Exhibit: The Chicago Public Library: A Story Told in Photographs

The exhibit The Chicago Public Library: A Story Told in Photographs is open at Portage-Cragin in the Community Room for the duration of 2023. This exhibit traces CPL's beginning from an old, abandoned water tank, bookmobiles, storefront branches, to the recent renovation of the Portage-Cragin branch in 2019.

About CPL's History

In October 1871, the city suffered the Great Chicago Fire. The booksellers along State Street went up in flames. Between 2-3 million volumes were destroyed by the Great Chicago Fire, the Tribune calculated. 

Thomas Hughes, a member of the British parliament, initiated a plan for British publishers, authors, prominent political and literary figures to donate books to Chicago to create a free library. The Prime Minister William Gladstone donated books he had written, as well as England's monarch, who sent a biography on her late husband, Prince Albert. Hughes was essential to the creation of CPL. The children's library at Harold Washington Library Center is named after him in his honor.

With a large donation from London, and other cities, Chicago opened its door to its first free library on January 1, 1873. The library was an abandoned water tank that survived the fire. With a humbling beginning in 1873, CPL has been a cultural cornerstone for the city.

Source: Chicago Tribune: How the Great Fire of 1871 gave rise to the Chicago Public Library