History: Dorchester, Wis., Public Library (1931)


Contact: ljmertens@juno.com  or jantsch@charter.net


Surnames: Erlei, Hugoboom, Ortlieb, Monroe, Hugo, Martens




                              Old Dorchester, Wisconsin Village Hall

I (Margaret Erlei) was a freshman in the fall of 1931 when the idea of a library for the village of Dorchester was promoted by a group of women led by Wayne Hugoboom, the high school music teacher. They named themselves the Patroness Club. Wayne also organized a youth group to which I belonged. We called ourselves the Bookworm Club and met in Hugoboom's living room. One social event was held, a sleigh ride party, that I remember. We helped the Patroness Club by going to homes asking for donations of unused books, I think the Bookworm Club dissolved when Wayne sought greener pastures.

Because of my mother's (Alta Erlei) interest and activity I was close to the excitement when the village board met and was presented with a request for the use of the village hall for a library. We were aware that Fred Werner and Rudy Ortlieb and several others were in opposition. With approval of the board came the business of (building) shelving with doors that could be locked. Funds for this may have been granted.

The women volunteered their time twice a week, Wednesday and Saturday afternoons and evenings. Gradually their number was reduced to just a few regulars. A small fee was paid to own a card and a penny a day was collected on overdue books.

The most requested reading was for love stories, mysteries, detective and the current best sellers. I remember requests for reference books placed by our outstanding student, Elmer Estrumse.

The library took out memberships with several book clubs and this added variety. One of the most appreciated assortments came in each month by rail from the University of Wisconsin Travelling Library. The books arrived in a large, heavy, wood box. At first, Bill Monroe, the station agent, paid my brother (Leon Erlei) 5¢ a hundred pounds to transport the box to the village hall (about two blocks). Later it became my mother's responsibility and she was a familiar sight pulling a sled or wagon in all kinds of weather. My father (Henry Erlei), brother or I helped her pack and send the box and receive it as she could not do this alone.

After a while the library board decided to hire my mother at five dollars a month and thus relieve the volunteers of their obligation.

The library was informal in structure. I do not remember how she classified the shelving except for one type of reading material which she kept out of the range of young patrons. These books were on the top shelf, quite available to me, but to this day I have not read Seed or The Grapes of Wrath. I must have lost interest along the way as I had discovered Tolstoy, Victor Hugo and Alexander Dumas and many others which were not on my mother's list.

For a brief time I had a story hour for youngsters but the parents' interest dwindled.

Harold (Boob) Martens kept the hall swept and had a fire in the potbelly stove by the time my mother arrived but she was proficient in building her own fire if Boob had duties elsewhere. The odor of the place was something we had to get used to. For years no women had stepped over the threshold except to vote. The floor boards were dark and glossy with traces of missed spittoons and coals dropped from the stove. Wood and coal smoke combined with the tobacco smoke of at least four decades saturated every crack and crevice. Captains chairs were drawn up to the two long tables and were lined along the wall and around the heater.

The fire engines were housed in the other (west) half of the building and back of the meeting room was the town jail. Its two cells provided cots for transients. As soon as the weather became chill we could expect to find one or two staying overnight or for several days. The big heater provided warmth and cooking space. Many of the men were decent, intelligent, educated and interesting. Most were willing to share their troubles and tales with us, and my mother always made their visits welcome. Occasionally, one of our family stayed with her until closing, when an especially fearsome character was in town.

My mother performed her duties zealously, enjoying the books and the people, from 1932 to 1952. Her payment was never increased.



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