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Library history 101: It begins with 1923 etched in Bedford limestone

Author: M. Monica Gillen

Original library building, two-story, limestone structure against a bright blue sky

The University Library’s Cornerstone Day is an important moment in Iowa State history, and you’re invited to celebrate with us today from 10:30 a.m.-4:30 Parks Library. Refreshments will be available while they last near the entrance and Main Desk. Be on the lookout for books and balloons.

The cornerstone of this campus icon, designed by architecture firm Proudfoot, Bird & Rawson, was laid on Oct. 11, 1923. On that Thursday morning 100 years ago, classes were shortened so students could attend the ceremony. As is customary, newspapers of the day and other Iowa State-related artifacts were placed in a steel box and sealed inside. Charles R. Brenton (1864-1924), a banker and farmer from Dallas Center, lowered the stone into place. Brenton had been appointed by Governor Beryl Carroll to be a member of the State Board of Education, which later became the Board of Regents, State of Iowa.

As reported in the Iowa State Student the next day, then President Raymond Pearson (1873-1939) said in his introduction, “In the opinion of expert architects, the new Iowa State library will be the finest piece of architecture in the state.”

Passersby can find the cornerstone of the William Robert Parks and Ellen Sorge Parks Library on the northeast face of the original building, disguised by a Honeysuckle. The structure is Bedford limestone with a footprint of 176 by 130 feet, and cost about $400,000. With approximately 35,000 square feet over three levels, it took about $11 per square foot to build.