Ever wondered why there are cannons on the 6th floor of the Harold Washington Library Center? Or what's with those marble busts in the 9th floor Special Collections Reading Room? Illinois was undoubtedly important to the Union cause during the Civil War, but just how did CPL get cannons and statues, not to mention swords, uniforms, books, portraits and more?
In 1893, the Library Board chose the corner of Michigan Avenue and Randolph Street as the location for its future building. Many people believed this land was reserved for the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR), a veterans' group for Union soldiers who fought in the Civil War. Ultimately, legal action determined the library could have the land, but it must make room for the GAR, which wanted a memorial hall for its members. CPL gave the GAR extensive rooms and signed a fifty year lease that expired in 1947. At that time, the Library took over caring for the GAR's collection of art, artifacts, papers, weapons and more. In 1991, when CPL moved to its current location, the GAR collection came, too.
There's much more than what is displayed throughout the library. You can view images of our collection in the Wayne Whalen Digital Collection. Browse our catalog for Civil War documents, both official and personal. And visit our Reading Room to see more from the Civil War.