Preservationist: We need something better than 'cut and paste' plan for old library

Editor's note: Gail Diedrichsen is a member of the group urging the Naperville City Council to preserve the city's first Nichols Library.

By Gail Diedrichsen

Special to the Daily Herald

When Dolle Nichols received a phone call from somebody she'd never met representing a group of people interesting in preserving Old Nichols Library, she was elated. Her immediate response was, "Thank goodness … I thought I'd be fighting this alone!"

The Old Nichols Library, currently serves as a church, but sits on prime property in downtown Naperville. It recently was sold to a developer, and the thought of losing it is a grim reality she and her family are not willing to face without protest.

Gifted to Naperville in the late 1800s by the family of Dolle's great grandfather, James Lawrence Nichols, the historic building is part of our city's past and should be saved for future generations. Barbara Hower and Charlie Wilkins, also members of our group, have submitted a landmark application and await the outcome.

The developer has come up with a "cut and paste" plan that incorporates the building's facade into a huge shopping/office/apartment/restaurant/parking compound, but preservationists believe the developer should come up with a better plan … one that preserves the beautiful old building's integrity.

For Napervillians who fondly remember spending time among the shelved books in the old library, the thought of seeing it demolished is heartbreaking and provokes real emotion. The petition in favor of saving it is signed eagerly. Even for those who did not grow up in Naperville, or are too young to remember the original library, one glance at the amber-colored structure on Washington Street conveys its importance.

The building, in itself, has historical importance. Its architect, Mifflin Emlen Bell, worked on the Washington Monument, where his name is engraved on the capstone. He also contributed design work for the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago. His courthouses and federal buildings dot the entire country. In fact, the original DuPage County Courthouse in Wheaton is a great example of Bell's work.

Americans travel to Europe and all over the world yearning for their past. If we keep chipping away at our own history, existing right under our noses, we will lose our story and not know who we are.

That old library has a story to tell! It was a rare asset for a town to have a library at the time this one was built. Nichols' final act of gratitude has left us a rare gem. It was built to endure, as was surely Nichols' intent. We should cherish it.

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