The Mitchell Public Library
The gala grand opening of the Mitchell Public Library was held on July 15, 1908. With what the Hillsdale Leader termed “a quiet earnest simplicity”, the “magnificent and gracious gift”, was accepted by the City of Hillsdale and the Hillsdale Board of Education. Local citizens, dressed in their finest, attended the afternoon affair held on the Library lawn. Speakers included J. W. Mauck, President of Hillsdale College, as well as numerous dignitaries. Arriving by train, most visitors were transported by hacks and buggies. It is said that Mrs. F.W. Stock was the only attendee to arrive by automobile, still rare in Hillsdale in 1908.
The Ladies Library Association, formed in Hillsdale in 1879, donated their inventory of 2666 volumes of “good literature” to the new library, plus one of their charter members, Miss Mary Pratt, was appointed the first librarian of the Mitchell Library. In 1908, the new library was said to be the finest library in the state for a town of this size. The grand building, with its marble fireplace, ornate ceilings and beautiful woodwork, would serve our community for 95 years before the Hillsdale Community Library, designed to match much of the Mitchell Building’s Italianate details, was built next door.
The Mitchell home, built in the Second Empire style, was begun in 1868. Owners Charles T. Mitchell and Harriet Wing Mitchell moved their original house to the back of their property (a not uncommon practice in those days), where it still stands at the corner of West and McCullum. That summer of 1868 saw a great deal of new construction in Hillsdale. At the corner of Manning and North, Mitchell’s banking partner, Henry Waldron, was also building a new home, which today is the home of the Elks Club. The home was bequeathed to the City according to the will of Mr. Mitchell, giving his wife a life lease. C. T. died in 1898, and Mrs. Mitchell in 1906. Following her death, a two year renovation was begun, using $10,000 in securities also gifted to cover the expenses.
Harriet Wing Mitchell
The surviving children, William Mitchell of Cadillac and Mrs. Harriet Mitchell Sawyer donated additional funds so that the remodeling could be completed “perfectly in accordance with the whole architectural plan". The original central staircase was moved and one fireplace removed. The butternut woodwork was preserved and some decorative tile – with Pewabic Tile of Detroit – was added.
In 1908, the new Library boasted a men’s “club room” inside the north door, where gentlemen could read, rest and smoke. The second floor held the auditorium where women’s clubs could meet. This space later became the children’s room and a place for musical recitals.
The third floor, the “Library Loft”, was adapted for use by community members as a ballroom for dances and card parties. Kitchen facilities were installed in the former servant’s quarters in the rear of the third floor. For many years, local parties and dances were held in “the Loft”.
The Children of Charles T. and Harriett W. Mitchell
Charles T. and Harriett Wing Mitchell had six children between 1848 and 1861. There were four sons, Frank, Austin, William, and Charles T., Jr., and two daughters, Kate Eliza and Harriett. Frank, the first born, lived one year. Austin and William were quite successful in the lumber industry, joining their uncle George Mitchell (Charles' brother) in Wexford County, in northern lower Michigan. George was the first mayor of Clam Lake, which was later to become the city of Cadillac. The area was founded onlarge lumbering tracts, which made the two Mitchell brothers very rich men.
The second born, Kate Eliza Mitchell attended Hillsdale College two years and was a student at Vassar three and a half years. She married Covis M. Barre, county clerk of Hillsdale on August 17, 1882, and died less than three years later at age 35, soon after the birth of her second child.
Meanwhile, the younger brother, C.T., Jr. living in Hillsdale, attended Hillsdale College and was active in the rowing Craze, so popular during that era. He was a member of the Baw Beese Rowing Team, strong rival of the Hillsdale Rowing Team, which went on to national acclaim. Upon young Mitchell’s death in 1882, at age 24, it was said “he had suffered poor health for three years”, although, the Hillsdale Herald reporting of the Hillsdale Regatta in 1879, lists him as a rowing starter of the Baw Beese Team.
Many questions remain surrounding the 1902 death of brother Austin, born in 1852. Known as an extremely generous man, he was reported as “lost at sea”, under “peculiar and distressing circumstances”, while on a cruise to Japan with his wife. Upon his death, his widow was said to be the richest woman in San Diego County, CA.
William Whittier Mitchell was probably best remembered in Hillsdale for his generosity. After the new Court House was built in 1899, W.W. donated the clock and chimes. He also contributed generously to the building of the Hillsdale City Hall in 1911, where a plaque still hangs in his honor. Over the years William made untold donations to Hillsdale College, including among other things, lumber for flooring.
The youngest, Harriett Belle, after receiving extensive schooling, married Dr. Walter Hume Sawyer and lived next door to the Mitchell home. Dr. and Mrs. Sawyer were generous community benefactors through the years, carrying on the example set by her parents.
Hillsdale Library Directors from 1908 to present:
Mary Pratt 1908-1924
Nell Rowley 1924-1935
Liethel Ford 1935
Carol Hawkes 1935
Louise Hawkes 1935-1966
Raymond Ogden 1966-1970
James Jaeger 1970-1977
Randy Ballinger 1977-1983
Sally Arrive 1983-1985
Debbie Kirley 1985-1986
Janet Johnston 1986-1989
Ranae Scott 1989-1990
Diana Pierson 1990-1998
Jacqueline Morris 1998-2004
Mark Maier 2005-2008
Cory Grimminck 2008-2011
Nola Baker 2011-2012
LeAnn Beckwith 2012-present