In 1942 members of the North Bend Study Club began discussing their town's need for a public library. They decided to make use of a 1941 state law authorizing municipal governments to contract with larger library systems to operate a library. Fundraising was a struggle during World War II, forcing the all-volunteer effort to expand beyond the club's membership. By March 1946 enough funds had been raised to go forward, and library supporters persuaded the North Bend City Council to contract with the recently formed King County Library System (KCLS) to provide library services. The library's first two locations were tucked into spaces in existing buildings. In 1958 a new library building was opened on donated land, built with donated labor and materials. The library expanded into an adjacent building in 1979. In 1988 city voters agreed that the North Bend Library should be annexed to KCLS. The advantages were almost immediate. The existing library was renovated in 1991 and ground was broken for an entirely new facility in 1993. This opened in 1994 as the largest library in the Snoqualmie Valley.
Early History of North Bend
The city of North Bend sits almost in the geographic middle of King County on fertile land in the upper Snoqualmie Valley, part of the ancestral homeland of the Snoqualmie Tribe. Long before non-Natives usurped Indian lands, centuries-old trails passed through the valley and across the Cascade Range, used for trade and cultural exchange between Puget Sound tribes and the tribes of the Yakima region and Eastern Washington.
The Snoqualmie presence in the area was virtually undisturbed until the mid-1800s, when the first explorers and new settlers began to move east from Puget Sound country. In 1855 Snoqualmie Chief Patkanim (ca. 1808-1858) signed the Treaty of Point Elliott. The Snoqualmie Tribe received no reservation of its own, and most remaining members moved from the valley to the Tulalip Reservation. The Tribe lost federal recognition in 1953, but regained it in 1999 and built the Snoqualmie Casino, which financially supports services and resources for Tribe members and the local community.
In 1858 the first non-Native settlers began taking up residence in the Snoqualmie Valley. A few years later, Joseph (1837-1922) and Lucinda (1838-1886) Fares became the first settlers to reside near the site that became North Bend. Josiah Merritt (d. 1882), later known to everyone as Uncle Si, arrived in 1862 and claimed land at the foot of a massive, towering mountain, later named Mount Si in his honor.
In 1889 the Seattle, Lakeshore & Eastern Railroad was under construction eastward from Seattle, its builders planning to meet up with other lines coming over the Cascade passes. William H. Taylor (1853-1941) predicted that the railroad would need a station at the approximate site of today's North Bend on land then owned by Taylor and his wife, Mary. On February 16, 1889, the couple filed a plat with "streets and lots and named the newly born townsite 'Snoqualmie.' ... He also donated the railroad right-of-way to the rail company." ("North Bend -- Thumbnail History"). When the first train arrived that summer it was greeted by a community picnic, and soon the newly platted town began to grow.
To the northwest of Taylor's Snoqualmie was a larger town that had been named Snoqualmie Falls. The railroads found this overly confusing and exerted pressure on Taylor to change the name of his town to North Bend, since the South and Middle forks of the Snoqualmie River make big northward bends near the site. He reluctantly agreed (preferring the name "Mountain View") and it has remained North Bend ever since.
North Bend grew slowly, but by 1909 it was large enough that residents petitioned for an incorporation vote, in which 60 voters favored incorporation with only three opposed, and North Bend was officially incorporated as a town of the fourth class on March 12, 1909. This was followed six years later by the first stages of the auto road that became known as the Sunset Highway, originally a tortuous route characterized by huge potholes, large boulders, and countless switchbacks. By 1926 the switchbacks were eliminated and the road straightened, and 10 years later it was paved from end to end. As the highway continued to be improved, North Bend increasingly flourished as a stopping point for weary, hungry travelers.
When, in the late 1970s, Interstate 90 bypassed North Bend, many feared the town would wither and die. In fact, its population steadily increased, albeit slowly. The freeway gave easy access to Seattle, with the result that North Bend, like other towns on the periphery of metropolitan Seattle, prospered as a bedroom community for the city and its closer suburbs. As of 2010, the population of North Bend was 5,731, more than twice as large as the 1990 count of 2,578.
Hundreds of public libraries across the nation began as projects of what were called "study clubs." The study-club movement was a small-town phenomenon with origins in the late nineteenth century. As the west became settled and stable towns were established, many women were increasingly freed from the drudgery of farm labor. With greater prosperity came more free time, but there were still few opportunities for women to obtain all but the most fundamental education. So-called study clubs were started in small towns throughout the west, providing one of the few non-religious social opportunities for women seeking intellectual stimulation. The women read and discussed books and invited speakers to address the membership on contemporary issues.
