The Founding of the First Public Library in California – El Cuartel

In 1849, three years after the American takeover of Monterey from Mexico, several Monterey citizens met to establish the first public library in California.

They strove to establish a public library which would “...afford amusement, entertainment, and profit to a large class of people who, without its aid, would waste their time in the frivolities and questionable pastimes so prevalent in our State." -Monterey Library Association's records, June 1, 1853

Those “questionable pastimes” were the often raucous and rowdy activities during California’s Gold Rush, which was in full swing.

Monterey’s Alcalde, Walter Colton, and Reverend Dr. Samuel Willey, the schoolmaster, were early advocates for the Library, but it was California pioneer David Spence who served as President of the newly formed Monterey Library Association.

They planned to house the library in newly-completed Colton Hall. The building served as Monterey's town hall and school, so the library would be easily accessible to students and residents alike. But in July 1849, California’s governor called for a constitutional convention to be held there, disrupting plans for the library.

The Association tuned their sights to the large, two and half story adobe, El Cuartel. Built by the Mexican government in 1840 as soldiers’ barracks, El Cuartel had since served as the U. S. Army headquarters and as the offices of California’s first newspaper. Located on what is now Munras Street, it took up most of the block between Webster and Tyler.

To fund the public library, the Association persuaded citizens to purchase shares at $32. Among the first shareholders were some of Monterey and Mexican California’s famous pioneers, including Thomas O. Larkin, Jose Abrego, Joseph Boston, Captain Juan Bautista Rogers Cooper, and the multi-lingual William P. Hartnell.

By 1850, over 900 books of poetry, fiction, history and science, as well as maps and government documents, were on their way to California around Cape Horn. One quarter of the books were in Spanish.

The Monterey Library Association had achieved the first of many important milestones.


The Monterey Public Library – A Carnegie Library!
La Bibliothèque Publique de Monterey - Une Bibliothèque Carnegie!
Montereys Stadtbibliothek - Eine Carnegie-Bibliothek!
La biblioteca pública de Monterey, ¡una biblioteca Carnegie!
Monterey 公共图书馆 - 一座 Carnegie 图书馆!
モントレー公立図書館 - カーネギーライブラリー館

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