In 1888, Hackley announced to the Muskegon Board of Education his proposal to give them a site and $100,000 for the construction of a suitable and commodious building for a public library and reading room. A competition was held and six architectural firms submitted designs. The Chicago architectural firm of Patton submitted plans for a massive granite structure that would serve as an enduring symbol of Muskegon’s strength and optimism at the end of the 19th century, and not surprisingly it was chosen by Charles Hackley. Built at a cost that eventually topped $200,000, the library opened with much fanfare on October 16, 1890 at 8:30am. The original collection held 14,750 books, 12,000 of them new and the rest moved from the public school library.
The building was designed in the American Romanesque style, where concern for the surface of the building results in an architecture of dominating presence, strength, solidity, and intensity.
The tall octagonal turret contrasts with the massive horizontal scale of the asymmetrical building. Charles H. Hackley especially liked the idea of the tower; to him it represented a beacon lighting the pathway to knowledge. The heavy masonry of the library’s walls gives the building visual weight and creates a strong sense of permanence. Massive blocks of bluish-grey syenite granite are trimmed with rich Marquette terracotta sandstone. Heavy stone molding wraps around the surface, highlighting the divisions of floors. The many rectangular windows are accentuated with poly-chrome stone treatment. Arcades, spandrels, and columns share finely carved ledges and basket capitals that add to the impression of strength and weight of the building.
The monumental arch of the main entrance (a typical Richardsonian feature) invites visitors to ascend the broad steps and enter.
As your pass through the great oak doors, you see fine marble, plaster carvings, metal work—color and light that serve as a feast for the senses. Multicolored Italian marble mosaics cover the floor and quarter-sawed oiled oak woodwork and warmth. The oak doors at the entrance are laced with oxidizers silver entwined in geometric and floral patterns, centered around a Sun God motif. This metalwork along with custom-cast doors, hinges, and doorknobs throughout the building carrying the Hackley Library monogram (HPL), was created by the Winslow Brothers Company of Chicago. Another example of their fine work can be seen in the wrought iron railing that guides the visitors up the massive marble-walled stairway into the tower.
As you enter the great hall to the right of the lobby, you will see the library’s circulation desk, reconstructed from the oak used in the original delivery desk, which spanned the room in the front of the large red columns. Here you may obtain a library card, reserve books, or check out materials. A massive stone fireplace, one of seven in the building, is within the circulation area. Just beyond the desk is a marble bust of the library’s benefactor, Charles Henry Hackley. It was sculpted by C.H. Niehaus. Looking through the 108 foot length of the two-part great hall, you will see that the library is laid out in a cruciform floor plan with the length of the great hall as the spine and the two side wings as the arms of the cross.
A book stack addition built five years after the original construction unobtrusively joins this almost ecclesiastical floor plan at the back of the Reference Room. The strong colors throughout the building are not original, but are authentic to the period. Originally, many of the walls were decorated with stencils.
To the left of the circulation desk is the door to the Julia Hackley Room, a beautifully restored room named in honor of the donors’ wife. Originally, this dignified space was the library’s reference room. It now houses the teen collection and serves as a quiet reading room. On the south wall of the room hangs a portrait of Julia Moor Hackley. By E.A. Turner; the work portrays Mrs. Hackley at 54 years of age. On the north wall of the room you see one of the loveliest fireplaces in the library. The fine workmanship of this hand carved mantle piece was done by the Kelly Brothers Manufacturing Company of Muskegon. The Kelly Brothers work can also be seen in the homes of Charles H. Hackley and Thomas Hume, now historical site museums for Muskegon County. The fireplace tiles coordinate with the woodcarvings.
To The left of the fireplace is a small kitchen set in the smaller tower that leads to what once was the librarian’s entrance and a private winding staircase. On the right is a book dumb- waiter. The dumb waiter is manually operated and still works, although it is seldom used now.
The heavy oiled oak chairs you see in this room, with foliate panels and the HPL monogram, and the large oak tables with massive carved legs are original to the library. They were manufactured by the Ketcham Furniture Company of Toledo, Ohio.
Across the spine of the great hall you find the gracefully curved East Room, originally the library’s main reading room. The circular oak tables around the massive center columns are original. The over-mantle on the north wall matches that in the Julia Hackley Room. One of the original light fixtures is just to the right inside the door. This room now houses our computer lab, which is open to the public. A small room on the right, the Wheeler Room, was originally the ladies reading alcove. It was considerably smaller than the adjoining room, because reading was a luxury for most women at the time and few were willing to read and relax in mixed company. This room serves as a quiet room. It is named for Harold L. Wheeler, an esteemed and innovative library leader, who headed the library from 1921 to 1928.
Returning to the great hall, note the six leaded-glass transform windows above the beveled glass windows and doors to the side rooms. These arched windows were designed for both beauty and light. See if you can follow the continuous band of ribbon, which makes up each window’s decoration. In this area you will find the reference desk. Looking north, imagine how it looked over one hundred years ago when the delivery computer crossed the room and the area behind was filled with rows of wood and glass cases which stored the library’s collection of books. When a patron wanted a book, its call number was located in the card file and given to the librarian to find. The book would then be delivered to the patron to check-out or enjoy in the reading rooms. Before floor covering, this large area echoed with the sound of footsteps on marble floors. You can still see the marble baseboards in this area. The archways are of carved sandstone.
