I’ve been communicating with my friend Howard Decker, an architect, urban planner, and preservationist, about our quest to save the old Nichols Library building. I asked him what is it about old buildings that attracts people, what connects us to them, and why we get so upset when a beloved old building is threatened.
He referenced a speech he made awhile back in Peoria and I excerpted this quote from it, which I think explains our attachment to historic structures: “Historic preservation is about caring for our collective cultural memory, expressed in our buildings, in our landscapes, in all those places that serve as fields for human action, as stages for the human drama. The sense of loss that we legitimately feel when these precious places of habitation, our built memories, are damaged or destroyed is that feeling of separation from our past that profoundly alerts us to our mortality, our fragility, our incompleteness.”
I pushed Decker a little more. Why do some care so much, but seemingly many are cavalier about demolishing old buildings?
“Americans are notoriously hostile to history – we live in an aggressively anti-intellectual society,” he said, “But I’ll bet when most Napervillians go on vacation, they go to history.”
He backed this up by referencing a comment by travel writer Arthur Frommer, who claimed that the number-one reason people traveled was history. “No one goes to Schaumburg for their two weeks!”
One only has to read the comments of the more than 1,000 people who cared enough about the old Nichols Library to take time to not only sign the online petition, but also to write heartfelt comments, to understand how important the old library building is to them. It’s evocative. It’s part of their cultural collective memory. It’s the grand dame that has held court at 110 S. Washington Street for more than a hundred years.
Some remember it when it was the library and the role it played in their lives. Others see it as a beautiful old building—one the likes of which you’ll never see again – and are aghast that anyone would ever consider demolishing or “remuddling” it.
I think folks are legitimately concerned, too, that towns, and in this case Naperville – not Anytown USA – stripped of their history and replaced with someone’s idea of history or of history rewritten become no more than empty shells. Old buildings teach us about what happened before we came on the scene and provide insights on those who came before us.
What follows is a sampling of some of the quotes from the Save Old Nichols Library petition. Some are from current Naperville residents and others are from former Napervillians. Still others are from preservation-minded individuals who recognize the importance of preserving our heritage.
As a native of Naperville, and longtime resident, I grew up with this building as a library. One cannot put a monetary mark on its historic value. It needs to remain as an important part of Naperville history
–Ann Lord, Aurora, IL
I am a native of Naperville, and my family, who helped settle this town, arrived here in 1830. My family has used Nichols Library since it was founded. When I went to the Library the Director was Matey Eggerman, and she ran a very tight ship. She would turn over in her grave if she knew what may happen to her library. My brother and sisters and I all went to the library for study. My children (Givler kids) all used the library. The architecture is beautiful and would be a damned shame if it were destroyed for “progress”(?).
PLEASE SAVE THE NICHOLS LIBRARY!!!!! Pay heed to the caveat that James Nichols attached to that building, i.e. that if it were to be used for anything else, it will revert to the Nichols Estate. Honor that man and his legacy.
–Mary Fraley, Sugar Grove
Stripping a city of its most integral history strips also its character and uniqueness.
–James Privitt, Naperville
In the 36 years that I have lived in Naperville, I have seen so much of this once beautiful city torn down in the name of Progress. It is time to stop before we don’t even recognize Naperville for what it is and was.
–Gregory Potempa, DDS, Naperville
Save Nichols Library! Naperville cannot become the “geography of nowhere” – where every place looks like no place in particular.
–Bill Fleming, Washington, DC
Please save Nichol’s Library. You cannot buy back history. We are a town that is built on a proud history and tradition and we must save our landmarks.
–Susan Cheng, Naperville
My great great aunt, Hannah Ditzler was the first librarian in The Nichols Library. Please do not destroy this wonderful piece of Naperville history.
–Debbie Baker, Tampa, Fl
Please do not alter the exterior of this building. This building is a part of OUR history and should no way become the homogenized building of a strip mall. My kids love to glance at the mini Nichols library. I remember walking within the books of Nichols Library and discovering Anne Frank among many other treasures. Nichols Library is Naperville. When you think of Naperville it is an integral part of our town so much as the Riverwalk, Centennial Beach, and the Naper Settlement. We must preserve our history. It is how we reflect, and maintain the tradition and the integrity of Naperville.
–Jeannette DiGiovine, Naperville
I teach history at North Central College and would be saddened to see this building and its legacy disappear from Naperville’s built environment.
–Ann Keating, Chicago
I was raised in Naperville and although I live in Oswego, I work [in] Naperville and as a realtor. As much as I would love more homes to sell, we are losing what makes Naperville the draw it is when we take away its history. Nichols Library is a landmark. Don’t move it, build over it or tear it down… There is more to Naperville than how many people we can fit downtown.
–Julie Dunn, Oswego
Naperville has a distinguished reputation for respecting historic architecture with the Naper Settlement. Don’t ruin your reputation now by demolishing this important and handsome library.
–Pauline Saliga, Society of Architectural Historians
Myself and my family feel very strongly about this building being saved! This is a true part of Naperville’s history and my family’s legacy.
–Catharine Nichols, Oswego
My mother was head librarian for 35 years. This building is a treasure to the downtown area of Naperville and should be preserved.
–James Fry, Gig Harbor, Washington
I grew up in Naperville. My mother, Miriam Fry, was the head librarian at Nichols Library from 1950-1984. I have many fond memories of the old library building. To me it helps define the character of downtown Naperville. It would be a shame to lose that character. Please do all you can to help preserve it.
–Gary Fry, Plymouth, Michigan
My mother, Katherine Finkbeiner, a librarian at Nichols library for 30-some years, would be appalled to have the old library destroyed. Please don’t.
–Carl Finkbeiner, Media, PA
I left Naperville long ago but I loved that library as a kid, worked in it as a teenager, and listened to the stories my mother – a librarian there – told about it. Naperville is already in danger of looking like every other suburb in the country. I deeply hope it keeps this example of its uniqueness.
–Ann Finkbeiner, Baltimore, MD
I grew up in Naperville and frequently visited Nichols Library. When I moved to Japan in 1982, I never dreamed that wonderful building wouldn’t be preserved in the Heritage Village if ever it was no longer useful in town. Don’t destroy an important part of our history! Please save Nichols Library!
–Sally Wakasugi, Inuyama City, Aichi, Japan
Whenever I come to my hometown of Naperville, I fondly recall the graceful beauty of Nichols Library. Please save what little historical architecture we have left. Without such beautiful historical buildings, as Nichols Library, Naperville loses a little more of what makes it attractive. Is civilization’s only purpose to obtain short-term financial gain? Preserve a Naperville worth living in and visiting.
–Michael Terrien, Evanston
RELATED POST / Save Old Nichols Library Petition, Published May 13, 2017