Driving eastbound down Maple Valley Highway, I often catch a glimpse of the sun as it peeks through the branches of the fir trees, bounces off the blue trim of Dance Expressions and finally giving me a wink as it lands on the Chevron sign. For a moment I don’t see KFC or Sumo Sushi. I don’t see the big empty spot where large fir trees once stood, a spot that a storage facility will soon occupy. Instead, I see rows of tall fir and cottonwood trees. I want to take a left and find a parking spot in the small lot. I want to walk into the library waving at the same librarians I had known since a kid. Nostalgia grabs ahold of my heart.
I can see the glass cases with community member’s hobbies proudly displayed. I can picture the large windows in the back with a mural of the cedar river in different shades of brown I remember running towards the drinking fountain in the middle of the library. A large room sat in the back. As a child, I distinctly remember joining other children in that room as the 16mm film played and the screen filled up with old Disney movies.
In the early days, access to a library was neither easy nor fast. Luckily in 1943 the King County Rural Library District was created to provide library access to people living in rural areas (King County Library, 2019).
By 1946 the bookmobile would visit the valley for 30 minutes every two weeks and by the 1950s the service would increase to three days a week (Givens, 2016).
In 1947 the Cedar Grange donated part of its building to host the first library. “The building just up the road where the bus barn was and the Historical society, was a grade school and we would walk single file down that road and across the highway – a cross walk but no light – to get books at the library.” recalls Charley Benedict, son of head librarian Catherine “Grandma KT” Benedict. By 1955 the library would outgrow itself and the grange would request the space back.
The 8-by-15-foot real-estate office building of Squak Mountain Realty would offer to share part of their office to house the library until further arrangements could be made. Substitute librarian Mrs. Oren Sroufe urged her architect friend Felix Campanella to build a library for the community. On a hot, muggy day Campanella would visit the office. Cramped with school children and loud with chatter, Campanella would exclaim, “You ladies call this a library?” He quickly got to work sketching a new building for the library free of charge (PeDee, 1978).
Fundraising began, which included thieves bazaar, paper drives, plant sales, hosting musical groups, and a hot dog sale. The Pacific Telephone and Telegraph Company allowed the portable building to be built on their property. On October 21, 1959, the books were moved from the cramped realty office space and into its own building, that is until 1964 when the telephone company wanted their property back.
The government funded building designed again by Campanella was built on one-half acres donated by Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Flynn. Margaret McElderry recalls the “new” library. “I remember that (Maple Valley HWY location) being the NEW library! The previous one was on 216th at Maxwell Road. We had 5th and 6th grade at the old bus garage location and would walk down the hill every two weeks to return and check out books.”
Jim Flynn, son of Joseph Flynn recalls waiting for the new library to be built. “I remember being disappointed that it took so long for the new Library to be built on the property. I was in grade school and was an avid reader and it seemed like it took forever to get it built. Once it was done, the Library Guild hired me to maintain the landscaping, which meant that I got a key to the building. From then on, my supply of reading materials was plentiful. Strange how things worked out, since I am now again responsible for maintenance of that building (Now Dance Expressions)”.
The library on the Flynn property still had that small town feel to it, hosting countless contestsover the years. Bekah Mops remembers one of those contests, “The library was having a contest of “dress like a character day” and I went as Laura Ingles Wilder, and my cat was baby Carrie. Terry Nash also recalls winning a contest, “They used to have the contest for the biggest maple leaf. And they had a contest where you guessed how many m&m’s were in the jar, I think you would get a free book rental if you won…I was the maple leaf contest winner in ’94”. Librarian Pat Simmons in a 1978 Voice of the Valley article explains one of the contests they plan to do for the 10th anniversary of the library. “One of these special events is the big “guessing contest” now in progress. All one has to do is to tell how many books, records, and magazines have been checked out of the library in the last ten years. Prize is an original water color by local artist Jody Rogel.” Perhaps it was Jody Rogel that painted the field of daisies that hung for so long on the wall. “I always loved the painting of the field of daisies . . . I dreamed of that painting all through my life.” – Amy Clarke
The library would stay at that location close to three decades. By 1997 the library would be annexed to the King County Library System. Three years later a new library was built, and the building would once again return to the Flynn family, but not without leaving precious memories with its patrons.
“My mom was on the KCL Board and had a key to the library, so we’d sometimes get to go after hours and scoot around on the wheeled step stools. The library also had a cat, Libby, for a while and we’d go and feed her on the weekends. (She was from one of our cats’ litters if I remember correctly). I also remember that they had an art contest each year–maybe just for kids.” – Laura Nixon Hokenstad
“It was so peaceful. I loved walking there through the quiet trees, dew on a sunny morning, to find a quiet place with people and books. As a kid, we were there all the time, my best friend’s mom worked there, still works for the Library system, and we would spend hot days & rainy days smelling books, enjoying puppet shows, looking up books & PBS movies on those old black & orange screen computers, & staring at that trippy window that used to be there. It was a great place. (My)best library memory(was) when I brought my goat to a pet show there, fully dressed up as a farmer, and the library ladies gave us a bag of corn as a gift” – Lauren Flynn Habenicht
Although the new library is gorgeous, earning several architectural awards, the Flynn library property will always hold a place in my heart. Perhaps it is time I set my four year old up with dance lessons.
- History. (n.d.). Retrieved May 22, 2019, from https://kcls.org/history/
- Holden Givens, L. (2016, November 15). Maple Valley Library, King County Library System. Retrieved May 22, 2019, from https://www.historylink.org/File/20197
- Maple Valley Library observing 10th anniversary. (1978, August 2).Voice of the Valley.
- Pedee, D. (1975, June 18). Once library scoffed at, but times change. Voice of the Valley.