Williams Free Library
The Williams Free Library is a public building in Beaver Dam, Wisconsin. It was the first public library in the United States to have open stacks. While the building is no longer used as a library, its Richardsonian Romanesque design remains one of the city's architectural gems.


The library began as the Beaver Dam Free City Library, housed in a room in City Hall at its creation in 1884. In April 1890, John J. Williams, a wealthy local businessman, offered the library's board of directors $25,000 to construct a new building if, in exchange, the city would pay for the land. The Common Council agreed on April 15, 1890 to purchase a lot belonging to W.H. and T.D. Lawrence at Park Avenue and Spring Street, as well as an adjacent lot owned by Joseph Wagner on Park, for $12,200.

Plans were completed by Walter Holbrook of Edward Townsend Mix & Co. of Milwaukee, Wisconsin in May 1890. The library's design was inspired by Henry Hobson Richardson. Construction began in July, with lot preparations completed by August. On August 26, Mayor E. Elwell declared a half-holiday for the cornerstone laying ceremony, which was executed by the local Masons. Collection of the required sandstone and limestone slowed construction, but work was completed in July 1891, with the building's dedication held on July 15, 1891. Thousands were in attendance, as it was held in conjunction with Beaver Dam's semi-centennial celebration. The doors of the library opened on September 1, 1891, with Mary J. Doolittle as its innagural librarian. Its initial holdings were made up of 4,500 volumes.

As the collection and city grew, the library outgrew the Williams building. The city built a new library incorporating the Williams Free Library, and opened the new Beaver Dam Community Library in March of 1984.

Dodge County Historical Society and Museum
The historic structure that formerly housed the library holdings is now rented for $1 per year to the Dodge County Historical Society and houses its museum.

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