Business Spotlight: Carlton County Historical Society


July 21, 2023

At the very center of a panoramic photo of Cloquet taken before 1918 stands a substantial stone building. A bank? A theater? A store? Nope. The prominent building is the public library, completed in 1902 when Cloquet was still a village. Cloquet had no city water or sewer system, no electrical service, and no paved roads - but it had a library, a public symbol of the value of culture and learning. Donations totalling about $7,500 came from the Shaw family, Northwest Paper Company, and First National Bank to build the library.

George Shaw and his son-in-law, J.E. Lynds, served on the first library board of directors. George Shaw was also a major force in developing the lumber business that drove the economy in early Cloquet. At age 60, he invested in a sawmill at the invitation of Frederick Weyerhaeuser and came to Cloquet to manage the business. Two years later, in 1886, he became the major shareholder and named it the Cloquet Lumber Company. His company and other mills in the area allowed the village of Cloquet to grow to 6,000 residents.

Sadly, the original library burned to the ground in the 1918 fire, and the insurance payout was insufficient to rebuild.

George Shaw's daughters, Cordelia Shaw Lynds and Hattie Shaw Delescaille, donated the funds needed for the new building. In a February 1919 letter, Cordelia's husband, J.E. Lynds, wrote, "In connection with the matter of rebuilding your library, it gives me great pleasure to write to you that my wife and her sister have for some time desired to perpetuate the memory of their father, Mr. George S. Shaw, who was one of the builders of the industries of your city. It appears to them that this is the proper time to take some action in the matter."

The new $40,000 building was dedicated on Oct. 12, 1920, the second anniversary of the fire. Even though the family had moved away from Cloquet, the community their father had helped build remained important to them.

The Shaw Memorial Library remains a place of culture and learning as the home of the Carlton County Historical Society. Following the construction of the new Cloquet Public Library in 1987, the building was vacated and CCHS was invited to move in. In 2019, CCHS purchased the building from the City of Cloquet. The first big challenge was to replace the roof - and members, local donors and the Shaw family made it possible.

The pandemic prevented CCHS from celebrating the building's true centennial in 2020. Instead, we are planning a celebration in August that is drawing a reunion of 31 descendants of George Shaw, to honor his memory and the vision of the Shaw family in assuring that Cloquet had a library the past 121 years.

The public is invited to attend the celebration and open house 10-11:30 a.m. Saturday, Aug 5. The Shaw family would like to meet you and hear your stories of the library. Please stop by to see our collection of historic photos and portraits, and to see a piece of the famous glass floor remaining from the second story.

The Business Spotlight is an advertorial product available in the Pine Knot News.


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