The Dodge County Historical Society is dedicated to the preservation, advancement and dissemination of the knowledge and history of Dodge County, Wisconsin, specifically Beaver Dam.
The Dodge County Historical Society, an affiliate of the Wisconsin State Historical Society, was formed in 1938, for the preservation of articles pertaining to pioneer days and to the early history of Beaver Dam.
Mr. Joseph Hoyt was selected as the first president. The museum was located on the second floor of the Concert Hall in a room, which for several years prior to the building of the City Hall, served as a council chamber. The acquisitions of the society grew rapidly and additional room on the same floor was provided. Many articles were reconditioned at the headquarters of the State Wide Museum Project, Milwaukee, a branch of the WPA. The society had been the dream of Mrs. Peter Beule, one of the chief organizers, for many years.
In 1985, the city of Beaver Dam leased the former Williams Free Library building to the Dodge County Historical Society.
The History of the Williams Free Library
The enthusiastic support the library received from the citizens of Beaver Dam and the cramped quarters of the library had been noted by one of Beaver Dam's leading citizens. In April 1890, John J. Williams offered the board of directors $25,000 to "build a home for our Free City Library and equip and endow it, if the city will provide a suitable lot."
The directors presented the offer to the Common Council with the recommendation that the lots of W.H. Lawrence and T.D. Lawrence at the corner of Park Avenue and Spring Street and a lot owned by Joseph Wagner adjoining on Park Avenue be acquired. The Common Council accepted the proposition on April 15, 1890.
With the purchase of these choice lots for $12,200, a new home for the library was assured. Plans for the building were received by the end of May,and the actual construction of the library began in July 1890.
The cornerstone of the Williams Free Library was laid Aug. 26, 1890. Mayor E. Elwell proclaimed the occasion a half holiday and requested all business places to close from 1 to 4 p.m., so that all could witness the laying of the cornerstone. He also requested the civic societies to appear in uniform, which added to the occasion. The Grand Lodge Free & Accepted Masons of Wisconsin, Milwaukee and Portage Commanderies, with large delegations from all over the state, conducted the ceremonies. "The Masonic procession formed at the lodge room and proceeded to the library grounds, where the cornerstone was laid with the impressive ceremony of the Masonic ritual."
Work on the building continued through the remainder of 1890. Trouble was encountered in getting some of the material so the completion of the building was delayed until the summer of 1891. The dedication of the library building held on July 15, 1891, was a principal event in Beaver Dam's semi-centennial celebration.
Five thousand people attended the dedication ceremonies and heard the Hon. E.C. McFetridge say, "The opening of the free public library is one of the most important events that can happen in any town. Books and libraries have been classed among the prime agencies in promoting the well being of mankind, and yet it is only in a limited time within the lifetime of our local history that libraries became popularized and brought within the reach of the masses and free and open to all ages."
Judge A. Scott Sloan gave in behalf of Mr. Williams, the address presenting the library to the city. Mayor W.C. Griffis accepted the gift for the people of Beaver Dam.
The "Argus" of July 16, 1891, described the building as follows: 'Williams Free Library is situated on the corner of Park and Spring, at the point where the handsome lawns of the beautiful Avenue join the business section and where there is the most constant ebb and flow of people and traffic. Here, Mr. Williams has placed this admirable monument of his generosity and public spirit. The lot has frontage of 142-feet on Park and 222-feet on Spring, and the building is placed nearly in the center of the lot.
On the lawn in front of the reading room is a tasteful fountain. The building is Romanesque in style and its beauty and massive symmetry grows upon the mind as one studies it. The foundation, which rises a number of feet above the ground, is of Wauwatosa limestone, the superstructure is of Cleveland sandstone. A massive square tower with open belfry stands at the northwest corner. The roof is slate, crested with terracotta; the windows, plate glass, except that a rich stained glass above the bay window add to the beauty of the front. The floors of the first floor are of tiling and hardwood. Red birch was used for the interior finishing and the effect is admirable.
From the main entrance a hall leads to the book exchange room, which faces the large book room, which now contains 4,500 volumes. On the other side of the exchange room is an attractive reading room. On the east side of the building are situated the reference room and ladies reading room. The librarian's room is a cozy apartment on the west side of the building with a costly mantle and mirror and ladies dressing room. The second floor is occupied by a vaulted hall of good dimensions, which starts the quick admiration of all who visit it. The basement has high ceilings and a number of good rooms, two of which can be used for general purposes when necessary. Every portion of the building and all its features are finished with that and painstaking care that prove how unwearing has been the efforts of Mr. Williams and the able building committee which has had the matter in charge. Mr. Holbrook of E.T. Mix & Co., Milwaukee Architects, has just reasons to be proud of his work.
While the library was founded Dec. 1, 1884, it has made its great advancement in wealth during the past year in which it received gifts aggregating $47,000 in value. Gifts include the site for which the city paid $12,200, Mr. Williams $25,000, which is invested in the building and furniture and a cash endowment fund of $10,000 bequeathed by the late William Down.'
Williams Free Library was first opened on Sept. 1, 1891, with Mary J. Doolittle as librarian. At that time the library had 4,500 volumes and its annual circulation was around 13,000 volumes.