Early libraries in our area
The very first library in the Pacific Northwest was established by the Hudson’s Bay Company in 1833 at Fort Vancouver. Requests for books and periodicals were sent to the company’s headquarters in London. This subscription library remained in operation for 10 years and books were loaned throughout the region. After it was discontinued, other efforts were made to provide a subscription library in the area. One was located on the grounds of St. James Mission in 1865, organized by the Vancouver Catholic Library Association and later run by the Vancouver Library Association. This library moved several times; it was located over Maxon’s Store in 1878, then Weigels Store the following year.
Meanwhile, one other early library was established in Union Ridge (now called Ridgefield) in 1868, as a Sunday school library.
The first free public library in our area was started in 1891, when the Women’s Christian Temperance Union petitioned the City of Vancouver for a tax-supported library. The City Council approved this and appointed a board of trustees. In 1908, a Carnegie grant was secured for construction of a library building. Vancouver Public Library opened on December 31, 1909 on the corner of 16th and Main Streets, on a lot donated by L. M. Hidden.
During the early 1900s, many other libraries were established throughout the region.
Formation of Fort Vancouver Regional Library District
By 1945, Eva Santee was leading discussions about forming a larger library district by merging Vancouver Public Library and Clark County Libraries. It took five more years, but Eva stuck with it and on July 1, 1950, Fort Vancouver Regional Library District was born. Skamania County joined FVRLibraries in 1952, expanding the district’s service area to 2,500 square miles. The district had six outlets at that time: Battle Ground, Fruit Valley, McLoughlin Heights, Stevenson, Vancouver, and Washougal. Other milestones from Eva’s time include:
- The replacement of Vancouver Public Library, which moved in 1963 from the Carnegie building on Main Street to a larger, modern building at 1007 E. Mill Plain Blvd. Funding for this library was obtained through a bond measure that passed on the third try.
- A library opened in North Bonneville in 1954. A new site for the Battle Ground library was acquired in 1958 and the new facility opened in 1959. The operation of the library in Ridgefield was turned over to FVRLibraries in 1961.
Eva Santee retired in 1967.