Our mission is to help people find knowledge resources; provide free access to information; preserve local history; and create a vibrant community gathering place.
Although several lending libraries had come and gone since Oshkosh's founding in 1853, plans for a permanent public library didn't begin to materialize until the summer of 1895. The estate of Mr. and Mrs. Marshall Harris provided the major gift of $75,000, more than $2 million in today's money. Marshall Harris was a prominent Oshkosh lumberman who died in 1890. His widow, Abbie Danforth Harris, who died June 24, 1895, used her will to create a trust fund for library construction and operation. Its conditions required the community to match the bequest within three years of her death and build on their homestead.
With the donation of $25,000 from former Sen. Philetus Sawyer and a successful bond sale, the city raised the matching funds and met the requirements on June 22, 1898 - two days before the deadline.
The library opened on Labor Day, Sept. 3, 1900. Designed by local architect William Waters, the building typifies the neoclassical style which was popular at the turn of the century, with its heavily buttressed steps and six, fluted Ionic columns built of Bedford limestone.
The iconic lion statues, named Sawyer and Harris, arrived more than a decade after the library first opened its doors.
The appearance of the entrance has also changed over the years. The original design had the steps going straight down to the sidewalk. In the spring of 1951, the entrance was redesigned to what you're looking at today. As Oshkosh grew, an addition was added in 1967.
But, by the late 1980s, the library was again running out of space for people and collections. Like the Harris' donation, an anonymous donor (later revealed to be Alberta Kimball, President of the Miles Kimball Company from 1949-1980) offered $5 million for construction of a new library building if the city matched the funds. Once the city council approved matching funds, design and construction of today’s library building could begin. Frye Gillan Molinaro, a Chicago-based architecture firm, designed the new building to be visually integrated with the original William Waters' library.
The library re-opened in October 1994 and celebrated its centennial in 2000.