La Porte Branch Library
The Start – 1921
The La Porte Branch first opened in June 1921 at the La Porte High School with 110 books. The branch was run by volunteers Lucille Johnson and Evelyn Lawrence. By the end of the first year, the branch's collection of 138 books had circulated 1,211 times.
In September 1923, due to increased adult patronage, the library was moved to larger and quieter quarters in the La Porte Hardware Store owned by Claire Slusher. Lois Taylor volunteered to run the library.
In 1925, the La Porte Chamber of Commerce and La Porte City Council hired the first paid librarian at a $4 per month salary. Harris County also paid the librarian a small hourly stipend.
During this time, the library was only open for one day a week. In November of that year, the library moved to a room in the recently built community building shared with the Harris County Red Cross. Eventually, the Red Cross moved out, and the library was able to expand even more.
In 1927, the library was opened for an additional day each week. Dorothy Switzer was appointed the librarian in 1928, and the branch was now open for three days each week.
The La Porte Parent Teacher Association (PTA), headed by Gladys Harrison, began a campaign to build a new building for the library in 1928. The local Presbyterian Church (now the Community Church) donated land for the project. Construction began in October 1928. The La Porte PTA purchased the materials for the project, and men in the community donated their labor.
The grand opening of the new building was on February 8, 1929. The 420 square foot building had space set aside for the Red Cross Health Center.
Librarian Dorothy Switzer is seen here (far left, back) in August 1929 with children outside the library.
Children reading outside the La Porte Library in 1929.
The total circulation in 1929 was 6,268, a significant increase from 1928 when 2,582 volumes circulated.
Dorothy Switzer stepped down as the librarian in 1930 and was replaced by Mrs. W. B. Dunne. Seen here are three children with puppets at the La Porte branch in September 1932.
Circulation at the branch steadily increased over this period, with 16,973 volumes circulated in 1932.
Christine Johnson was hired as the librarian for the summer of 1933; Mrs. Harry Johnson took over in the fall.
An adult book club (called a literary club) started in the early 1930s, and meetings were well attended and featured lively discussions.
Mrs. Otis Harrison was hired as the librarian for the branch starting in 1934. Pictured here is book delivery day at the La Porte branch in September 1934.
In 1935, a small collection of 57 books was placed in the National Youth Administration Camp for Girls in La Porte for three months. The camp focused on providing work and education to women between the ages of 16 and 25, and the books aided the women in their training.
The exterior of the La Porte branch in July 1937.
In 1938, the branch was the third-highest circulating branch, behind only Goose Creek (modern-day Baytown) and Pelly (also in modern-day Baytown), with 28,956 books checked out.
Circulation at the branch peaked in 1940, with 30,846 checkouts. The branch's circulation numbers would rise and fall throughout the 1940s, but the branch would remain one of the top five circulating branches in the system.
During World War II, a partition and door were added to the building for the Air Raid Warden.
HCPL opened a school station at the La Porte Colored School (as it was known at the time) in 1924. The station was one of the first HCPL stations opened to provide access to Black students. Students and the custodian of the library station, Viola DeWalt, are seen here in this undated photograph of the one-room schoolhouse. The station in the school was closed in May 1942. Shortly after, the school moved into a two-room building. The original building was restored in 2018 by the City of La Porte and has a Texas Historical Marker.
In 1950, the La Porte Recreation Department offered to sponsor a branch library for the Black community. A collection of 338 books were placed in the Community Building adjacent to the new La Porte Colored School. The library opened to the public on June 7, 1950, but would close in 1951, with the county citing irregular hours and inconsistent statistical reporting.
The Rotary Club paid for new asbestos siding for the building in 1952, which Branch Librarian Lydia Stile's husband installed for free.
In 1954, new blinds were installed in the library, and the building received a fresh coat of paint. The community responded well to the improvements; circulation jumped from 12,093 to 31,588 that year. The branch had the third-highest circulation, behind Baytown and West University.
The branch received a new roof in 1957.
In 1960, Edith Wilson became the branch librarian (seen here, second from the left). At the time, the county furnished books, supplies and paid for the librarian's salary and custodial services. After 1962, the City of La Porte took responsibility for the utilities, furnishings, and building maintenance.
