Nov. 15, Stanwood-Camano Friends of the Library will celebrate 100 years of the endless possibilities bound within books. They will also celebrate the legacy of Lizzie Irvine.
Lizzie Irvine moved a few steps ahead of everyone else. When she died in 1912, the wealthy wife of J.H. Irvine left $2,500 to the city of Stanwood. She stipulated the money be used for books and maintenance of a library on a site outside city limits at the time.
With her will, Irvine set in motion the Stanwood Library and the expansion of city limits.
Lizzie was born in New Bedford, Mass., in 1844, according to research compiled by Stuart Heady, a volunteer with Friends of the Library.
By 1877, she was living in Port Townsend, where she married a former whaling captain who operated a tug on Puget Sound. He died a few years later.
John Henry Irvine was born in Ireland in the 1830s and chased out by the potato famine. He sailed with his family to the U.S. and settled in Maine.
But Irvine was a wanderer. He headed to St. Joseph, Mo., and from there he struck westward. By 1852 he was in California.
He had tended oxen and handled the yokes and harnesses. Now, he took his experience north, running cattle and selling beef to logging camps around Centerville (now Stanwood).
In 1897, he opened the town’s first mercantile. At some point, census data shows that Irvine married a Native American woman, but she disappeared from the records a few years later.
In 1885, Lizzie was 41. J.H. Irvine was 49. They met, married and “are now known to history as Mr. and Mrs. J.H. Irvine,” Heady said.
The couple moved and shook through town until they sold the store and moved to Seattle in 1897.
A decade and a half later, with Lizzie’s bequest, the Irvine’s were back in Stanwood.
Even in those times, $2,500 wasn’t going to get a library. But it was enough that a group of 19 Stanwood women organized in 1913, called themselves the Four Leaf Clover Club, and got down to the business of raising enough money to finish what Irvine started.
When J.H. Irvine learned of their efforts, he matched his wife’s last wishes. The club raffled and bake-saled and pulled together $500 to buy the land on which the library would sit. City council annexed it into city limits.
By 1917, the Four Leaf Clover Club — a precursor to today’s Friends of the Library — had land, $5,000 from the Irvine’s and the sobering realization that a new building would cost twice that much.
Plans for Stanwood’s library stalled.
Across town, The Stillaguamish Band — a group of men who blew horns, beat a bass drum and rapped a snare, and nicknamed themselves the “band boys — was anything but stalled. Brass bands were the rage as the 1920s edged near, and this group had its own hall in which to play and practice. It wasn’t much, about the size of a modest house, but it was theirs.
So, when they decided in 1919 to donate their building to the library’s cause, they could. The Four Leaf Clover Club raised another $500 to move the building to the site that had been purchased. They scrubbed and shined and got the building in shape for its new debut.
Named Irvine Community Library, it was dedicated Jan. 22, 1922. During its first month, 398 books were loaned.
In the ‘40s, the library joined the new Snohomish County Library System, which became Sno-Isle Regional Library System in 1962. By then, the band hall was bursting with books and, again, Stanwood’s residents took it upon themselves to raise funds and donate labor for a new library.
It was built on the same property where it stands today, at 9701 271st St. NW, and dedicated in 1970. In 1986, the building was expanded to its current size, again with community fundraising and volunteer labor.
These days, Stanwood Library is more than a place to borrow books. It is a research center, a job-search hub, an array of programs for children, teens and adults.
Sno-Isle Libraries now has more than 20 libraries, the Bookmobile and Library on Wheels, serving roughly half a million people across the two counties.
Stanwood-Camano Friends of the Library meets the second Tuesday of every month except July and August. Meetings are at 11 a.m. in Stanwood Library’s meeting room. The goal is largely the same as the original Four Leaf Clover Club — to promote the library and encourage public support, and to encourage and accept gifts and memorials to the library so it can continue to provide educational and cultural experiences to its patrons.
The centennial celebration begins at 7 p.m. on Nov. 15 at the library.
Theresa Metzger, chair for the board of the Stanwood-Camano YMCA Initiative, will speak about the legacy of the Four Leaf Clovers Club and Karen Prasse, author, local historian and librarian, will present the history of the library and the times of a century past.
Manskor of Skagit Valley, a Norwegian male chorus, will sing songs in honor of the Manskor that sang at the 1922 dedication of the original library.
Refreshments will be served.
Victor Hugo reportedly said, “A library implies an act of faith.”
Faith in humanity’s innate desire to learn, explore, imagine, wonder. With her will, Lizzie Irvine declared her faith.