On behalf of the Johnson County Library, Sean Casserley, county librarian (center) accepts a $5,000 donation from Amazon at a presentation ceremony at Edgerton City Hall on Nov. 21, 2016. Edgerton’s library facility was built by Edgerton community and opened in 2000. Photo courtesy of Rick Poppitz


Rita Moore, former city clerk, was one of many volunteers who worked to rehabilitate a 1906 building into the Edgerton “Bank of Knowledge.” File photo

Rita Moore, former city clerk, was one of many volunteers who worked to rehabilitate a 1906 building into the Edgerton “Bank of Knowledge.” File photo


It was a long, difficult road to travel, but Edgerton residents for years spoke loud and clear through both their words and their actions: We want a library, and we will build it ourselves if we must.
And, with help from friends, USD 231 and community organizations, it took a decade, but they did. The Bank of Knowledge, a 1906 former bank building, was reconstructed, and opened in 2000.
Now, so many years later, The Bank of Knowledge is still a source of community involvement and pride that continues to grow. Monday, Nov. 21, intermodal tenant Amazon. Co., donated $5,000 to the Johnson County Library system.
Speaking at a presentation ceremony at Edgerton City Hall on Nov.21, Mark Marzano, general manager of the Edgerton Amazon facility said, “Amazon values the communities in which we work and live, and we feel it is important to give back, every chance we get, and this is exactly why we’re here tonight.” Amazon donated $5,000 to the Edgerton branch of the Johnson County Library.
The small building on East Nelson Street stands as the fruit of the community’s labor, a literary mainstay and social epicenter. Built from the months of hours put in by community volunteers and even prison inmates, its future was uncertain only a decade ago, when Edgerton citizens came together, rolled up their collective sleeves and got to work on a project of which they could all be proud.
Local library services disbanded in the 1970s, at which time Edgerton residents still paid county taxes for library services. Deciding they wanted and deserved more, a letter writing campaign in the mid-1980s resurrected those services – but not to the extent Edgerton’s residents had hoped for.
What the county actually gave them were two small rolling book carts, where residents could select books they wanted to “check out” on an honor system. After giving their address and telephone number to city officials, residents could take the book for as long as they needed.
According to former USD 231 Superintendent Gary George, Edgerton Elementary School then left its school library open during the summer months so students could read and study there. One of the main reasons this was done, he said, was to ensure the safety of Edgerton’s children, who ran a risk riding their bicycles on Highway 56.
“Traveling Highway 56, there was no shoulder and no way to ride a bike there safely, so to provide another option we did arrange to have summer hours (at the school’s library),” George said.
Residents wanted more .
After several years writing letters, attending meetings and negotiating with the county library board, the council bought the bulding for $1 by former Edgerton Councilman Mike Schmidt. The bank building, which Schmidt had previously owned and operated as a grocery store for several years, was constructed in 1906. It boasted a Romanesque Revival brick exterior and arched stone windows. But there was much work to be done on the building – a leaky roof, rotting floors and generally deteriorating rooms greeted the city when the purchase was complete. In all, estimates for the cost of the renovation project topped $250,000.
Money to reconstruct the decaying building was raised, but perhaps even more than the actual money, the camaraderie that grew between the school district, residents and community groups exhibited what former City Clerk Rita Moore called Edgerton’s “can-do community spirit.”
Citizens work together
In 1999, volunteers from all over rolled up their sleeves and got to work renovating the grand old structure. Everyone from local children to the elderly to politicians cleaned up the debris within the building, patterned windows, painted walls and supplied meals for one another. Even inmates from the Lansing Correctional Facility were shipped in to help renovate the interior and exterior of the building.
Moore said the project successfully created a common bond between everyone in Edgerton.
“It was the community project for our city,” Moore said. “Everybody came together. You saw volunteers and contributors from everywhere. It was awesome. It was exactly what the community needed.”
In summer 1999, however, the project hit a major road block. Johnson County commissioners sliced the library board’s budget, and that without the full original amount budgeted, it was unlikely the project would reach completion
Meanwhile, books came pouring in from all over the country; many were sold at a large book sale for raising additional funds.
All told, the cost of the project clocked in at $434,463, with $200,000 coming from the CDBG grant, $10,000 from a KC150 Legacy Grant, $35,302 from the city of Edgerton’s operating fund and $189,161 raised by the community itself.
The finishing touch on the bank – its name – came one day during a brainstorm between city officials and organizers. In homage to the old building’s previous use, they decided it would be named as a place where residents could access a wealth of information – a veritable Bank of Knowledge.
George, who worked on multiple letter writing campaigns on behalf of the school district, said such teamwork was characteristic of those working on making one town’s dream a reality.
“I think it demonstrates that when groups of people come together with a common purpose, they can accomplish a lot,” George said. “The need was there, and the people deserved (library) services.
“After several years of effort, we finally had a library,” he said. “We were very pleased with what we had, but it did take a lot of effort from a lot of different people. It was an important addition to the city of Edgerton, and it was a positive step forward.”
Officials from across the state descended on Edgerton in July 2000 for the Bank of Knowledge’s ribbon-cutting ceremony and dedication. Attendees marveled at the library’s collection of more than 7,900 books and other materials, Internet work stations, meeting room and outdoor patio/reading courtyard, where bricks bear the names of donors associated with the project. Inside, too, the Wall of Recognition bears the names of donors who gave $250 or more to the project, while the names of those who gave $1,000 or more have been forever memorialized on the Arch Window Recognition plaque.
“This project was much more than brick and mortar. It is about Edgerton’s future,” then-Edgerton Mayor Frances Cross said at the library’s opening ceremonies. “The return on the investment we have made will continue for many generations. … We have benefited from the amazing generosity of people who have asked to remain anonymous and from the good heartedness of people who may not be considered wealthy by Johnson County standards, but who we consider to be rich in spirit.”
(Information for this story supplied by Rita Moore, Frances Cross. The article was written by Corbin Crable and originally ran in The Gardner News in May, 2010)