The Braidwood Public Library and Board were established on March 24, 1970 at the Braidwood City Council Meeting. Prior to the opening of the library on November 2, 1970, there was no library in the city for approximately 60 years. The first library location was at 220 E. Main Street, in a store front type building that was part of the Union Block on Main Street and was staffed by volunteers. Funding in the early days was from donations of Braidwood residents and the residents of the surrounding area.
The library's present boundaries include all of Reed, Custer, Essex, and Salina Townships, along with the villages of Gardner, South Wilmington, East Brooklyn, Braceville, Godley, Bonfield, Custer Park and Essex, as well as the city of Braidwood.
The population of the city of Braidwood in 1970 was 2,500. In 1972, there were 542 registered borrowers. In 1989, the population was 3,429 with a total population of 4,429 in the tax base and 1,842 card holders. In 1996 the total population of the district was 10,000 and there were 3,801 card holders. In 2004 there are 13, 478 residents in the district with 6,127 registered users.
Circulation of materials has grown from 3,344 in 1972 to 47,510 in 1988-89. Circulation in 1972 was 126,302. Current circulation is 154,507. The library collection now includes books, books on tape and CD, music CD's, videos, and DVD's for adults and children. There are also 8 Internet stations available to the patrons.
In 1970, the library was open 15 hours per week. In 1989, the library was open 67 hours per week, including Sunday. The library is currently open 58 hours per week.
As time went by, it became apparent that the Braidwood Library was not able to give adequate service to its growing number of patrons, so on August 25, 1979, a referendum for the expansion of the Braidwood Public Library to include all of Reed Township and be know as the Fossil Ridge Public Library District was put before the voters. By a vote of 137 - 48, Braidwood and Reed Township residents showed that they were in favor of creating a new public library district.
Groundbreaking ceremonies for the new library, to be built at the corner of West Kennedy Road and Walker Street, were held on Sunday, March 27, 1983, construction of the 6,250 square foot building by D. Koerner Construction, Inc., Coal City, Illinois, began as soon as weather permitted.
The Fossil Ridge Public Library District opened the doors to the new facility on December 12, 1983, after nearly 6 months of construction. The architects of the building were Keiser and Associates of Geneva, Illinois.
As of June 1, 1989, the part of Essex Township that is part of the Reed-Custer Unit District and, as of December, 1990, Custer Township is now part of the district enabling them to have library service. The village of Braceville became part of the district in 1993. The townships of Essex and Salina, including the village of Bonfield, along with the communities of Gardner, South Wilmington, and East Brooklyn were annexed into the district in November, 1995.
Interesting items for information purposes are: number of volumes owned by Fossil Ridge Public Library District in 1989 was 23,596, in 1996, there were 48,157 volumes and currently there are 46,754 items; there are 6,892 square feet in the new addition giving a total of 13,142 square feet; and the library is mortgage free. The library has become a focal point of our community where various types of workshops, programming for adults and children, community meetings, and senior citizens get-togethers are held.
New additions were designed by James Keiser of Geneva, Illinois and observing architect during construction was John Marshall, also of Geneva. General contractor for the construction of the additions was Ray Serena Construction of Gardner, Illinois. Construction began in July, 1989, and was completed in December, 1989.
Bookmobile service was established and began serving the communities in the district on February 20, 1995. The bookmobile also makes bi-monthly visits to several schools in the library district.
There are three schools located in Braidwood which are all in the Reed-Custer Unit School District. There is one in Custer Park, Braceville, Bonfield, South Wilmington, and two in Gardner. Churches are found in all the communities within the district. There are several community clubs such as the Friends of the Library, Lions, Lioness Club, PTO, CCW, Ladies Aid Society, Masons, Senior Citizens Group, Knights of Columbus, Boy and Girl Scouts, soccer and baseball organizations are found within the library district. The Braidwood Park District and the Godley Park District are also in the district.
The Braidwood Dunes, Braidwood Savannah, Braidwood Lake and Mazonia are located in the district. People in the district avail themselves of several recreation clubs which offer swimming, fishing, fossil hunting, golf, tennis, picnic areas, camping, etc. Bicycling is also popular in the area. Little league, minor league baseball and soccer are three of the main activities during the summer months. The library provides an excellent summer reading program and activities for all ages.
Braidwood is rich in history. It is an old coal mining community. Underground and surface mining were both done in Reed Township. Braidwood was named for James Braidwood, 1831-1870, who was a civil engineer and coal mine operator. Coal was first discovered here in 1864.
The surface or strip mining changed the geographic area. After the coal had been mined, trees were planted and pits were stocked with fish. These pits were converted to lakes and recreation areas have been developed. One great treasure from the strip mining was the finding of fossils. Fossils from the library district area are known world wide. The library owns and has an extensive display of fossils from our local area. The Illinois State Fossil, "Tully Monster," is part of this collection.
The library also houses the Bolin Family Wildlife exhibit. Over 194 specimens of birds are part of this exhibit, which has been identified by Eastern Illinois University.
The only large industry within the district is a nuclear power plant, and two small factories located in Gardner. Residential and farm acreage make up the rest of the district.