Sumner Branch Library, 611 Van White Memorial Boulevard, Minneapolis, Minnesota

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Sumner Branch Library

Sumner Branch Library, 1940
Sumner Branch Library, 2008
Address: 611 Van White Memorial Boulevard
Neighborhood/s: North, Minneapolis, Minnesota
Minneapolis, Minnesota
Hennepin County, Minnesota
State/province: Minnesota
Country: United States
Year built: 1915
Primary Style: Tudor Revival
Additions: 1927, 1939, 2004
Moved from Location: 611 Emerson Avenue North
Historic Function: Library
Current Function: Library
Architect or source of design: Cecil Bayless Chapman
Material of Exterior Wall Covering: Brick
Notes: Carnegie Grant: part of $125,000 granted to the City of Minneapolis for 4 Carnegie Libraries.

North Minneapolis Hennepin County

Sumner Branch Library, 611 Van White Memorial Boulevard, Minneapolis, Minnesota
(44.984628° N, 93.294124° WLatitude: 44°59′4.661″N
Longitude: 93°17′38.846″W

The Sumner Branch Library is one of 65 public libraries built in Minnesota with funds from Andrew Carnegie and the Carnegie Corporation. Between 1899 and 1917, Carnegie, a wealthy industrialist and philanthropist contributed close to 1 million dollars towards library construction in Minnesota. This makes Minnesota the eighth largest recipient of Carnegie Library grants in the United States.



On April 03, 1912 the City of Minneapolis secured $125,000 from Carnegie to build four branch libraries for the Minneapolis Public Library system. The funding success has been attributed to the application made by Gratia Countryman who served as head librarian of the Minneapolis Public Library from 1904 to 1936. Prior to 1912, Minneapolis had made two previous requests to Carnegie in 1902 and 1909 but both requests had been denied. Countryman has been celebrated for her vision and direction in the development of Minnesota’s public libraries, and as a leader in the library world. Plans for the Sumer Branch Library were prepared by the Minneapolis architect Cecil Bayless Chapman of the firm Chapman and Magney. Chapman and his business partner Gottlieb R. Magney designed a number of buildings in Minneapolis such as the Calhoun Athletic and Boat Club (1912), the Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church (1915), and the Saxe Movie Theatre (ca. 1914). The contractor appointed to construct the branch library was Haglin and Stahr of Minneapolis. The Sumner Branch Library opened to the public on December 15, 1915 and was named in honor of Charles Sumner, a U.S. Senator from Massachusetts who was an outspoken abolitionist. Although Mae Westburg was the first head librarian to serve in this Carnegie library, her successor Adelaide C. Rood was appointed in 1916 and held this position for 37 years.

While the Carnegie grant was used to construct the building, the City of Minneapolis had to provide a suitable site and were expected to tax themselves at the annual rate of 10% of the grant amount. This requirement imposed by Carnegie ensured a long-term commitment for the purchase of books, staff costs and maintenance of the library building. The site for this new branch library cost $8,000 and was paid for by money raised through a bond issue.

From the outset the Sumner Branch Library was an incredibly popular library and alterations and expansions have occurred several times to meet the demand of its library patrons. The Carnegie building therefore continues to function as a successful branch library in the Hennepin County Library system.

Building History

The Sumner Library neighborhood branch played a crucial role in the accommodation of new immigrant populations in the early part of the twentieth century. Located on Olson Memorial Parkway, the Sumner Branch was especially helpful to the large influx of Jewish immigrants on the near north side of Minneapolis. A survey conducted during the early years of operation revealed that approximately 95 percent of library card holders were Jewish. As a result, the city’s entire Yiddish and Hebrew collections were placed at Sumner. The vision of Gratia Countryman, the first chief librarian in Minneapolis, to bring residents closer to educational resources was fully realized at the Sumner location. Of the thirteen branch libraries opened during Countryman’s tenure from 1904 to 1936, the Sumner Branch perhaps played the most active role in the community. English courses as well as numerous clubs and social services met at the library. Funded by the Carnegie Corporation, the Tudor Revival style used by architect Cecil Bayless Chapman distinguished the building in the working class neighborhood.

Importance to the North Side Community

The library served as a very important way in which the Jewish Community congregated and came together for one reason. This library allowed for the preservation of the Yiddish and Hebrew languages through their collection of books written in these dialects. This further enhanced the sense of community and oneness felt in the North Side neighborhood.

Building Description

The Sumer Branch Library is a one storey Tudor Revival style building with a raised basement. The original building form consisted of two intersecting gables and is faced with reddish-brown brick. The gabled roof is covered with asphalt shingles. Brick is used in many different styles and patterns to create much of the building’s decoration. For example, the windows are rectangular and are framed by brick surrounds and brick string courses extend from the window divisions across the major exterior walls. The gable ends also use brickwork for ornamentation purposes. Before the 2004 addition created a new main entry-way, the original entrance of the library was the facade with the central polygonal tower positioned at the intersection of the two gabled forms. This main entrance bay also featured a dominant embattled parapet but this has since been removed. A Tudor arched entrance-way is enclosed by the tower, and a panel of red sandstone above the arch has “Public Library” inscribed in Gothic style lettering. Tudor features can be seen in both exterior details and in the well preserved interior decoration and furnishings. For example, the main floor’s original foyer has a vaulted ceiling, Tudor arched walls and doors with Tudor arched leaded glass. Oak shelving, doors, window seats and even a Tudor inspired fireplace still exist in the Sumner Branch library.

There have been 3 major additions to the library. The first was the western wing added in 1927 as the Children’s Room; the second was the northern wing added in 1939 to add a reference room and office; the final addition and redesign of the Carnegie building occurred in 2004 and included a new main entry with a metal clad barrel-vaulted roof. The 2004 addition was designed by the Minneapolis-based firm KKE Architects. The two earlier additions were designed to match the original library and both have a flat roofline.

An interesting fact is that the Sumner Branch library was moved 100 feet northward in 1938 to accommodate the widening of the Olson Memorial Highway (Sixth Avenue North). The cost to move the library was $32,000 and the Minneapolis architecture and engineering firm Johnson and Backstrom planned and supervised this project.[1]

Memories and stories


65}px This place is part of the
Minnesota Carnegie Libraries Tour
65}px This place is part of
Public History 3001 Class Project
64px}px This place is part of the
Minneapolis Jewish North Side Tour

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