In 1960, the local chapter of Beta Sigma Phi donated a jalousie door to the branch. The door, which featured horizontal slats, allowed fresh air into the branch when the weather was good but could withstand the high winds and rain during severe weather.
In 1962, Wilson contacted 35 local clubs and organizations to recruit members for a new Library Board. The board's primary goal would be to raise funds to construct a larger and more modern library building. The 400 square foot building was by then a maze of books and shelving, with no space for programing or leisure reading.
The La Porte community celebrated its 60th anniversary (Diamond Jubilee) in 1964. Residents enjoyed eight days of historical displays, carnivals, and parades. The highlight was the "Spurs to Space" show: "See the library built in 1 minute, 46 seconds each night."
The City of La Porte applied for funds from the Texas State Library under the Library Services and Construction Act in 1965. La Porte residents voted for a $25,000 bond to match the funds provided by the grant. Harris County provided $7,000 for furniture, shelving, and books, and the community raised an additional $7,000.
Edith Wilson and Jo Hofstetter are seen here at the site of the future La Porte Library.
The new building officially opened in January 1967 but the dedication was delayed until April 30, 1967. Edith Wilson (left) is pictured here at the dedication with Jo Hofstetter and Library Board Chairman Dr. W. R. Davison.
The building, located at 526 San Jacinto Street, was 3,300 square feet and held 6,000 books, with the potential to hold as many as 12,000.
The original 1929 building was restored and moved to the Sylvan Beach Depot Museum and Library.
Children reading, studying, and browsing the shelves at the La Porte Library in this undated photograph. A full set of World Book encyclopedias weighs down the book truck in the center.
La Porte Mayor E. A. "Buck" Thomas signed a proclamation declaring April 9-14 National Library Week in La Porte in 1973. Branch Librarian Edith Wilson (second from right) at the signing ceremony with fellow librarian Rosemary Sharp (far right).
In 1975, construction began to expand the existing library building. The funding was provided by the city and through a generous donation by resident Catherine Miller.
The expansion was completed in the spring of 1976. Additions included a large reference room, storage closets, a utility room, and a large space for the adult collection, bringing the size of the building up to 5,300 square feet.
In 1977, the library participated in the Sylvan Beach Day Parade, a La Porte tradition (now known as Sylvan Beach Festival).
By 1978, the library held 21,000 books, and the City of La Porte handled library furnishings and building maintenance. That March, long-time branch librarian Edith Wilson retired. Carol Naegle was hired in April as the new branch librarian.
In 1979, The library system switched card catalogs to microfiche. The branch also experienced mold growth that year, which was quickly remedied.
In 1980, the library sent requests to County Judge John Lindsay for more staff. Jo Hofstetter was appointed the new branch librarian.
In 1981, the Friends of the La Porte Library sponsored a float in the parade on the silver anniversary of Sylvan Beach Day.
Edith Wilson passed away on June 20, 1982. The La Porte branch was renamed the Edith Wilson Memorial Library that August. Seen here is HCPL Director Cathy Park (center, in pink) with Assistant Librarian Mark Stamps (left) at the renaming ceremony on October 2nd.
In January 1983, the library got a new Xerox machine.
That August, Hurricane Alicia hit the Houston area, but the branch building was undamaged. Unfortunately, in the months following the storm, the branch suffered from an infestation of cockroaches.
Children show off their Valentine's Day craft in this undated photograph.
In July 1985, the arrival of new circulation ‘terminals’ was exciting for customers and staff. Customers liked to test different searches and play with the new computers.
1986 was a year of multiple disasters: in January, the police were called in to rescue a father and son who accidentally got stuck in one of the bathroom stalls; in March, a librarian had to put out a car fire in the parking lot; in April, Children's Librarian Mark Stamps (seen here in red glasses) got stuck in the restroom; and finally in August, $46 was stolen from the library cash drawer.
In March 1992, the Friends of the Library raised money for a microfilm reader in memory of local historian Gordon Black. Black had previously donated microfilm of early La Porte newspapers to the library.
In 1993, branch Librarian Jo Hofstetter retired after 26 years of service. Peggy Warnock was appointed the Branch Librarian.