Some of these clubs were later satirized as mere social cliques of upper-middle-class women having little relevance to or effect on practical issues. But many clubs adhered to the original ideals of promoting learning and literacy and advancing the public good. Particularly in times of war and the resulting absence of many of a town's men, some of these clubs became increasingly active in their communities' civic and cultural affairs. Study clubs were almost entirely all-female organizations although, when they were in need of free labor or it otherwise suited their purposes, some created male "auxiliaries." But women held the reins, set the agenda, and did the vast majority of the clubs' good works.
In 1942, with war raging across much of the world and many men either serving in the military or working long hours in war-related industries, the members of the North Bend Study Club began considering what they could do that would be of benefit to their community long after the war was over. What they came up with was a library, something that the town apparently had lacked since the time it incorporated.
The word "apparently" is necessary because of a single article published in The Seattle Times on April 9, 1911, in which it was written: "As a result of the hearty cooperation given the Anti-Tuberculosis League in their campaign by citizens of North Bend, the proceeds of three lectures by members of the university [of Washington] faculty will be turned over to the North Bend Library" ("Faculty Speaks ... "). This seems to be the only reference to a pre-1940s North Bend Library to appear in a newspaper, magazine, or book. Unless the proceeds of the lectures were to be sent to a public library in North Bend, Oregon, or a similarly named facility even farther flung, it presents a mystery that for now seems beyond resolution.
The Public Libraries and Rural Libraries Acts
In 1935 the state legislature passed a Public Libraries Act, which declared that as a part of its obligation to provide public education the state would "promote the establishment and development of public library service throughout its various subdivisions" (1935 Wash. Laws, ch. 119, sec. 1). This was followed in 1941 by an act titled "Rural Free Public Libraries," which was passed with not a single dissenting vote in either chamber of the legislature. In relevant part, the law provided:
"Instead of establishing or maintaining an independent library, the legislative body of any governmental unit authorized to maintain a library shall have power to contract to receive library service from an existing library, the board of trustees of which shall have reciprocal power to contract to render the service with the consent of the legislative body of its governmental unit. Such a contract shall require that the existing library perform all the functions of a library within the governmental unit wanting service" (1941 Wash. Laws, ch. 65, sec. 7).
In 1942, in the next general election after the act was passed, the voters of King County approved an increase in their property taxes to fund the establishment of the King County Rural Library District, later known as the King County Library System (KCLS), which was initially intended to provide library services to people living in the county's rural areas. That same year the members of the North Bend Study Club began discussions on how to go about bringing a library to their town.
As an incorporated city, North Bend could have established its own city library under the provisions of the 1935 Public Libraries Act, and some other small towns in King County continued to operate local public libraries independent of KCLS even after the 1942 Rural Free Public Libraries Act authorized them to join the larger system. But North Bend, led by the members of the study club, decided from the start to take advantage of the provisions of the 1942 law and align itself with KCLS's vastly greater operation. Discussions about a library began in late 1942, and for more than three years North Bend residents raised funds and lobbied city government, which as the "legislative body" designated in the state law had to be the party to contract with KCLS.
Fundraising was difficult during World War II. Nearly everything was in short supply, anxiety was high, and money was tight. With war's end in 1945, the financial situation eased somewhat. With a $278.43 contribution left over from the Civilian Defense Fund and many small donations from town residents, a total of $517.43 was raised by March 1946. A large delegation of residents then prevailed upon city government to contract with KCLS, a step that was finalized within a month. All the pieces were in place but one -- an actual library.
Having far fewer dollars than would be needed to construct a dedicated library building, the study club and its supporters arranged for the temporary use of the pastor's study in the North Bend Community Church on E 3rd Street. Lumber was in particularly short supply, having been largely consumed by the needs of war, and it took several weeks for volunteers to gather a sufficient quantity to build enough bookshelves. But the effort that had started four years earlier with the study club's initial discussions came to fruition when the North Bend Public Library opened in June 1946 with 1,000 books, neatly shelved on salvaged lumber in the pastor's study.
It was understood that evicting the pastor was a stopgap measure, and that he would like to have his study returned to him as soon as would be quite convenient. A little more than two years later, the library was moved to the former dining room of the home-economics department in the old North Bend High School building on N Ballarat Avenue. Built in 1915, the high school building would burn down in 1967, but by then the library had long since moved on.
A Building of Its Own
In 1957 a North Bend couple, George (1884-1975) and Donna (1885-1966) Gaines, donated land for a new library building. Again sponsored primarily by the North Bend Study Club, a new library, constructed by volunteers using donated materials, opened in April 1958.
