Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The Grace Balloch legacy

Grace Frantz Balloch
For more than 70 years, the "Queen City" of Spearfish struggled with no real public library in the community -- but that all began to change after a lady named Grace Balloch came to town.

The fascinating story about the formative years of a Spearfish library was compiled by writer/historian Paul Higbee and presented Tuesday (3/5/11) by veteran historian Linfred Schuttler.

Despite a change in program plans for the April meeting of the Spearfish Area Historical Society, several dozen folks showed up at the Spearfish Senior Citizen's Center to hear about the history of the library.  The scheduled program about Don Smith, "Dolittle Raider" from Belle Fourche, had to be postponed and will have to wait for a later date.  That change didn't seem to concern attendees too much, and they enjoyed another hour with Spearfish's "grand old man of history."

Retired businessman and long-time postal worker Linfred Schuttler told the story of how books were aggregated in the community in the late 1800's -- largely at the Spearfish Normal School by Fayette Cook, an early president of the school.  

By the 1920's, Grace Frantz Balloch and her husband Archibald had arrived in the Black Hills.  Grace Frantz was a Pennsylvanian who had grown up in Waynesboro and gained an education at Millersville State Normal School in the Keystone State.  She married Archibald -- a cattle buyer and geologist.  With the outbreak of World War One, Grace volunteered with the YMCA in France, developing a keen fondness for everything French.  

Following the war, the couple moved west to Chicago for a while, but by the 1920's were in the Black Hills.
The lived on a ranch in the Custer area, but by 1923 they were in Spearfish, where Grace  taught English at the Normal.  She was part of the institution and community that struggled through the devastating fire of 1925, which destroyed the library, among other things.

Makeshift public libraries provided increasingly valuable services to the community from a variety of locations in subsequent years.  The old hotel on Main Street, the railroad building that was once located where the Spearfish Fire Hall is today were were among locations where children and citizens could go to check out books.

By the early 1940's, the 63-year-old Grace Balloch was terminally ill, but she was   thinking about the increased need for a first-class library.  In her will, she gave all of her books -- more than 1,500 volumes -- to the City of Spearfish.  She died in 1944.

Grace Balloch Memorial Library

The following year, the citizens of Spearfish voted 240-94 to establish a city library.  Grace Balloch's homesite, which was bequeathed to the city by Grace's sister Anna, became the site of the new public library.  The Grace Balloch Memorial Library was dedicated on June 27, 1971.  That building, which is now occupied by the Spearfish Area Chamber of Commerce, served as the library until it was relocated to its present site as part of the new Municipal Services Building in 1995.

The Grace Balloch Memorial Library continues to be a vital resource for area residents, offering a wide range of services.  You'll find a few more photos on this topic in our Spearfish History Gallery.