The Three Names of Blackfoot’s Library

Corrected 3/20/2019 with regards to where she taught school.

The living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing at all, nor do they have any more reward, because all memory of them is forgotten – Ecclesiastes 9:5

BLACKFOOT, March 8, 2019 — When Edna Gillespie died in 1949, the citizens of Blackfoot renamed the public library after her. Then in 1988, the library became the Lucy Boyle Public Library. The renaming was due to the generous legacy left to the library from the estate of Lucy Boyle Ashenhurst, a former library board member.

That bequest bought and renovated the old R. G. Bills Building on the corner of Pacific and Broadway, next door to the previous library building at 129 N. Broadway. The library board at the time felt that it was appropriate to rename the new and spacious library after their benefactor. After all, it was the money from Lucy Boyle’s will that made it possible to move out of old building the library had long outgrown.

Before the Lucy Boyle Public Library

In 1987, that old library building was a long narrow structure wedged between the R. G. Bills Building and the Blackfoot Municipal Building at 157 N. Broadway. The municipal building was originally an all-in-one facility, housing the city offices, the police department, and the fire department complete with fire engine. Its front was punctured by a large yawning square hole which was the opening that the fire engine used to exit onto the street.

Blackfoot City Hall and Fire Station in the 1950s. The public library is next door to the left of City Hall.
Blackfoot City Hall and Fire Station in the 1950s. The nose of a fire engine can be seen peeking out of the garage door opening in the front of the building. The public library is next door to the left of City Hall. Photo courtesy of the Bingham County Historical Society.

The old library and municipal building next door fit into the space where the parking lot is today between City Hall and the Nuart Theater. They were torn down when the city offices moved to the renovated second floor of the R. G. Bills Building and the library moved to the first floor. The City of Blackfoot and the library share the basement.

It is somewhat amusing that while the city offices and the library moved to the R. G. Bills building on the corner, their old street addresses did too. The old municipal building was located at 157 N.Broadway in the middle of the block. City Hall still uses that same street address today, despite moving two buildings down the street. The library did the same thing: the old library building was at 129 N. Broadway and the new library still uses that old address.

“We were all amazed when we first moved in,” said Lisa Harral, the current director of the library. “Compared to the old library, this one had so much room.” Harral has worked at the library since high school. She was on the staff 1988 for the move from the old library to the new.

“Some of us weren’t sure about changing the name (of the library),” Harral added. “Edna Gillespie was so important to the library in Blackfoot; but the board decided to make the change to Lucy Boyle. So when we first moved in, we named the reference section after Edna, with a plaque on the wall and her picture. But now that’s gone too. With the internet, there really isn’t a reference section anymore. Most everything has gone online.”

Who was Edna Gillespie?

On January 2, Nancy Merrick, one of the readers of the Bingham News, sent us the following comment:

“I grew up checking books out of the Edna Gillespie Library. I need to find out why the library was previously named after her. I feel like I saw her name on the faculty of my mother’s BHS yearbook.”

Who was Edna Gillespie? She was Blackfoot’s first librarian. When she started at the library in 1918, it had no home. The books were stored and curated out of council chambers in city hall.

The library got its start in 1916 when it was founded by the Current Events Club, which like Edna is another old Blackfoot institution on the path to being forgotten. For two years, the Current Events Club ran the library, originally keeping the books at their building next door to the Methodist Church on S. University. Then, due to its popularity and the amount of work involved, the Current Events Club prevailed upon the City of Blackfoot to take it over.

When Edna became the city’s first librarian, she gave up her teaching job. Well down the path of becoming an old maid, Gillespie had taught school, first in Rose or Groveland, then in Blackfoot and later in Salmon, for almost as long as she had lived in Idaho. One of the subjects she taught was Latin.

The library in the basement

The library quickly outgrew its space in the old council chambers and so it moved to the basement of city hall. Here are Gillespie’s own words on the library’s basement days:

“For years, the Blackfoot Public Library lay buried under ground. Yet the ghosts that haunted our shelves and aisles were blithe spirits and they dispensed gaiety throughout the community. How could they help it? The floor was orange, the walls primrose, the chairs vermilion, the tables topped with jade green. I think that many patrons still think regretfully of those days when we could reach right out from the desk and pick a book asked for, or by rising reach in behind the doubled row to get out an obscure volume that we had fondly hoped no one would be demanding for ages.

“The farm wife would stop to tell us about the trouble she was having with her obstreperous turkey flock, while little Peter clutched the corner of the desk with grubby hands sticky with an all day sucker.

“Those were the days – ten thousand books, magazines by the hundreds, pamphlets innumerable, and a rather stout librarian all trying to find room in a space 17x44x8! The patient readers would have to be moved frequently so that we could get around the tables to the shelves behind, and I chose the high school girls who assisted me according to their poundage.”

The library next to the municipal building

The library moved out of the basement during the early days of World War Two, opening its doors for business on January 2, 1942. The new library building was next door to the municipal building. It was long and narrow, stretching from the sidewalk frontage on Broadway all the way back to the unlit alley which it shared with Blackfoot’s relatively-new and modern post office.

To Gillespie, the new library building was spacious compared to more than twenty years in a space just eight feet wide: “The floor stacks are properly three feet apart and the most callipygian of mortals can stoop to the lower shelf without disarranging the stacks to the rear. We have an honest-to-goodness children’s room in a well-lighted basement.”

Gillespie’s new library served Blackfoot for the next 46 years. What was once spacious became cramped as the collection of books, newspapers, and magazines grew over time.

Gillespie took suddenly ill in early spring of 1949, still at work as the city’s librarian. She died at her apartment on E. Judicial just a few blocks from the old high school and the Methodist Church where she was a congregant for over 50 years.

She was such an institution to the community that the library was renamed in her honor, becoming the Edna Gillespie Public Library.

What’s in a name

No one could ask Lucy Boyle Ashenhurst if she wanted to library renamed after her. After all, she was dead when the decision was made to rebrand the institution as the Lucy Boyle Public Library. Personally, I believe Lucy would have been appalled that Edna Gillespie’s name was dropped and her own adopted since she was a library board member when the library was renamed in Gillespie’s honor.

Today the library is just the Blackfoot Public Library. The confusion of library names became a confusion for its patrons and the name was eventually reverted to the original usage from the time when Gillespie was still alive and at work as the library’s heart and soul – but that’s another story for another day.

More on the life of Edna Gillespie is coming soon to the Bingham News

3 Comments

  1. Thank you for the informative article and picture! Was there ever a time when the library sat by itself without the other two buildings? It seems like when the police/fire station moved, the library stayed.

    • According to everyone I’ve spoken to, city hall and the library moved in the same 1987-1988 timeframe, out of the old buildings and into the renovated R. G. Bills Buildings. Except the fire department and police moved into what it now just the fire station. I don’t have the date when the police moved out of the new fire station and into the new county courthouse.

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