This building was located on 4th Street between Main and Ballarat avenues, adjacent to an older structure that had served as the Snoqualmie Valley Historical Museum. In November of that year the voters of North Bend approved a $10,000 levy to buy the now-empty museum building. But voters were becoming balky. North Bend was the only town in the King County Library System that did not include money for library services in its annual budget, relying instead on small annual special levies that had to be approved by public vote, and with a super majority of at least a 60 percent of the votes in favor.
In November 1978 another levy, this one for $18,000, only narrowly exceeded the 60 percent requirement. The money was to be used to combine the 1958 library building with the old museum building next door. More was needed, however, and the shortfall was made up by the Weyerhaeuser Company, King County community block-grant funds, and private donations. The merging of the two buildings was completed and the enlarged library was rededicated at a ceremony on April 24, 1979. Despite the challenges it posed, North Bend would adhere to its levy-based funding model for nearly another decade.
All In with KCLS
In March 1988 North Bend voters approved a measure to fully annex the North Bend Library to the King County Library System, as voters in Bellevue and Bothell had done for their libraries a few years earlier. Many more cities would annex their libraries to KCLS in the coming decades. Annexation allowed cities to remove the libraries from their individual budgets and merge them entirely into the countywide library system, which was funded by a much larger tax base. North Bend's need to return repeatedly to local voters, hat in hand, was now a thing of the past.
The effects of annexation were not long in coming, with major benefits noticeable within two years. In 1991 KCLS renovated the existing North Bend Library, improving both service and public access to the collection, and better things were soon to come.
By 1988 it had been 22 years since the King County Library System last asked voters to approve a bond issue to fund capital improvements throughout the system. The population of towns and communities throughout the county had exploded. Many existing libraries were the worse for wear and entirely new facilities were needed in some locations. Library officials decided to put a measure that would help address these needs on the September ballot.
On September 19, 1988, voters in unincorporated King County, as well as Bothell, Bellevue, and North Bend, were asked to approve a $67 million KCLS bond measure to build new libraries and improve existing ones in the areas that voted. Proposition 1 passed with 78,308 votes (64.4 percent) in favor to 43,288 (35.6 percent) opposed.
The New North Bend Library
It would take nearly five years before North Bend citizens saw their 1988 vote come to fruition. On June 10, 1993, many of the city's residents gathered on a cool day to watch ground being broken for an entirely new North Bend Library at 115 E 4th Street. Designed by the architectural firm Bassetti Norton Metler Rekevic, the 9,600-square-foot building opened on April 11, 1994, the largest library in the Snoqualmie Valley. It was the first in the King County Library System to offer public computers for patrons' use and, a year later, lessons in how to use them. In June 2008 the North Bend Library underwent a partial remodel, including the installation of a new circulation desk.
Because it is as of 2017 the largest library in the Snoqualmie Valley, residents of surrounding communities are among the North Bend Library's most enthusiastic users. It offers its patrons a full range of activities and services. In 2015, a total of 221,490 items were checked out from the library. Sitting as it does in the heart of hiking country, the library even maintains a hiking-map kiosk to assist those heading into the backcountry.
The North Bend Library has also reached out to young people who are unable to use the facilities directly. Echo Glen Children's Center in nearby Snoqualmie is a medium/maximum security facility for youthful offenders that houses 130 inmates ages 12 to 20. In early 2015, KCLS, Echo Glen, and the Issaquah School District started a program that "supplies educational programs, materials and inspirational speakers that broaden the kids' perspectives and horizons, offering them hope that they need not be defined by their past, but by healthier future choices" ("KCLS Stories 2015").
North Bend Teen Librarian Maggie Wong and Sammamish Library's Alison Eckes were given special credit for the program's success. Carmen Rivera, Transition and Re-Entry Coordinator for Echo Glen, summed ups the library system's importance to rehabilitation:
"KCLS has been a saving grace ... they have really been a blessing. Our prison populations are so high, I really believe in this programming while holding kids accountable. The goal should not be prison; the entire goal is: How are they going to be successful when they leave?" ("KCLS Stories 2015").
To provide sustenance to young bodies as well as young minds, in 2015 the North Bend Library partnered with the state Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction to offer an annual Summer Meals program at the library. During the summer months, children up to age 18 are provided free lunches and snacks to coincide with the library's summer-reading programs. Money for the food comes from the King County Library System Foundation and the meals are served Friends of the North Bend Library volunteers.