History of the Library

Library History Pic

The Early Years

When did the first library come to Farmers Branch? According to an October 16, 1958 article in the Dallas Morning News, a library of sorts can be found as far back as the mid -1840s. Pioneer Robert Jentry West and his wife Mary Ann had come to the Peters Colony in a Conestoga wagon. Robert Jentry West built a school on land in present day Farmers Branch for his wife who had been a school teacher in Tennessee. It was written that “they brought with them an excellent library of classics and the best magazines of the day, all of which circulated among their new neighbors.” It is not quite a library in the modern day sense but it is consistent with a time when most collections of books were privately owned. It shows that education and literacy were an important part in the foundation of the future city.

A library does not appear in connection with Farmers Branch again until 1939. In the book Farmers Branch, Texas: A Pictorial History, compiled and written by The Farmers Branch Heritage Education Committee, it is noted that “Miss Angie Butler, an elementary school teacher, kept books in her home for pupils to borrow.” Once again, it is not a library in the traditional sense but it does illustrate a way of providing reading materials to the young people of Farmers Branch by a resourceful teacher.

The Dallas County Public Library

Photo from Farmers Branch, Texas: A Pictorial History

Even though there was not a free public library in the city, that does not mean Farmers Branch residents did not have access to a library and reading materials. The Dallas Public Library, run by the city of Dallas, did offer free service to county residents residing outside of the city. However, by 1941, the city was considering stopping this free service since county residents living outside of the Dallas city limits did not provide any funding for the support of the city library system. As early as 1923, Farmers Branch, Cedar Hill, and Renner attempted to establish a county library system to serve rural areas of Dallas County by petitioning the Dallas County Commissioners Court. Despite their best efforts, it would take another 14 years to establish the Dallas County Library System. 

The beginnings of a county library system would start to come together when a county library opened in 1938 in the city of Grand Prairie. By 1943, the county library system was up and running. The City of Farmers Branch would join the county system in 1949. The county library system was run out of the Old Courthouse in Dallas and eventually had 15 branch libraries. The Courthouse contained a central collection and mainly operated as a cataloging-business center. The branches were responsible for most of the circulation. At this time, the Farmers Branch Library would have been at the old City Hall building, which was still operating as City Hall. An Inter-Library loan system was set up with Dallas Public and other libraries.

The cost of running the system was shared by the county and the local cities. The county oversaw the operation of the system. It also supplied the books and librarian salaries. Local governments provided the building and its furnishing and upkeep. By the time Farmers Branch was brought into the county system it was serving a population of approximately 144,000. About 900 of them were residents of Farmers Branch. Over the next decade, the city entered into an era of explosive growth and the population would grow to over 13,000. During this time of fast growth, records show that the building was enlarged and decorated.

An article in the Dallas Morning news on July 28, 1950 records that the Farmers Branch Library was circulating 500 books a day. A later article on November 4, 1951 noted that fiction checked out more than nonfiction and that children checked out more books than adults. A quick look at statistics today would show a similar result.

The Librarian over the Farmers Branch Library for the duration of the county period was Florence Teasley. In addition to promoting literacy, one of her major duties would be promoting the Summer Reading Club. The 1950 Summer Reading Club theme was The Pony Express. A large poster of the Pony Express route with 6 stops between Missouri and California was created by a local artist. The children would receive a reading log showing the same route. For every 5 books they read they would be able to advance to the next station. Once they reached Sacramento, the child would receive a county reading certificate and some prizes. To this day the Summer Reading Club is the major event of the year for the Farmers Branch Manske Library. 

How was the Farmers Branch Library funded? Some funds came from the County; some came from the City. However, the library was also supported by its citizens and local civic organizations. An article from the Dallas Morning News from February 5, 1957 relates an example of this citizen and civic support. The Farmers Branch Chamber of Commerce had acquired 8,000 discarded books from the Fort Worth Public Library. On February 9 of that year, a book sale was held to raise funds to help support the library. Later, the Friends of the Library would conduct annual books sales. In 2014, the Farmers Branch Manske Library partnered with Better World Books to raise funds for the library by selling donated books.

