Cloquet history lessons found at family reunion
Shaw family visits historic library building their ancestors funded
August 11, 2023
Close to 40 descendents of George Stearns Shaw stood on the steps of the Carlton County Historical Society on Saturday morning to celebrate the library their ancestors built not once, but twice, on Cloquet Avenue.
Family members came from all over: California, Hawaii, Washington, Iowa, North Carolina, Kansas, and Alaska. Many hadn't seen each other for years, others had never met. And many in the group had helped pay for 2020 roof repairs to keep the Shaw Memorial Library building - now a museum - standing tall for decades to come.
They were welcomed with open arms by residents, and library and historical society members who benefited from the family's investment in Cloquet and the ongoing enlightenment of its citizens.
George Stearns Shaw, owner of Cloquet Lumber Company, petitioned the village council to create the city's first library in the late 1800s and served on the first library board.
After the first library building burned down in October 1918, his daughters - Hattie and Cordelia - reached out from new homes in California, stating that they were interested in donating money toward building the new library. Between them, the sisters donated close to $30,000, enough to build a beautiful brick and stone library. Added to $11,000 insurance, that equals close to $750,000 in today's money.
"The character of this community was forged in that fire, and your family knew we could find our hope again," said Historical Society board president Emily Swanson in a welcome speech Saturday. "That's another thing that libraries and historical societies and family reunions do: grow hope."
Historical society director Carol Klitzke read excerpts from long-ago letters written about the building of the library between Hattie, Cordelia's husband J.E. Lynds (representing both sisters) and Mr. Leach, the director of the library board. Of note: the sisters originally thought they were contributing $15,000, but when the estimates came in, that number had doubled. They didn't balk, but expected "a really good building" for $30,000.
In the first letter, Lynds notes that the design of the new building looks too much like the old one, and the windows were far too high.
"Surely you would not think of putting your windows five feet from the floor, you are not going to build a jail," he said.
"It looks as though these plans have no original ideas in them that should require so great an outlay of funds," he wrote in a different letter.
They also suggested plate glass windows for better cleaning and light, and expressed worries about the size of the shelving room. Hattie thought the balusters around the eaves were pretentious. A plan for a single light hanging down above the stairs was criticized because it would create shadows on the stairs when people were leaving, which having two lights at the base of the stairs would avoid.
A fireplace was nixed as well.
"A fireplace is conducive to conversation, which cannot be allowed there," Cordelia wrote.
The new library opened in June of 1920, in a city reborn out of fire.
"Their wishes are everywhere in this building," Klitzke said.
During their visit, the family members toured the current library, the Shaw library, Jay Cooke State Park and were guests of honor Saturday evening at an Oldenburg House soiree. There was a walking tour as well. Although many knew the bones of the family history here, being here made all the difference.
"I hadn't realized how the library is right here in the middle of the town, how you can literally look up the river valley and see what the old mill was, how the train tracks are right next to it," said Shaw Lynds, who helped get the ball rolling on a family trip back in 2020. "You just can't see that from looking down on Google Maps, you know.
"It's cool to just walk around like the neighborhood and see how it's part of the community that way. Yeah, that's probably the most exciting part of today."
There was plenty more excitement Saturday.
William Weiler Lynds and his wife donated a maple tree that was planted on the front lawn, and a bench, in honor of Carol Klitzke, for all her work with the family and the exhibit currently on display inside, complete with a possum fur coat donated by another branch of the family. There's another display at the Cloquet Public Library.
Retired library director Mary Lukkarila also spoke Saturday. Lukkarila was the last library director to work at the Shaw building and led the transition to the library building on 14th Street.
She started with thanks to the Shaw family.
"You gave us a wonderful workspace and a wonderful town to work in," she said.
After waiting for a train to pass, she shared a line from the library minutes after Mr. Lynds died in 1924 and board members wrote that "the character of a community is very largely determined by its pioneers."
"The New England spirit - which has ever held civic virtues, and the moral and educational agencies that promote them, in high esteem - was strong in Mr. Lynds and he gave that expression on every possible occasion," the board wrote in 1924.
Although history took center stage Saturday, so did building new relationships, between family members and between local and distant supporters.
Klitzke told the youngest members of the Shaw family that the centennial celebration wasn't just "all about things that old people did."
"You are part of this group, and we think you are important because you are part of the family that made Cloquet a wonderful place for people to live," she said.