Baldwin Boettcher Branch Library
The Baldwin Boettcher Branch Library was named after German immigrant Baldwin Boettcher (pictured here), who moved to the Westfield area in 1899. In 1907, Boettcher built a sawmill on 157 acres of land on Cypress Creek. Boettcher passed away in 1912, and his widow Elzora and their son Edward took over the mill. Edward Boettcher moved the mill to Huntsville in 1929.
The land from the original Westfield Mill remained in the Boettcher family until 1982, when six Boettcher heirs donated two acres to the Harris County Public Library system. Ed Boettcher, a descendent of Baldwin Boettcher, said: “The family is elated that some of this land will be used for the edification of the north Harris County area which Baldwin Boettcher held to develop.”
Learn more about Baldwin Boettcher and his family's mill in the Sawmill Barrio: The Hispanic Community at Boettcher's Mill at Democracy and Diversity in Walker County, Texas (http://www.studythepast.com/democracy/index.html)
Harris County appointed Ray Bailey Architects to the projects, and their preliminary designs for the library were presented and approved in May 1983. Unfortunately, the project soon hit a series of delays as the County, and the State of Texas worked through the placement of the water and sewer lines for the site.
Construction began on the branch in July 1985. With construction underway, HCPL started hiring staff for the branch. Staff worked at the Kingwood, Fairbanks, or Cypress Creek (modern-day Barbara Bush) branches while the new library was under construction. Librarian Elise Shell began training at Kingwood Branch in September 1985 and would serve as the Adult Reference Librarian at Baldwin Boettcher for nearly 30 years.
Despite a few more delays - including further construction of Aldine Westfield Road - by July 1986, the building was ready for staff to begin shelving the books and preparing for the opening.
The branch's grand opening took place on Sunday, August 17, 1986. HCPL Director Cathy Park (center) is seen here at the ceremony with County Commissioner E.A. "Squatty" Lyons and his wife Fern.
Baldwin Boettcher Branch Library opened to the public on Monday, August 18. The building was 10,000 square feet, held a collection of 28,471 books, had seating for 82 patrons, and a 50-person capacity meeting room.
Unfortunately, by the following month, the roof started to leak.
In March 1988, the library was the site of a public service announcement on KTRK-TV (ABC 13) about National Library Week. The commercial featured Judge Jon Lindsay.
In May 1989, the Mercer Arboretum (located in the same parking lot as the library) and library parking lot experienced significant flooding (pictured here). While the branch lost power for three days, thankfully there was no damage to the building.
In this photograph of the flooding in May 1989, kids can be seen playing in the water near the gate to the library's parking lot.
In June, the branch was closed due to Tropical Storm Allison. The roof developed leaks, but there was no visible damage to the shelving or books inside the building. However, staff discovered mold growing on some reference books only a few months later. Humidistats were installed to track humidity, and the temperature inside the branch was lowered to prevent further growth.
Like many HCPL branches, Baldwin Boettcher is located next to a Harris County park - in this case, the Mercer Botanic Gardens.
Initially developed by Charles and Thelma Mercer, Harris County bought the property from the Mercers in 1974. The Mercers stipulated that the gardens be maintained as an educational and horticultural facility for the public's enjoyment. The Mercer Botanic Gardens, and nearby Mercer Arboretum, are often featured in articles promoting areas of "wild beauty" in the Houston area.
The Baldwin Boettcher branch was often mentioned in articles and promotion of the Mercer Botanic Gardens over the next 30 years. The proximity of gardens to the library would eventually become very important to the survival of the branch.
In May 1990, the building still had humidity issues, and more mold was found on books throughout the building. Then in October, heavy rains caused a saturated ceiling tile to fall inside the building.
In July 1991, the County discovered the cause of the musty air and dampness: the A/C unit was faulty. Unfortunately, just a few weeks later, heavy rains caused more collapsed ceiling tiles, soggy carpets, wet furniture, and new mold growth on books. Contractors patched a 15-foot hole on the roof.
Although staff were frustrated by the constant leaks, water and mold mitigation efforts continued.