A Library of Its Own

Black and white photo of Dallas Gun Club from 1962

In the early 1960s, Farmers Branch decided it was time to form its own library. The building selected to house the city- run library was the old Dallas Gun Club located near Don Showman Park. It was also referred to as the Rod and Gun Club building in some news articles at the time. The building was renovated and remodeled by citizen volunteers. Once the building was converted, volunteers stocked the shelves with books donated by local citizens and the county library system. The Interim Library Committee headed by Larry Sieglar was instrumental in creating the library and getting it running.

The new city-run library opened its doors to the public on July 4, 1962 with Margaret McClain as the library director. The following August, a public library department was created. For the remainder of the year, the new library continued to receive funds from the Dallas County Library System. Starting on January 1, 1963, the library was funded by the city. Though the city was funding the new library, fundraising by citizens and civic organizations was still an important source of revenue. An article in the Dallas Morning News highlights this civic involvement in library fundraising. It reported on a fashion show that was sponsored by the Farmers Branch Chapter of the Business and Professional Women’s Club. Half the proceeds were donated to the new library. The Friends of the Library would also form in March of 1964 and play an important role in raising funds for many years. 

In addition to the Summer Reading Club and weekly storytimes, the library also hosted programming for adults. According to a Dallas Morning News notice dated September 19, 1961, the Great Books Discussion Group first met at the Farmers Branch Library on September 19, 1961. It met the first and third Tuesday of the month and was led by Marilyn Murphy and Melva Thompson. The article noted that you could purchase a set of the first year readings for $8.50. With the exception of the Summer Reading Club and Children’s storytimes, the Great Books Discussion Group is the longest running program in the library’s history. It still meets every third Monday of the month at the library. Another long running program at the library is the twice a week English classes for those adults who want to learn English or to improve their English communication skills. The exact start date for this program is unknown. However, one of the current instructors who has been with the classes since 1998 believes the classes have been going on since the library started. He was not sure if it was in 1962 or 1986 when the library was renovated and expanded at its current location. Either date, the English classes have been around for a long time.

Library in a Firehouse

Photograph of the old Fire Station No. 2

The City of Farmers Branch continued to have explosive growth throughout the 1960s, ultimately reaching a population total of 27,000. As a result, a larger structure was needed to house the library.  A solution came in 1974 when Fire Station No. 2 was replaced with a new station, freeing up the perfect location to build a library to serve the increased population. Most patrons who remember the site before it became the library usually mention that it was the old fire station and that there was a swimming pool next to it. Both descriptions are correct. The first city owned swimming pool was built at Don Showman Park in 1958 near the site of the Old Gun Club, which was acting as the recreation center at the time. In 1964 the City built its second swimming pool next to Fire Station No. 2. Prior to the library renovations, the swimming pool was closed and filled in. 

In 1974, a ground-breaking ceremony was held at the location of Fire Station No. 2. The Library was built around the hull of the remodeled fire station and was expanded to 11,000 square feet. It was 4 times larger than the library building it replaced. The project cost $650,000 and the expense was figured into the budget for that year. The old library originally held 9,000 volumes. This library had the capacity to hold 45,000 volumes. During renovations, a lake was also created behind the library. 

