Above / During the annual Naperville Memorial Day Parade, the sidewalk in front of the Old Nichols Library provides spectators with a place to pay tribute to sacrifices of veterans and their families. 

To PN: A letter to fellow Naperville citizens

Among her collection of memorabilia and books related to James L. Nichols, Dolle Nichols has an “oil painting of her children’s great grandpa.” (Photo courtesy Gail Diedrichsen)

James L. Nichols, a man who was instrumental in shaping what Naperville is today, has a remarkable story, epitomizing The American Dream. He did not speak English when he came to this county, he was orphaned, he worked hard to survive, and far surpassed most people who considered themselves successful. Encouraged by people who helped him as a youngster, a belief was instilled in him from the time he was old enough to pitch hay; if he worked hard, learned to read and write English, and got an education, he would achieve much in this country.

Nichols was truly a “Renaissance Man,” wearing many hats as he strived to make his community better. By the time he was in his late teens he was a classroom teacher, graduated from North Western College, (North Central College today,) and he became a renowned professor of business. He was also a respected Naperville businessman, launching a publishing company. As a prolific writer, his business education book outsold the Bible for three years in Illinois. As a community leader, Nichols believed in lifting others up and passed his good fortune forward. He took young people under his wing, gave them jobs, and a place to live so they were able to attend college in Naperville. He paid their way.

One of Nichols’ best decisions may have been to recruit one of his best students, Peter Kroehler, to work as a clerk in his Naperville Lounge Factory. Kroehler eventually became Nichols’ partner and they put Naperville on the map as the home of the world’s largest manufacturer of upholstered furniture. Known as Kroehler Furniture from 1915 until the early 1980s, Nichols created employment opportunities lasting well after his death for Naperville’s citizens.

Now home of the Truth Lutheran Church, the Old Nichols Library building is located at 110 S. Washington St.

A library, a rare asset for a town at the time, was Nichols’ final act of gratitude to his beloved Naperville. For the people who grew up in Naperville and fondly remember spending time there, the thought of seeing it demolished is heartbreaking. Even for those who did not grow up here, one glance at the proud amber-colored structure gracing Washington Street, conveys its stately importance. It was built to endure as was surely Nichols’ intent. To lose it would be a travesty.

We should take a lesson from our neighbor’s mistakes. Urban Renewal allowed wrecking balls to demolish many architectural jewels such as many of Louis Sullivan’s buildings in Chicago. Even Wright’s Robie House in Hyde Park was doomed in the name of progress, but saved in the nick of time by people with the foresight to rescue it. Unfortunately many other significant buildings were not saved and have been lost forever. Sadly, tourists interested in those destroyed can only view salvaged remnants hanging in museums. Hindsight is 20/20 and everyone agrees what a mistake it was to tear down those gems. Today they would lure visitors to Chicago. Once Old Nichols Library is gone, it’s gone FOREVER, and so is our heritage associated with it.

When I travel, I visit historical buildings. This doesn’t make me unique. Many Americans travel yearning to learn something about our past. If we keep chipping away and eliminating our old buildings, we will lose history existing right under our noses, while erasing the very charm which attracts visitors to our town. That old building has a story to tell! How many of us know that the library’s architect, Mifflin Emlen Bell, worked on the Washington Monument, where his name is engraved on the capstone? OR that Bell worked on designs during the Columbian Exposition in Chicago? OR that his courthouses and federal buildings dot the entire U.S., including the DuPage County Courthouse located in Wheaton?

One of two architect’s renderings proposed for  “Nichols Place.”

What a shameful loss it will be if we do not all speak up and tell our city leaders to save Old Nichols Library.

Let’s have no regrets. The city leaders need to work with the developer. The planned “cut and paste” plan of its facade will not keep the integrity of the building.

There must be a better way. Our city leaders should work very hard to find that compromise.

—Gail Diedrichsen


To PN and Whom It May Concern: 

We are writing this letter to express our support to designate the old Nichols Library as a local landmark. As longtime residents of Naperville (39 years), we support the effort of maintaining the historical significance of the City. Naperville is, and always was, a spectacular city to live in, to raise our children in, and to enjoy. However, we all need to remember the historical roots of the city and realize that these roots made it into the city that is today. By preserving the heritage of our city, current new and future residents will learn why our city is unique and a great place to live. It’s history is what makes Naperville unique.

Please add our names to the petition to preserve the old Nichols Library. It’s a treasured landmark that we want to preserve for future for future generations.

 Very truly yours,
 —Ted & Bernie (Bernadette) Slupik

To PN, July 12, 2017 / I grew up in an idyllic Naperville of the forties and sixties. I have family ties going back to the town’s founding. I graduated from NCHS and NCC. The town is never far from my mind, and the memories are wonderful and frequent.

Nichols Library was definitely one of the comforting landmarks in my childhood. A highlight of the summer months was the weekly trip to the library. One walked in the door and was immediately immersed in the wonderful smell of books, and the sensation of being surrounded by comforting dark wood. I loved picking out a stack of books for my week’s reading. I loved the quiet of the place, and stern but helpful librarian who kept things orderly. She was always helpful.

Washington Street, the main thoroughfare, remains in my mind’s eye, and I picture Nichols Library, the YMCA, the bandstand, Naperville National Bank on the corner, the post office—they were all strong good-looking buildings.

It is criminal if they have to be unnecessarily destroyed. Naperville has such a rich history and should be proud of it. Tearing down the Library is the equivalent of tearing down Old Main or the Ss. Peter and Paul cathedral.

Please don’t do it!!!!!! I want to recognize my childhood favorite spots when I return for reunions. Surely a good use for Nichols can be found. Please!!

I brag about my home town all the time and have actually influenced some friends to visit. They enjoyed their visit, including my former home in the historic district (corner of Wright St. and North Avenue). Keep important history in tact!

—Mary Oran