Gail Borden Library celebrates 150th birthday

Hundreds of people crowded the atrium of the Gail Borden Library in Elgin Tuesday to celebrate the local institution’s 150th birthday.

“We have the greatest library probably in the state of Illinois and maybe in the country,” Elgin Mayor David Kaptain said before declaring 2024 as Gail Borden Library Year in the city. “This is so important for this community.”

A slate of speakers echoed Kaptain’s sentiments.

“It’s been said that bad libraries build collections, good libraries build services, but great libraries like Gale Borden build communities like you can see in this room,” Kane County Board Chair Corinne Pierog said.

State Sen. Christina Castro, who was born and raised in Elgin, said she has fond memories of riding her bike to the library as a child.

“That began my love for education but also libraries,” she said. “I’m proud to be from Elgin. But I’m more proud to be a Gail Borden Library cardholder. It’s more than a library.”

  Hundreds of people wave during a group photo at the Gail Borden Library’s 150th birthday celebration Tuesday in Elgin. Rick West/

Elgin holds the distinction of being the first community in the state to establish a public library by vote on April 2, 1872, after the state of Illinois passed the “Free Library Act” in March 1872.

The doors of the first library opened in 1874 on the third floor of the Home Bank block that once stood where the Tower Building now stands.

The library is named for a man who never actually lived in Elgin.

By the early 1890s, the library had outgrown its original home. Alfred and Samuel Church donated a mansion at Spring Street and Highland Avenue for its use with the stipulation that it be named for their beloved stepfather and inventor of condensed milk, Gail Borden.

The library moved to the southwest corner of Kimball Street and Grove Avenue in the early 1970s and then to its current home at 270 N. Grove Ave. in 2003.

It now has two branch libraries. The Rakow Branch on Bowes Road in Elgin opened in 2009. The South Elgin Branch on South McLean Boulevard opened in 2016.

Tuesday’s celebration featured music from the Fox Valley Harmonizers Barbershop Quartet and the Elgin Master Chorale and a poem from Elgin poet laureate and library staff member Aron Ryan. City council member John Steffen portrayed the library’s namesake and gave a speech as Gail Borden.

The birthday celebration is part of a yearlong recognition that will include an old-fashioned outdoor fair on June 8 and other events.

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