the old City Hall will now house a community meeting room and museum exhibits.

MONROE — The first Monroe library brings back memories for many residents.

A summer reading program in second grade in 1962. Checking out a Joan Baez record in junior high school so many times it got scratchy. An escape from farm life in Snohomish County.

“My desire was to someday see Swiss Alps (from the book ‘Heidi’) and the English moors of ‘The Secret Garden,’” one woman recently wrote on the Monroe Historical Society’s Facebook page. “It seemed impossible then but was a thrill realized.”

The library operated between 1909 and 1966 on the second floor of the old City Hall. The building is now home to the Monroe Historical Society & Museum. The museum occupies the first floor, and had for many years rented the upstairs to a martial arts studio.

Today, the large room is vacant — but a renovated space could open to the public later this spring, featuring children’s educational exhibits and serving as a community meeting room. An open house was held Sunday.

“The room is so beautiful we wanted to restore it,” said Dottie Simoni, a board member with the Monroe Historical Society.

The Historical Society’s original plan was to use the room to store the museum’s artifacts. With the help of $40,000 in donations, the volunteer-run nonprofit began remodeling former library space for the public last fall.

About a dozen volunteers have helped scrape layers and layers of bright blue paint off the floors, patch holes in the walls and more. They added a fresh coat of paint and mahogany trim. Still to do: Replace the windows and staircase.

“Every time we did something, we found something else,” Simoni said.

The original flooring of the upstairs room at the Monroe Historical Society can be seen through layers of paint. The floor will be stripped and refinished to reveal the wooden boards. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

The original flooring of the upstairs room at the Monroe Historical Society can be seen through layers of paint. The floor will be stripped and refinished to reveal the wooden boards. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

Volunteers found calcimine — a painting product used in old buildings — that they had to scrape off with razor blades.

Simoni estimated she has put in 200 hours of work.

The group has hired local a business to restore the original fir floors. That should be the last step.

The goal is to complete the project by mid-April.

“I’m really happy with the way it turned out,” Simoni said. “I just want to preserve as much of it as we can. This has played a big part in Monroe’s history.”

The old City Hall housed the mayor’s office, volunteer fire department and jail, said Valeria Rae, president of the Monroe Historical Society. The library was upstairs.

The exterior of the Monroe Historical Society building. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

The exterior of the Monroe Historical Society building. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

The city library grew out of the efforts of local women to establish a library in Monroe around the turn of the century in 1900, according to a newspaper clip shared on the Historical Society’s Facebook page.

In 1906, the library was housed in a photography studio on Lewis Street and had 175 books, according to the group’s spring newsletter. The books were donated or purchased with proceeds from ice cream socials and baseball games.

The first librarian was Margaret Bascom, a teacher.

In 1909, the library moved to the upstairs of City Hall, built one year earlier. It contracted with Snohomish County Library, now the Sno-Isle Libraries regional network, in 1954. A new library was built in 1966, and the current one on Village Way opened in 2002.

“We want be true to our mission,” Rae said, “to preserve the history of Monroe to bring (the historic library) back to its original beautiful form.”

Jacqueline Allison: 425-339-3434; jacqueline.allison@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @jacq_allison.

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