When the rail line of the First Division of the St. Paul & Pacific (later Great Northern) Railway Company reached western Wright County in the summer of 1869, the area was as much a frontier as any place in Minnesota. Barely fifteen years removed from the signing of the Traverse de Sioux Treaty, which opened this area up for settlement, the living was hard, but optimism abounded.
Nine years later, in March 1878, the Village of Cokato came into existence. As the community grew and prospered, it featured many of the typical institutions one would find in a frontier town: general stores, restaurants, clothing stores, pharmacies, an opera house, hotels, stables, and blacksmith shops. One item though stood conspicuously absent: a library.
It is not known how much drive or concern there was in those initial days of Cokato for a library. An early reference appeared on the pages of the Cokato Enterprise in beginning in late February 1908. The article noted that the newly-formed Cokato Library Association was raising funds through a basket social. The hope of the association was to find space in town for a library and reading room. At the time, the only book exchange available was the state traveling library housed at the Eureka Drug Store. No further references to the effort appeared in subsequent editions of the Enterprise.
Around this same time, libraries were appearing in many smaller and rural communities across the nation, thanks to the philanthropy of railroad and steel tycoon, Andrew Carnegie. Between 1886 and 1919, 1679 "Carnegie libraries" were built, 65 of those in Minnesota.
Cokato would not be a beneficiary of Mr. Carnegie's patronage. Instead, our library found its benefactor in a former resident who had played in integral part in the development of Cokato, beginning with its founding.
Born in 1843 in Rural Hill, New York state, Henry Clay (H. C.) Bull-seen in the photo at right-came to Cokato shortly after the rail line was laid down. With access to financial capital, Bull soon became a leading land speculator and lender in the community. Bull was one of the founders of the State Bank of Cokato in 1892. He also served in a number of civic capacities: mayor, justice of the peace, trustee, and also a term as state representative. By 1915, Bull decided it was time to retire, and moved with his wife, Minnie, to Riverside, California.
The 1920s were a boom time in some parts of America, and Cokato was no exception. Civic pride abounded. And that pride begat the plan to finally bring a library to the community. Charles Richard (C. R.) Peterson had been a colleague of H. C. Bull's at the State Bank of Cokato and was now its president. It was Peterson who made the contact with Bull to see if a donation was possible for a library that would serve Cokato as it continued to prosper. The Bull's had no heirs, so it made sense that this type of donation would be of great benefit for all concerned. Thanks to Peterson's efforts, a donation of $25,000 was secured.
The original plan for the library was to have it constructed on Bull-owned property in the village. But at the same time, the Cokato Public School was planning an ambitious expansion of its own facilities. Through a series of discussions, culminating with Mr. Bull's approval, the new library was to be integrated into the school expansion, for use by both school students and general public.
Officially opening its doors in the late summer of 1927, the H. C. Bull Memorial Library featured two 500 square foot reading rooms, a children's reading room with a fireplace, and shelf space to hold up to 10,000 volumes. Its dual function as both a public and school library could scarcely be found anywhere else in the state.
Separate doorways, one of which featured Greek-style stone columns, allowed the public and school aspects of this facility to maintain their separation. This unique facility served the city of Cokato and the surrounding areas for over four decades.
The consolidation of the Dassel and Cokato school systems in 1969 marked the start of the final chapter for the Bull Library. With the high school now slated to become Cokato Elementary, space and other issues came to the fore. In early-August 1970, last call for returning books was issued. On August 14, the H. C. Bull Memorial Library officially closed.
It would be six years before the next public library opened in Cokato.
To be continued...