The branch received a new sign in 1995.
The community celebrated the library's 30th year of service in February 1996.
That October, the library received its first set of computers through an anonymous donation. The computers came with a word-processing program and a resume-writing program.
In January 1997, La Porte staff attended workshops on how to use Windows 95 and how to navigate the Internet. Later that year, HCPL received a grant to place one "public access Internet terminal" in each branch.
From 1996 to 1997, the library held a microfilm reader fundraising campaign. The Friends of the Library were successful in archiving the Bayshore Sun on microfiche.
The Houston Coca-Cola Bottling Co. gifted the city of La Porte a parcel of land on Broadway in February 1998. The "prime piece of property" would allow the city to move forward with plans to replace the existing branch with a much larger facility. The community of La Porte had tripled in size since the opening of the building in 1967.
Branch Librarian Peggy Warnock left the library in March 1998.
The City of La Porte held a special election in January 1999 to allow voters to decide on several capital projects for the city. La Porte residents approved a 1/2 cent sales tax to fund a new $2.6 million new library building.
The groundbreaking for the new building took place on May 10, 2000. Construction began that summer, right during an intense heatwave. After the hot summer, the area experienced heavy rainfall for several weeks, delaying work on the building until the standing water disappeared.
By March 2001, there had been 52 total days of weather-related delays. The target completion date of May 2001 was pushed back a few months, even with crews working on weekends and holidays.
The Edith Wilson building was closed to the public on August 25th so that staff could move the library books and equipment into the new building.
The dedication ceremony took place on the evening of September 20th, followed by an Open House. The building opened to the public on Friday, August 21st.
View a program from the dedication ceremony here.
The new 22,000 square foot facility was four times larger than the previous building. The children's section in the new building was named "Sea of Knowledge" with an entrance featuring a pair of seahorse sculptures.
HCPL Director Cathy Park (left) is seen here at the grand opening of the new building.
During fall 2003, the children's department of La Porte Community Library brainstormed ways to promote the upcoming 2004 Summer Reading Program (SRP). Many local children relied on the library in the afternoons after school let out. Children's Librarian Mark Stamps and his assistant, David Novosad, searched for a way to promote summer reading and involve some of the children in a project to challenge their imaginations and foster their talents. They founded the La Porte Community Library Film Committee to create a film to promote the SRP and recruited many of the children that spent the most time at the branch after school to help with the project. The group secured a small budget of $200 from the Friends of the La Porte Community Library.
By spring 2004, the film committee had completed its final draft of the script and began filming a short promotional film entitled Kool Ride's Library Drive. Final editing of the stop-action sequences was completed in late April 2004. Each branch received a DVD copy of the film for use in the county-wide SRP promotional effort. The film was also attached to HCPL's Kids in the Know website during the summer months and was viewed by children across the county.
The project was a huge success. The La Porte Elementary School honored the film committee members at a special screening of the film at the school, where they received praise from their peers and teachers. Film committee membership became a much-coveted position among La Porte Library's youngster customers.
The committee continued to produce a new SRP film each year, in addition to other works, such as Internet Safety with the Library Legend Busters.
View more of the committee's work in the Digital Archive, or view the branch's YouTube playlist.
The branch held a Braveheart Water Balloon Fight in June 2008.
La Porte staff celebrate the 10th anniversary of the La Porte Community Library in September 2011.
Babies and toddlers crawl through and play with boxes at the branch in 2014.
Preschool Easter Egg Hunt in March 2015.
Owlbotron and the Curiosity Cruiser bookmobile visited the branch in January 2018.
As 2020 progressed and the Coronavirus pandemic struck Harris County, La Porte staff transitioned to virtual service. Staff helped customers adjust to the new curbside service and designed customized book bundles.
In August 2020, while the branch was closed to the public due to COVID-19, branch staff rearranged the collection to remove shelving and create more open space in the building.
In February 2021, Winter Storm Uri blew through Texas, causing havoc to the power grid and leaving many without electricity or water. Children's Librarian David Novosad braved the weather to take pictures of the branch blanketed in snow.
The branch reopened to the public on May 19, 2021.
After a challenging year for the La Porte community, the library is back in business.