Hackley Public Library
316 W. Webster Ave.
Muskegon, MI 49440
As our world becomes increasingly smaller and we get swept up in visiting new and interesting places, both literally and virtually, it is so easy to overlook the wonders in our own backyards. Of this, I am especially guilty. I grew up in the lakeshore community of Muskegon, home of a wonderful, historic treasure, the Hackley Public Library, yet I have only a vague memory of one visit to this gem while I was a student at the local community college. I really missed something. This special library was brought back to my attention last spring when I learned that it was a finalist in a beautiful libraries photo contest put on by the Gale Cengage organization. I made a mental note then to revisit Hackley Library. My sister Sue, who has been very supportive of my bookstore and library adventures and has accompanied me on several visits, still lives in the Muskegon area. She likewise had overlooked the Hackley library, so finally during a much-needed break in the Michigan winter weather, the two of us took time for a long overdue visit.
First opened in 1890, the building is named after Charles Hackley, lumber baron and philanthropist, who donated the site as well as $100,000 for construction. The cost of the remarkable stone building eventually topped $200,000, no small figure for the time. The heavy stone moldings, carved ledges, and tall octagonal turret of the granite and sandstone structure are reminiscent of a small castle.
Inside, the building is even more impressive: Italian marble mosaic floors, warm oak woodwork, custom-cast door hinges and doorknobs, beautiful wrought iron stair railings, marble staircase walls, leaded glass transom windows above beveled glass windows and doors, beautiful fireplaces with hand carved mantles, high ceilings, and most especially--stained glass. Lovely stained glass windows, 44 in all grace the main floor, the second floor, and the staircase of the library.
The north wall of the great hall houses the largest and most impressive. It contains 12 panels and depicts four literary figures who were popular at time the building was constructed: Shakespeare, Goethe, Longfellow, and William Hickling Prescott (an American historian and essayist).
A glass display case on the first floor houses one of a limited number of exact facsimile replicas of the Book of Kells. Originally written around 800 A.D., the original book contains the four gospels and was hand-written and painted on vellum by Irish monks. The Hackley copy is believed to be the only facsimile edition on permanent display in any North American public library.
A visit to the stacks on the second floor is an adventure. Locked wooden cabinets contain rare and old volumes, and some of the original cases are over 100 years old. Stepping out onto the floor of this area is initially somewhat disconcerting. The flooring is glass. After a bit of research, I learned that the second floor originally contained skylights to allow natural light into the space. The 1 3/4-inch sanded gallery glass flooring was used in order to allow the light to filter to the stacks below. The shelving on both levels is connected with metal supports that extend through gaps in the glass, so it's possible to see the stacks below while standing on the glass above. Not a fan of heights, I found it a little eerie at first to walk out on these glass walkways, but that feeling was soon replaced by my interest in the grand history of the place.
The library is home to 7 stunning fireplaces, each a unique work of art. Various materials such as hand-carved wood, tile, stone, and carved plaster are utilized in these pieces. In one of the reading rooms, we struck up a conversation with a friendly security guard seated near one of these lovely fireplaces.
Upstairs, the children's area boasts two terra cotta fireplaces of its own. Ascending the grand staircase to this portion of the library affords visitors a view of the beautiful conical arched ceiling inside the building's turret. Light filtered through stained glass washes the stairway in warm color, while underfoot lies a floor of marble mosaic tile. The warm and inviting children's area is highlighted by painted murals along both sides of the room, and a reading area is well appointed by a brightly colored dinosaur rug. There is also an adjacent room reserved for story time.
For a century and a quarter, the Hackley Public Library has been an integral part of the Muskegon community, providing not just books, but meeting places, computers, and activities as well. If you ever find yourself in Muskegon, I suggest a walk through this beautiful historic building. I think you'll find it well worth your time. I know I did. My only regret is that it took me so long.
See more pictures below.