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”.

Charles T. Mitchell


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             Library Director 1935-1966

                   Louise Hawkes

           Library Director 1935-1966

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



The Hillsdale Community Library today:

In May of 2003, the grand opening for the new Hillsdale Community Library was held. Built at a cost of about $2 million, it was the product of community supporters and a local millage to accomplish this project.  Over 30,000 books and materials were moved from the Mitchell building to the adjacent new library.

Hillsdale Community Library Mission Statement:

The Hillsdale Community Library is dedicated to serving the informational, educational, and recreational needs of the citizens of Hillsdale.  As a public agency, the library is maintained as a service to the community and the people who support it.  Service of the library is not limited to individuals, but extends to support the civic, educational and cultural activities of groups and organizations.  The library cooperates with other organizations, agencies, and institutions to provide library service. 

The Friends of the Mitchell Research Center:

In anticipation of the new Hillsdale Library's completion in 2003, and the move to its new site, the Friends of the Mitchell Public Library felt very strongly that the residents of the city of Hillsdale would want the Mitchell name to continue to be associated with the "Mitchell Mansion" and its presence in the Hillsdale Downtown Historic District (established February 17, 1995).  As the group wanted to continue the preservation of the city and county history, it was voted to rename itself as the "Friends of Mitchell Research Center".

Many volunteers of the Mitchell Research Center were instrumental in preserving the genealogy and history of the City and County of Hillsdale.  The original five charter members were: Charlotte BengeArleen Elliott, Toni Keck, Vivian Tubbs, and Barbara McCreight. Throughout the years we have been fortunate to have scores of volunteers and some very generous donors, making it possible for us to continue to grow.  Today over twenty dedicated volunteers continue to maintain this treasure for Hillsdale.