It was entirely appropriate Monday morning that officials with the city of Rock Island and the Rock Island Public Library dedicated a big rock to mark the groundbreaking site of the first library in Illinois.

The library first opened in rented rooms on the second floor of the former Mitchell & Lynde bank building on Nov. 25, 1872 at the southwest corner of 2nd Avenue and 17th Street, on property now owned by Modern Woodmen of America.

Mayor Mike Thoms (center) and library director Angela Campbell (in sunglasses) remove the wrapping for the new commemorative boulder marking the site of the first public library in Illinois (photo by Jonathan Turner).

Due to the timely donation by a private subscription library, the Young Men’s Literary Association, Rock Island was the first tax-supported public library to open in the state of Illinois. This month is its 150th anniversary.

“Many people don’t know the library’s first site was on the corner of 17th Street and 2nd Avenue,” library director Angela Campbell said Monday, after dedicating the new engraved boulder acquired from Quint City Stone. “This is actually where the first one in the state of Illinois was.”

“Modern Woodmen has been so generous with us, and we can’t thank them enough for letting us put this 1,800-pound boulder on their land. It’s engraved, it says why it’s there and we couldn’t be happier.”

This monument shows the library is still available for everyone to use for free, including lifelong learning, Campbell said.

“We really want people to know we’re a place to go for valid information and help understanding it,” she said. “Our tag line is ‘Begin Here,’ because a lot of times, people don’t know where to start anything. We’ve had people ask, how do I find an apartment? How do I find a job? Just basic things that some people take for granted that we can help with.”

Mayor Mike Thoms read a city proclamation (to be approved at tonight’s City Council meeting) designating November 2022 to November 2023 as the Year of the Rock Island Public Library.

Celebrating the first Rock Island library site on Monday, Nov. 14, 2022 were (L-R) Mayor Mike Thoms, John Oliger of Modern Woodmen, library director Angela Campbell, board president Eudell Watts and board member Ald. Jenni Swanson (photo by Jonathan Turner).

On Aug. 12, 1872, the Young Men’s Literary Association presented an offer to Rock Island City Council to turn over the entire contents of their private library for the public good. The City Council accepted the offer, and passed an ordinance to create a public library for Rock Island.

On Oct. 18, 1872, the library board approved renting rooms on the 2nd floor of the Michell & Lynde bank building, off 2nd Avenue & 17th Street. The library remained there until the imposing main library opened in December 1903 at 19th Street and 4th Avenue.

Library board president Eudell Watts III (right) speaks Monday, Nov. 14, 2022, as director Angela Campbell and Rock Island Mayor Mike Thoms look on (photo by Jonathan Turner).

Library board president Eudell Watts III said Monday of the new rock: “It’s a wonderful chance to have a kickoff for a whole year of celebrating the library.”

“I’m so excited to be president of the library for this year and it’s getting close to the end of my tenure,” he said. “I’m really happy to be part of the celebration taking place.”

The RIPL Board of Trustees has officially voted to name the new library location as the Watts-Midtown Branch — to honor enduring support shown to the library by the late Lorene Evans Watts, and her son, Eudell Watts III, as former and current members of the library board.

The new library branch, to be shared with the Two Rivers YMCA, is expected to open in December at 2715 30th St., rock Island.

The construction of the new Watts-Midtown Branch (to be shared with a new YMCA at 2715 30th St.) is expected to be completed by December, and a soft opening that month, Campbell said.

Fundraising to meet higher-than-expected costs is continuing, she noted. For more information on the library, visit its website.