“The most artistic building in our city, and a jewel added to its crown” is how the State Normal School President, Albert Salisbury, described the White Memorial Library at its dedication on June 17, 1904. This year commemorates the 100th anniversary of Whitewater’s acceptance of a building so generously given by Mary Flavia White, who bequeathed $17,000 to the city for a public library building to be erected in memory of the White family and especially her father, the Honorable Samuel Austin White.
Judge S.A. White loved Whitewater and was a very influential man who had been appointed Regent of Normal Schools in 1865. He was undoubtedly the key person responsible for Whitewater becoming in the late 1860s the site of Wisconsin’s second State Normal School, now called UW-Whitewater. He and his wife Mary had seven children, one of them being Mary Flavia and another Katherine L., who so faithfully carried out the provisions of Mary Flavia’s will, making sure the library would be in a good location and that it would be public and free.
Since the late 1850s, Whitewater residents had enjoyed library programs and some books provided through the Whitewater Library Association, later named the Whitewater Lyceum. The library collection of materials gradually grew and was housed in various places over the years, including the old City Hall that was located at the corner of Center and Whitewater Street. When Mary Flavia White resided in Paris, France, she prepared her will, and made provision for a library building to educate and benefit the people of Whitewater, the hometown of her youth.
In 1902 the White Memorial Library Association incorporated to receive the $17,000 bequest of Mary Flavia White. The bequest was comprised of cash, securities and land. After a library was built, any excess funds were to be invested, and the income from that trust was to be used in “the support, repair and maintenance of the building and site.”
The library was built on a lot purchased from Mr. and Mrs. Clarence J. Partridge, located at what is now 402 W. Main Street. It was erected under the design and supervision of Madison architects Louis W. Claude and Edward F. Starck, who designed a number of classical revival style libraries in Wisconsin during the early 1900s.
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