When the capital of the Arizona Territory was moved from Prescott to Tucson in 1867, the Territorial Library came along with the territorial government.
The library’s exact location is unknown, but it was in one of the adobe buildings that seated the territorial government on West Ochoa Street downtown.
It appears that the Territorial Library had trouble getting books returned throughout its time in Tucson and found it necessary to put ads in the newspaper demanding borrowed items. One such ad, on March 5, 1870 in The Weekly Arizonian, warned that “suits will be commenced” and “the penalties imposed by law.”
On April 24, 1875, the Arizona Citizen newspaper announced a donation of Charles Darwin‘s works, “The Descent of Man” and “The Origin of the Species.” “These books, and all others in the (Territorial) Library, are accessible to the public within office hours,” it said.
By January 1877, the Territorial Library had grown to 1,900 legal books and 300 miscellaneous volumes. But by September of that year the territorial government had moved back to Prescott.
Tucson’s first known public library was gone, but another source for readers had appeared.
Jacob S. Mansfeld, a German immigrant who had heard that the Arizona Territory had no bookstores, arrived in Tucson in 1869. By December of the following year, he had established the Pioneer News Depot on Congress Street, where he sold the latest newspapers, magazines and novels. By the following year he had a circulating library at his store. At one point it included books in English, Spanish and German and featured fiction as well as nonfiction.
On Sept. 21, 1878, the Arizona Citizen wrote: “Tucson is a town of about 6,000 souls. It has churches and good schools … and ought to have a choice library.”
In 1879, a group of women in Tucson started the Tucson Library Association. Subscribers to this private organization paid a $5 yearly subscription fee and provided a list of the books they wanted to see purchased. Two months later, they began borrowing books from their small library.
In March 1883, the Tucson Library Association offered the Tucson Common Council its entire collection of 350 books if the council would provide a “suitable and convenient room for a library together with fuel, lights, furniture, book cases, newspaper racks and janitor services,” with the goal of establishing “a free public library.”
On June 5, 1883, while discussing the construction of the new City Hall, the Common Council, “unanimously resolved that the upper story of the new City Hall ... is hereby set apart and appropriated for the exclusive use ... of a public library ... and that any person ... within the city, shall have free access ... and shall be under the control of a board of trustees to be appointed by the city council.” The mayor appointed Mansfeld and others as the Board of Trustees but no money was appropriated for the new library.
Construction of the City Hall was completed around August 1883 but no library existed at the time on the second floor, known as Library Hall.
After a couple of years of fundraising by the Board of Trustees, the $500 needed to purchase book cases, furniture and additions was raised.
On June 26, 1886, the Arizona Weekly Citizen announced that the Tucson Public Library would open on July 6, with 800 books and nearly all of the leading magazines. It said that, before any books could be taken out, a guaranty had to be signed by the applicant and endorsed by a responsible citizen.
When the library received new books, a list of the volumes was printed in the newspaper and at the bottom it said, “Patrons will please cut the list out and paste it in their catalogues.”
For the month of November 1887 there were 140 patrons and 210 books were taken out. The librarian took home a $25 salary for the month.
On June 21, 1890, the Arizona Weekly Citizen announced that, “The Tucson Public Library is the only free public library in this territory.”
The Annual Report of the Tucson Public Library on March 3, 1892, shows that it had a circulation library (not including reference books) of 2,562 volumes and during the previous 12 months 2,526 patrons visited the institution and 4,117 books were borrowed.
In 1899, philanthropist Andrew Carnegie offered $25,000 for the construction of a public library building in Tucson if the city would provide a site and guarantee a fund of $2,000 a year for its maintenance. The Common Council, passed Resolution No. 20 on Nov. 23, 1899, which provided land that was part of the Military Plaza for the site and set up the Library Fund. The new Carnegie Free Library opened in 1901 and the original Tucson Public Library faded into history.
It’s unknown when the little alley just south of the City Hall and Library Hall was named Library Street, but it’s known that on Aug. 14, 1916 the street was abandoned. The street is now the east-west courtyard walkway through the old Pima County Courthouse.