Seattle Public Library opens reading room in the Occidental Building on April 8, 1891.

  • By David Wilma
  • Posted 1/01/2000
  • Essay 2133

On April 8, 1891, the Seattle Library Commission opens a public reading room on the fifth floor of the Occidental Building at 1st Avenue between James Street and Yesler Way. The reading room features 180 periodicals. A. J. (Adam Jonas) Snoke (1839-1900) is the librarian. On December 1, 1894, the library begins lending from its collection of 7,000 books, which have been purchased in Boston.

The Librarian

The librarian, A. J. Snoke, grew up in farming country in Ohio, became a school teacher, and taught in the Midwest for three decades, including 16 years in Princeton, Indiana. In a memoir of her father, his daughter Lilian Pier Snoke Tucker, writes:

"At the end of sixteen years [about 1890], my father felt that he had reached the end of his usefulness in Princeton. He felt too, a longing to go west. I can remember his pouring over literature from various localities .... He finally decided on Seattle"(Snoke).

Snoke arrived in Seattle about 1890, and sent for his family. He searched for work in vain. Tucker describes the economic hardships of the family. But finally he got the job of librarian:

"At last my father was given charge of organizing Seattle's first public library, and life seemed a little brighter ... . With work that he loved, father had a period of comparative calm, but as his position was dependent on city politics, a man as unworldly as he could not keep it long, and after getting the new library in running order, he was told that he was no longer needed, and once more began the heart breaking struggle for a livelihood" (Snoke).

A. J. Snoke returned to teaching, and died in 1900.

On June 28, 1894, the library moved operations across the street to the Collins Building and in 1896, it moved to the Rialto Block. On January 12, 1899, the collection found a permanent home in the Yesler Mansion, which was a gift to the City of Seattle from pioneer Henry Yesler (1810-1892).

In 1901, a fire destroyed the Yesler mansion and the Seattle Public Library's collection of books, with the exception of books checked out.


Thomas W. Prosch, "A Chronological History of Seattle From 1850 to 1897," Typescript dated 1900-1901, Northwest Collection, University of Washington Library, Seattle, 392; J. Willis Sayre, This City of Ours, (Seattle: Seattle School Board, 1936), 122; Frank McElwain Snoke, Some Snoke Families: a Collection of Snoke Memorabilia .... (Pittsburgh, PA: Minuteman Press, 1979), 120.

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