The Old Library Building
The University's first Library Building, erected with an appropriation of $100,000 secured from the legislature in 1881, was planned as a combination art gallery and library. Construction, under the direction of Ware and Van Brunt, architects (later Van Brunt and Howe), and James Appleyard, of Lansing, contractor, began in 1881. On November 22, 1883, the building was ready for occupancy, and on the twelfth of the following month formal dedication ceremonies were held. In 1898 an addition was made to the bookstacks at a cost of $13,450, increasing the capacity to 200,000 volumes.
The old Library Building was long a landmark on the campus. Its twin towers were conspicuous everywhere, and the curving red brick walls of the great reading room formed a unique architectural feature. The east tower contained the University clock and a peal of five bells striking the Westminster chimes on the quarter hours. These bells, scrapped for old metal in World War II, were given to the University by E. C. Hegeler, J. J. Hagerman, and President Andrew D. White of Cornell University.
Within the building the delivery desk was situated along the diameter of the semicircle formed by the reading room, and behind it were the stackrooms of fireproof steel and brick construction. The reading room was furnished with reading desks and swivel chairs, which in later years became very worn and unstable. The women sat on one side Page 1675of the room and the men on the other. At either end of the delivery desk were the library offices.
The second floor housed the University's art collections, principally the collection given the University by Henry C. Lewis, of Coldwater, in 1895. This collection, which included many original works, as well as copies of paintings in European galleries, filled every inch of space in the room formed by the sloping roof above the main reading room. A part of the semicircular area where the roof came close to the floor was walled off, and the curved passageway thus formed, which possessed peculiar acoustic properties, was long known as the "Whispering gallery." Two seminar rooms, one in history and English, and one in the classics, were situated on either side of the main art gallery.
Eventually, this first Library Building was officially declared to be unsafe and the Board of Regents, in 1915, appealed to the legislature for a new one. At first it was planned to enlarge the old building; this proved impracticable, however, because of its inflammable character, since the beams in the ceiling of the main reading room, the stairways, much of the frame of the structure, and the entire roof were of wood. The only parts of the old Library Building to be retained in the new one were the bookstacks which were fireproof, although too weakly built to permit raising their height to the level of the new structure.