In the early 1900’s Renton was a small coal mining village.    Renton’s original “Library” consisted of a storefront collection of donated books organized by the Miner’s Association and the Citizens of Renton in 1904.  It was originally located over a general store owned by Robert Woods, Sr. located on the corner of Walla Walla Avenue and Main Street, Later the library moved to the other end of a small confectionery store in the David J. Jones building on the corner of 3rd Ave. and Wells Street.  This early storefront library even had a librarian, Blanche Pritchard, whose monthly salary was $35.00.

In 1913, a small group of citizens formed themselves into an informal committee and library support group, and they obtained a grant to build a new library.  Construction of the original red brick building (located in what is now Liberty Park) was started with a $10,000 grant provided by Andrew Carnegie on land donated by Rafael Sartori, and was open for business in the spring of 1914.  The City Council appropriated $1,000 for salaries and maintenance (but no money for books). While no money was appropriated for materials, the library was able to build a collection with discarded books from the Seattle Public Library and the Tacoma Library. In addition to these discards the supporters of the library were able to expand the collection through fundraising and additional book donations from the community of approximately 4,000 people.

With the development of the Boeing Company in the 1940’s, there was a dramatic increase in Renton’s population, creating a “boom town” of more than 18,000.  In January of 1947, Highlands, which had previously housed a branch of the King County Library system, was annexed to the City of Renton.  Renton Library was now a “system,” with a Main library and a branch library.  Funds were inadequate for the operation of library service in one facility, and now there were two.  Once again, in the 1960s, a citizen’s committee, spearheaded by the Greater Renton Chamber of Commerce worked with the League of Women Voters to pass a bond measure for the establishment of a new public library.  Funds provided by the City of Renton and a bond measure of $150,000, passed by the voters of the city on November 3, 1964, made possible the construction of the current library, completed in 1967 and located over the Cedar River, which flows through the heart of the city.  In 1973, a new building for the Highlands branch was also built.

Community activists established a Renton Historical Collection and a Society to preserve Renton history.  Volunteers collected and preserved artifacts, books, letters, photographs and other treasures, many of which are still preserved in the Pacific Northwest collection today.   

Today, Renton’s population is over 88,000, and with the annexations of nearby unincorporated areas of King County, it is growing rapidly.

Throughout its long and colorful history of over a hundred years, Renton Library has always been a legacy of and for the people of Renton.  Libraries are first and foremost community centers, and the citizens of Renton have demonstrated repeatedly how important their community library is to them by both their activism and their votes. In February, Renton residents will again have a chance to show their support for the library that has been a part of the Renton community for the last 100 years.

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