Lighting for the library was provided by an ingenious combination of natural light, gas, and electricity. The electricity was generated by the movement of sawmill flutter wheels on the Muskegon lake. During the mill’s operating hours, electricity was available to those connected to the generator system; after mill hours, gas jet lighting was used. Some of the original fixtures can be found scattered through the building.
The original ceiling coffers in the reference room were inlaid with the stucco squares filled with frescoes and with skylights. To provide natural light, specifically designed glass and window treatments were created for the hall. Along the west wall are high patterned casement windows, made of leaded glass with book shelves ranged around the room below them. At the north end of the hall is the magnificent stained glass window. Consisting of 12 panels, it portrays four literacy figureheads who were popular at the end of the nineteenth century: Shakespeare, Goethe, Longfellow, and William Hickling Prescott (an American historian and essayist). This window was created by the Millet and Burke Company of Chicago.
On the wall to your right hangs a large painting depicting the library’s dedication on October 15, 1890. You will recognize Charles Hackley handing the deed to the Library to Frederick Nims. President of the Muskegon Board of Education, as the other Board members look on. Many other prominent persons are depicted, including Mrs. Hackley with a pink parasol. A key to the picture hangs on the red column near you. E. A. Turner, a Grand Rapids artist, painted on the group portrait in Paris, not as it actually happened on a blustery October afternoon in the opera hours down the street, but as a cheerful spring gathering on the library steps. It features 97 portraits and measures 7’3” x 01’3” and weighs over 580 pounds. It was completed in 1896. Mr. Turner, himself, is shown in a straw hat in the foreground (although he was not actually present at the dedication). Through the two doorways under the group portrait is an administrative office suite.
In the Reference Room is the library’s facsimile edition of the Book of Kells, an important illuminated manuscript depicting the four gospels of the Bible on 608 decorated pages. The Book of Kells was made in the 9th century by Irish monks. Purchase of this copy was made possible through fund-raising efforts spearheaded by the Muskegon Irish-American Society and the Friends of the Hackley Library. The large storage box with silver trim in which it came is on the end of the cabinet. There is a 15 minute videotape describing the creation of the original volume (which is in Trinity College, Dublin) and of this replica.
Continue through the great hall to the last doorway on the right and enter the book stacks. This wing was added five years after the original construction and was also funded by Charles Hackley and designed by Patton and Fisher. The original ceiling of the second floor contained skylights. The floor between the two levels is of sanded gallery glass flooring 1 ¾ of an inch thick, which allows for natural light from the skylights to illuminate both levels.
The shelving is original to this room; it provided the library with the ability to expand its capacity to 100,000 volumes. The metal shelf supports pass through the glass floor from the first to the second levels. The locked wooden cabinets on the second floor housing rare and old books are some of the original cases used in the great hall over one hundred years ago.
Return to the entrance lobby. You can take the elevator to the second floor or ascend the grand staircase. Intricate geometrical stained glass windows greet you with a rich glow of color. Originally, the conical arched ceiling was painted midnight blue with brilliant array of silver stars, giving the visitor the effect of climbing a magical staircase to the heavens.
One doorway on the landing leads to a small outdoor balcony and the other leads into the Youth Services department. This room, originally built as an assembly or meeting room, lies across the arms of the cruciform. It was remodeled into a children’s room in 1922. Until that time, children younger than 14 had not been allowed to use the library. The ceiling is barrel-vaulted and once had skylights. There ate two beautiful terra cotta fireplaces along the north wall. Many of the older shelves were built by students at Hackley Manual Training School.
On the side walls of the room are murals. The one on the north wall, entitled “The world at Your Door”, was painted on canvas by Muskegon artist Wilfred Berg in 1934 as part of the Public Works of Art program of the WPA. In 1990, in honor of the library’s centennial, Mr. Berg, then in Hours with Good Books is Time Well Spent.” Each mural is 5’2” by 29’1”. You can view more of Mr. Berg’s work at the Muskegon County Museum.
Under the south mural is the door to the Story Time Room, which is graced by three arched stained glass windows and its own fireplace. The Story Time Room was originally the library director’s office.
On February 12, 1905, the rotunda of the second floor served as the viewing area for the body of Charles Henry Hackley as he lay in state after his death. Over 7,000 people came to the library to pay their last respects to the great philanthropist. Mourners filled this room, trailed down the staircases, out through the entrance archway, and into the street.
After his death, the Board of Education received a $150,000 bequest to purchase works of art for this room. It was decided that the proper climate was not available to preserve works of art so the property adjoining the library on the east was purchased and the Muskegon Museum of Art was built with Hackley’s bequest money.
As you return to the grand entrance, take the elevator or follow the marble-walled staircase to the library’s lower level. Here you will find the program and meeting rooms.
Converted to public use in 1935, this room housed the Muskegon Junior College book collection until 1963. At that time, the college built its own library facility on Quarterline Road.
In the recent past, our local history-genealogy-periodicals department was in this space, but they have moved across the street to the Torrent House.
The long hallway leading north goes past the rest rooms to the handicapped-accessible rear entry and the parking lot.
Before leaving the area, you may notice the building across Webster Avenue, the Torrent House. It is now part of Hackley Public Library and is used for the local history and genealogy department, library offices, processing of materials, and storage.The first floor is open to the public Tuesdays-Fridays. The Torrent House was originally the home of a rival lumber baron, John Torrent, and is the only stone residence of its size in Muskegon.