At this time, Mayor George Grimmer also renamed the library as the Farmers Branch Walter E. Manske Memorial Library in memory of Walter Manske, who had recently died. An entry in Farmers Branch, Texas: A Pictorial History gives a short biography of this important city booster and civic leader:

“Walter E. Manske (1928 – 1973), well-known and respected business and civic leader, was reared in McGregor, Texas and graduated from Louisiana State University. He also held degrees from Texas Lutheran College and Baylor University. An Air Force Veteran, Walt Manske was district manager of Texas Power and Light Company from 1959 – 1969 and Vice-president of Central Bank and Trust from 1969 until his death. He served as president of the Carrollton -Farmers Branch Rotary Club and the Greater Northwest Chamber of Commerce and was named the Chamber’s Outstanding Citizen in 1969. On Labor Day, 1973, Walt Manske died in a hunting accident near his boyhood home. The library was named in his honor when it moved from Amber Lane to its present location at 13613 Webb Chapel.” This biography was compiled by Mary Jane Stevenson and Oliva Nichols.

A portrait of Walter E. Manske hangs in the entry of the current library next to the art gallery.

Modern Library

Picture of the Library's mezzanine area

An announcement in the Dallas Morning News dated September 24, 1984 announced to the public:

“The public library recently installed six computer terminals to replace the library's card catalog. The new computer system saves employees considerable time used for filing and typing cards and permits library users to find out when books are returned, said library director Betty Kelly.”

The library still has people come in looking for the old card catalog. It is becoming a rare occurrence but it still does happen.

In 1985, the city once again made the decision to renovate and expand the library. The work was completed and the new library was dedicated on April 19, 1986. The library now had two floors, an art gallery, a large meeting room with a performance stage, and an outdoor amphitheater.

In July 2001, the library’s catalog went from a text based to a web based system when it introduced iBistro. The new system allowed patrons to renew books, check their accounts and reserve books. It was a patron friendly change that allowed them to conduct some library business without having to seek staff assistance.

In July 2012, the library celebrated its 50th anniversary as a city-run library.

Art at the Manske Library

Photograph of bust of Ramses in Library's Egyptology exhibit

The first recorded art exhibit at the Farmers Branch Library was in November/December of 1964. The artist was Marilyn Eitzen Jones who was a graduate of the University of Oklahoma. She had studied under DeForrest Judd, who taught at SMU, and Otis Dozier, a member of the Dallas Nine, who taught at SMU and Dallas Museum of Fine Arts. The exhibit was sponsored by the Civic League of Farmers Branch in celebration of the completion of the recent extension of the library. According to a Farmers Branch Times article published February 20, 1964, the city had approved plans to enclose a porch along the north and east side of the library creating more space. This renovation was completed in the fall of 1964.

Photograph of Landing Eagle sculpture - a stylized eagle with wings spread

In July of 1976, the “Landing Eagle” sculpture by Octavio Medellin was installed at the entrance of the library. Octavio Medellin (1907-1999) was a prominent Dallas area artist. He was born in San Luis Potosi, Mexico, the son of an Otomi Indian mine worker.  He taught art at several universities in the Dallas area including SMU and UNT. He was a member of the Dallas Nine, a group of influential local artists during the 1930s and 1940s whose work featured elements of the southwest. The Sculpture currently resides at the City’s Freedom Plaza.

The art gallery was designed with the input of the Farmers Branch Carrollton Art Association, for the specific purpose of displaying artwork by local artists. A patron is not able to enter the library and not notice the displays in the gallery. Prior to 1998, Cathy Fetke laid the foundation for the gallery as the exhibit coordinator. Under her guidance the gallery developed into an important cultural component of the library. Paul Marcum has been the coordinator since August 1998. The gallery usually hosts 10 to 12 exhibits a year. Most of the artists are local artists from diverse backgrounds with the Farmers Branch Carrollton Art Association exhibiting twice a year and sponsoring the High School Student Scholarship Show. The gallery has also hosted artists and photographers originating from China, India, Iran, Kenya, Mexico, the Philippines, South Korea, and Venezuela.

The Directors

1949 - 1962        Florence Teasley

1962 - 1969        Margaret McClain

1969 - 1976        Anna Honea

1976 - 1989        Betty Kelly

1989 - 2005        Mary Jane Stevenson

2005 - 2010        Danita Barber

2011 - 2014        Belinda Jacks

2015 - Present    Denise Wallace