In late 1842, the first public library in Clackamas County was established in Willamette Falls, or as we know it, Oregon City. The library was called the "Multnomah Circulating Library" and was stocked with 300 volumes. This first library was a subscription library; members were charged $5 a share.
The first librarian was William H. Gray and it is likely that the books were kept at the City Hotel, just south of the mint which produced five- and ten-dollar tokens known as "Beaver Money". The Multnomah Circulating Library was incorporated on August 19, 1845, the second corporation to form under the Oregon Provisional Government.
But this effort did not stick. Between the 1850s and the beginning of the 20th century, many groups embarked on creating reading rooms and library associations for the Oregon City community. Many of these efforts were successful for a time, including the Free Reading Room which was opened on October 14, 1892 and housed in a one-story building rented from George Harding on South Main Street, next to the Livery Stable. However, by the end of the century, the reading room had become a 'hobo resort', containing more dust than books.
In 1906 another strong effort was launched to establish a public library in Oregon City. This attempt seemed to have enough drive to realize its dream, but having established that the city should manage the library, the city council decided to lay the matter aside. No real progress was made until 1909 when a group of citizens created the "Oregon City Library Association". Money to support a reading room was raised from membership dues which were set at $12 per year, payable monthly. In addition, the managers of the Willamette and Crown Mills, recognizing the value of a library to their workers, each agreed to provide generous monthly support. Mrs. Edith Truscott of Jennings Lodge was selected to the position of 'house attendant'. The Reading Room opened on December 13, 1909 to the music of the Concert Band with 60 people in attendance. The location on the third floor of the Masonic Temple was made even more accessible by the modern elevator erected in this 1907 building. By 1910, city residents had agreed to support the public library with a special library tax. These events mark the foundations of the public library in Oregon City.
By 1911, several libraries in Oregon had been built using funds from steel king Andrew Carnegie, and the 'Carnegie Formula', which stipulated that the city must provide a site and annual funds in the amount of at least 10% of the cost of the building. Oregon City submitted an application for a sum of $12,500, the estimated cost of the building plus furniture. The lot at 7th and John Adams, set aside by Dr. John McLoughlin as a public space, was selected as the site of the new library. The application was approved on the condition that Mr. Carnegie authorize final building plans.
In 1912 work began on the new Carnegie Library in the Seventh Street Park using a design by E E McClaran of Portland, which was approved by Mr. Carnegie. Robert Shelley of Portland was retained as the builder. After many changes to the plans and slowdowns which caused the need for the library to temporarily relocate to the basement of the Masonic Building, the building was finally completed. On June 21, 1913, the library was officially opened for business. For the event, fine music was provided by Mrs. DesLarzes, a piano solo was played by Miss Grace, and singing was provided by Oscar Woodfin. Speakers included Joseph E Hedges, President of the Library Board, Miss Marvin, State Librarian from Salem, and B. T. McBain.
The Carnegie facility served as the city library until 1995. It had been determined that the 6,500-square-foot facility was no longer large enough to serve the needs of the Oregon City community. The library moved into a temporary, leased facility in a former hardware store in Danielson's Hilltop Mall.
The library operated in the Hilltop location until June 2010, when the building housing it was sold to make way for a Safeway grocery store. A canvassing of the Oregon City area showed that the most advantageous temporary location for the library was the original Carnegie Library.
In November 2008, voters of a proposed Clackamas County Library District approved the District and agreed to pay for library services in the District, an area including almost the entire county. This funding provided stable operating funds for the libraries of Clackamas County, including Oregon City Public Library. With funding in place, the library continued its efforts to obtain a site and capital funds to provide the city with a library that will serve the growing population of the Oregon City area.
After a long search and a review of over 30 properties, the Library Board recommended that the best site for a new library was at the site of the Carnegie Building in Carnegie Park. On June 19, 2013, the same night when Mayor Doug Neeley read the proclamation celebrating the Carnegie Building's 100th anniversary, the City Commission designated this site as the home of the new, expanded library. On May 20, 2014, voters of Oregon City approved Measure 3 to 435, authorizing up to $6 million in bonds for capital improvements. With funding in place, all efforts focused on steps to add a 15,000-square-foot addition to the original Carnegie building. This included hiring Scott Edwards Architecture, Shiels, Obletz and Johnsen, Inc. as project manager/owner rep, and P&C Construction as the general contractor.
Groundbreaking for the addition took place on August 8, 2015. The Library remained in the Carnegie building during construction, which took place right behind it. On July 27, 2016, library services moved to the addition and took up operations in the new building. Contractors then renovated the Carnegie building. On October 15, 2016, after both portions of the project were complete, the library held its Grand Opening, bringing the construction project to a close. Now the library has entered a new era, providing services in a beautiful new building, able to accommodate the needs of the Oregon City community much better.