In October, the nearby Hirsch Elementary closed their library due to a mold infestation there. The bookmobile began servicing the school, and the Baldwin Boettcher children’s librarian brought books to the school weekly.
In July 1992, severe leaking, odor, and mold problems in the branch caused damage to the walls, carpet, furniture, and books. Staff complained of illness due to the mold. A new branch librarian, Karen Ellis, was hired, and in November 1992, the roof was replaced. Everyone hoped that the water issues would disappear once the new roof was installed.
Pictured here is the branch during a Summer Reading Program event in 1993.
The library had received its water from a local well since opening in 1986. In October 1994, the area around the library flooded, and staff were unable to get into the building for three days. The flooding caused leaks in the walls of the library's well, and sand and silt got into the water pipes and clogged the toilets. This event prompted the County to connect the library to the city water lines in February 1995.
In 1997, the public restrooms were closed for three months while being renovated to comply with ADA standards. The public had to use Porta-Potties or the toilets at Mercer Botanic Gardens. The facilities had no electricity, and customers often found themselves in the dark. Staff began providing customers with flashlights to take with them when they needed to use the restrooms.
In September 1998, staff spotted mold beginning to grow again on the reference books due to new leaks and a faulty air conditioning unit.
In October, heavy rains caused flooding in Cypress Creek that flooded the library's parking lot as well as nearby apartments where staff lived. More flooding followed in November.
In May 1999, Cindy Groover (pictured here) started at the branch. Patrons affectionately nicknamed her ‘The Hat Lady’ because of her penchant for wearing dressy hats each day.
In June of 2001, the library was damaged and closed for 9 months due to Tropical Storm Allison. Two to three inches of water flooded the building. The collection was moved into storage to prevent mold. More than 2,100 books were packed up, and staff were dispersed to other branches while the building was closed for repairs.
The branch reopened in April 2002 with many upgrades and changes to the layout of the building. HCPL had begun redesigning branches as part of the HCPL 2.0 campaign, which hoped to bring elements of popular bookstores into the library, including sofas and plush chairs in the seating areas, quiet study rooms, and a refreshment area. Customers could check out books on the new self-service stations,
The goal of the redesign was to adapt to the changing needs of the community. As HCPL Director Catherine Park said at the unveiling of the branch:
"We're changing because the traditional library model no longer meets our needs. Staff are tied to service desks and the demand for services outstrips staffing levels. Hours are not convenient for today's family lifestyles. Customers will not adapt to us. However, with our new system, the library will be able to expand hours of service, collections, and resources without drastic increases in staff that a traditional service model would require.
"We are interested in creating a new look and feel that says the library is not only a place to get information but it is a lively social place where one can meet friends and connect with the community. There will be food and drink, comfortable seating, and a wide array of new and popular materials which are successfully merchandised to appeal to all ages. The interior layout is fundamental to accomplishing that goal. We want the library to be a welcoming and comfortable place for all generations."
Children's area of the branch shortly after reopening.
Variety puppet show during the 2004 Summer Reading Program.
Teen reading a book at the branch in a photograph taken between 2004-2006.
Reading Club Superstar Josh read 150 books at the Baldwin Boettcher Branch Library during the 2006 Summer Reading Program.
Baldwin Boettcher Branch staff in front of the mural in the front lobby in this photograph from 2007. The mural contains the Dr. Seuss quote: "The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you'll go."
In 2010, the branch was one of 70 public libraries to receive a $5,000 grant from "The American Dream Starts @ Your Library" initiative. The grant allowed the branch to offer English as a second language (ESL) classes. The free classes were scheduled on Saturdays afternoon, with child care available for parents. Grant funds were used to buy ESL books and audiovisual materials, and the library recruited volunteers from the community to serve as ESL tutors and help their neighbors.
Pictured here is an ESL class in March 2011.
Two children draw in chalk on the floor of the branch in March 2012.
The staff of the branch in October 2014.
In 2016, the library was remodeled with new carpet, furniture, paint, and wall art.
The branch received two parrots; one male and one female. The community voted on names for the birds, with the winning name set being Ricky and Lucy from the classic sitcom "I Love Lucy."
