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Chatfield Library celebrates 100 years

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Judge Joe Chase portrays Andrew Carnegie at the Chatfield Library 100th Anniversary Celebration held Sunday afternoon in Chatfield. The event included an open house, program and goodies.
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CHATFIELD — The past and the present came together Sunday at the historic celebration of the Chatfield Public Library's 100th birthday.

Many of the library staff and patrons dressed in 1915 clothes, and Olmsted County Circuit Judge Joe Chase portrayed the library's original benefactor, wealthy industrialist and steel baron Andrew Carnegie.

As a large crowd listened under the library's high ceilings and stained-glass windows, Mayor Russell Smith's proclamation in honor of the day was momentarily interrupted by the blare of a smoke detector alarm. The large birthday cake encircled by lit candles set off the alarm, to the amusement of those gathered.

After the minor disruption, Smith finished by declaring 2015 as the "Year of the Library" in Chatfield. The history of the library unfolded throughout the party as musicians set the tone, and others explained its past.

Wearing a large hat festooned with a bright red feather, library director Monica Erickson explained that a similar gathering happened on Feb. 15, 1915. That was the day the library opened, financed by a $6,000 grant from that era's greatest philanthropist.

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Portraying a very lively Carnegie, Chase told the crowd how funding libraries was very important to him. During the latter part of his life, Carnegie gave away 90 percent "of the largest fortune any one man has ever accumulated," he said.

Carnegie was best known for the many libraries built with his money to provide "the working people" access to knowledge and great literature. Carnegie helped fund 1,689 U.S. libraries, including 66 in Minnesota.

Speaking as Carnegie, Chase concluded by saying, "When I go on trial for things done on earth, I think I'll get a verdict of not guilty though my efforts to make the earth a little better than I found it. And one of the places that is a little better today is here in Chatfield, Minn., in this gem of a library."

Mimi Seamens, president of the Friends of the Chatfield Public Library, told the crowd the library was more than just a building and books.

"It's got heart and soul," she said. Then Seamens pointed out the library was judged as "the coziest and most welcoming" of all Minnesota libraries in 2011 by the author of the book, "Minnesota Libraries."

Beside celebrating the library's past, it also served as a launch for the new "Chatfield Reads" citywide book club program. "Cartographer of No Man's Land," written by Rochester author P.S. Duffy, chosen as this year's book. The author spoke about her book, which takes place during the First World War. She said she counted on libraries as she did the research on her first novel.

"I'm a huge fan of libraries. Through the Rochester library, I did much of my research through international interlibrary loans (of books)," Duffy said.

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Chatfield Public Library

• Opened in 1911; moved into its new building on Feb. 15, 1915.

• The Carnegie Corporation gave $6,000 of the $7,750 construction cost.

• On its first day, it had 3,500 books on its shelves.

• It was closed in 1918 from Nov. 23 to Dec. 20 due to the 1918 Influenza Pandemic

• A $600,000 expansion and renovation was completed on Sept. 19, 1998.

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