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Wadsworth Library, 1891-1892

History and Description
“Colonel Mitchell moved that $10,000 be appropriated from the Post Fund for the erection of a Library Building at the Northwestern Branch. The motion was carried."
Proceedings of the Board of Managers of the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers, Volume 2, September 1891, page 430.

The library, built in 1891, is constructed of Wisconsin limestone at the basement walls and cream city brick for the remainder of the one-story building. The total area in the basement, first floor and mezzanine is 9,010 square feet.

Originally it was furnished with reading and writing tables and supplied with all the latest magazines and many daily papers. It is surrounded with a large balcony on which are located 12,000 volumes (1924), including history, fiction, science, biographies, theology and encyclopedias, dictionaries and other books of reference. A narrow winding stairway is used for access to the balcony; a dumbwaiter is used to bring books and supplies to the upstairs shelving and reading area. Cost of the building was $12,146.18 and was funded from general post funds. These were funds raised through the sale of various items from the stores that were on the grounds at the time, including beer sales.

Around 1905 it was named the Wadsworth Library after Major James S. Wadsworth, U.S. Senator from New York, who was then President of the Board of Managers.

During peak periods in Domiciliary use, the basement served as additional barracks space. In later years and until December 27, 1991, the Explorers Club utilized this area. Membership in the club was open to Domiciliary patients whose small monthly dues entitled them to use the premises for activities such as watching television and playing cards.

Historic American Buildings Survey description, photos and drawings

Library at Wood Gets New Dress Under Will
The Wadsworth library at the veterans' administration center at Wood has been redecorated and refurnished through funds from the Reuben Sauer memorial fund. The library will hold an open house from 1 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. Friday. Leather covered chairs and modern light birch library furniture have replaced the older tables and high backed chairs. There are also a new rubber tile floor and drapes. The memorial fund of $18,116 was provided in the will of Mrs. Dorthea Sauer, formerly of 543 N. 35th St., in memory of her son, Reuben, who died soon after his return from service in World War I. A considerable part of the donation was used in redecorating the library.

"Library at Wood Gets New Dress Under Will," Milwaukee Journal, 25 October 1949

In 1999, the sign was cleaned and the letter was repainted with 23 karat gold leaf, through the generous donation of Joseph P. Di Frances of Milwaukee.

A Hunger for Reading Unsurpassed by Modern Habits

The Library was one of the favorite haunts of young Elizabeth Corbett at the turn of the 20th century. The atmosphere of reading at the Wadsworth was, for her, “the “be-all and end-all of existence.” For many soldiers, it was the same. “Old soldiers,” she wrote, “had a hunger for reading unsurpassed by modern habits.”

If they liked what they read, they kept their pleasure to themselves. If they didn’t like a book, they expressed themselves on the spot. Even patient Mr. Phelps [the librarian] used to complain about the amount of time that he had to waste removing penciled comments from margins. And none of the comments were of a favorable nature. ‘Rot’ and ‘trash’ were the terms most frequently used, sometime swelling to ‘damn rot’ or ‘trash of the worst description.’

Read the whole story in Out at the Soldiers' Home: A Memory Book.

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