In August 2017, the library experienced severe flooding during Hurricane Harvey when Cypress Creek overflowed. About 5 feet of water poured into the building, destroying all the furniture, technology, books, and audiovisual materials. When staff visited the building to assess the damage, they found shelving toppled by the rushing waters, a layer of mud on staff desks, and an unprecedented sense of despair as it became clear repairs would not be quick or easy.
Water from Cypress Creek still covered the parking lot of the library days after Hurricane Harvey had left the Houston area.
More pictures and videos of the destruction and aftermath can be found here.
Two staff members relocated to the Barbara Bush Library, while the remaining five stayed at Baldwin Boettcher. Young Adult Librarian Victoria Knauff was promoted to Interim Branch Manager during the branch closure.
Ricky and Lucy survived the flooding and were removed from the building. Both were rehomed (together) once it was clear the branch would be closed for a while.
The building was gutted after the water receded. Remediation of the building began, with crews setting up dehumidifiers to dry out the structure and save what they could of what remained.
Almost nothing was salvaged from the library, as the high humidity destroyed items not impacted by the water or mud. Many mementos and pieces of the branch's history were lost. Staff retrieved one scrapbook of memories from the early 2000s, but most of the history collected over the previous 30 years of the branch was gone.
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In the spring of 2018, the branch was moved to a small, one-room building in the Mercer Botanic Gardens. The building had previously been used as a changing room for wedding venues and a break room for the inmate work release crew that did maintenance on the grounds.
The building was cleaned, disinfected, and repainted. A table, storage closet, two desks, and book carts were brought in to hold books, laptops for the staff, and supplies. Unfortunately, there was no room for public use computers, and restrooms were in a separate outdoor space. The new building was dubbed "The Little Blue Library." Though faced with a challenging situation, staff continued to provide amazing programs for the community.
The branch reopened on June 4, 2018. Interim Branch Manager Victoria Knauff noted:
"After Harvey, we all felt the loss of the library, so being able to bring it back in such a reimagined way has been a lot of fun. We were and are so excited that we have been given the opportunity to offer the community a sense of normalcy by offering materials to check out for all ages, year-round programming, a place to pick up holds, all within such beautiful gardens."
An exterior view of the Little Blue Library.
With limited space inside the Little Blue Library, many programs moved outside to take advantage of the beautiful grounds, including storytimes, Pokémon scavenger hunts, nature crafts, Spin-a-Yarn crochet club, and Word Crafters writing group.
In March 2019, the library launched a new Tool Library, allowing customers to check out commonly needed gardening tools and equipment for free. The collection was possible through the partnership with Mercer Botanic Gardens.
To see the list of tools available, click here. For details about tool lending and borrowing policies including the borrowing waiver form, visit HCPL's Special Equipment FAQ page.
While service to the community resumed through the Little Blue Library, HCPL plans to bring the old building back. The building would need to be remodeled to make it more resilient to future flood events. Architects submitted plans for renovating the branch and incorporating the Mercer Botanic Gardens into the design. A video of proposed landscape architecture services by Halff Associates is available to view on YouTube here.
Proposed designs included possible changes such as raising the computer desks, using mobile shelving that could be moved in advance of a storm, and placing a gift shop for Mercer Botanic Gardens within the library. While it's unclear how long it will be before plans move forward, the future Baldwin Boettcher Library will undoubtedly involve much more outdoor programming and gardening resources for the community.
Green tea ceremony in February 2020.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Baldwin Boettcher staff transitioned to virtual and curbside services to continue offering exceptional customer service to the community. While the Little Blue Library was closed to the public, staff created book bundles, held virtual programs and filled the many holds placed by their devoted patrons.
In February 2021, Winter Storm Uri hit Texas with snow and unprecedented cold temperatures for a week, knocking out power grids and leaving many without power and water. Snow blanketed the grounds of the Mercer Botanic Gardens. See more pictures of the gardens covered in snow here.
On May 19, 2021, the branch reopened to the public for the first time since March 2020. Staff were overjoyed to welcome back the community and begin the next chapter in the story of the Baldwin Boettcher Branch Library.