Over 100 years ago, when kerosene lamps lined Queen Street in Hespeler, the beginnings of what we now know as Idea Exchange's Hespeler location were created by public consensus.
On June 12, 1871, the Hespeler community voted to form a Mechanics’ Institute and Library Association. For the next 30 years, the Institute held lectures and evening classes. For 50 cents you would receive 27 nights of lessons in English and Math, plus access to the reading room and its books for three months.
In 1901, the Mechanics’ Institute evolved into the Hespeler Free Public Library. Fundraising events to cover costs included hosting balls and picnics. Costs were minor by today’s standards, with the librarian at the time taking home 25 cents a night.
A More Permanent Space
The library location in Hespeler changed often (once operating over a blacksmith’s shop). The community soon realized the need for a permanent space and applied to the Carnegie Trust for a grant to finance the new location. Unfortunately, the Great War intervened and delayed their plans. It wasn’t until 1921 that the Carnegie Trust approved Hespeler’s application for a grant of $14,500.
The town chose a permanent location, the corner of Tannery and Adam Street, where the Carnegie Library Building remains to this day, now part of Idea Exchange, Hespeler.
The building, designed by architect A.H. Cober, was a single-room library with enough space to house 10,000 books opening to the public in 1923.
An Evolving Future
The Hespeler library, and the community around it, has continued to grow and change. As part of the award-winning renovation in 2007, the original Carnegie building was preserved within a new glass structure, allowing the facility to expand as needed.
We’ve come a long way from the original Mechanics’ Institute and while Idea Exchange continues to offer lectures, programs, and access to books, 50-cent payments are no longer required.
Image courtesy of the City of Cambridge Archives.