Sellwood-Moreland Library history

In February 1997, Eileen G. Fitzsimons summarized the founding of Sellwood-Moreland Library for the Sellwood Bee:

In December 1904, twenty-two residents, led by the Rev. D.A. Thompson, met at the Sellwood Presbyterian Church on Spokane St, and organized a Reading Room Association. Accustomed to tithing in church, each pledged $1.00 per month to fund the library. A reading room was established in a storefront on Umatilla St. across the street from Sellwood School; books were provided by the Portland Library Association [sic].

After opening on February 10, 1905, Sellwood Reading Room quickly became the center of the community; as a result, the original collection of 100 books had to be supplemented with 50 additional volumes.

While other communities had small deposit collections housed in homes and stores, the Sellwood Reading Room was the first public library facility in Multnomah County outside of the main library in downtown Portland. The reading room operated weekdays from 4:30–6:30 p.m. and evenings from 7:30–9:30 p.m. Miss Della Taylor served as the reading room’s first librarian, and circulation that first year was 1,217 books.

Community members soon realized the area needed more library service than the small reading room could provide. On March 13, 1907, Sellwood Branch Library opened in the same location, but it featured additional shelving for a larger collection of 1,000 volumes. People took to the new branch slowly at first, but circulation for 1907 reached 11,370 thanks to the hard work of librarian Mary C. Voorhees, who encouraged library use by contacting area schools, mills and manufacturers.

Sellwood Branch Library moved into the Reinecke Building at 570 S.E. Tacoma Avenue in September 1909. This move brought the library closer to the streetcar line and the Sellwood shopping district.

In 1910, library service expanded into the community with a small deposit collection of books placed at a firehouse and another on a ferryboat. Late that summer, a box of 100 discarded books was sent to the Sellwood playground. Another set of 84 books was placed in a street railway company clubhouse.

In July 1915, Sellwood’s library moved once again, to 582 S.E. Nehalem Street, where it would remain a rental tenant for many years. Beginning rent was $35 per month for the bungalow-style building, one of several built by E.A. Hamilton.

The Depression strained all of the library collections as people turned to these free resources for both entertainment and information. Circulation at the Sellwood branch shot from 56,763 in 1930 to 70,701 in 1931, with people looking for nonfiction titles. Books on raising poultry, rabbits, bullfrogs and mushrooms on small plots of land were especially popular. By 1935, the library’s address became 1406 S.E. Nehalem Street.

As citizens returned from World War II, population shifted throughout the city. In 1946, the branch report noted that the business district was drifting from Sellwood to the Bybee neighborhood. In 1949, 32 percent of the potential Sellwood community had a library card, and the number of books circulated per cardholder was among the highest in the city.

After 50 years on Nehalem Street, the library had to find a new location because the landlords sold the property. The community again rallied to support library service in Sellwood. Area school children campaigned to “Save Our Library,” and a group of businessmen stepped forward to build a new library on the corner of S.E. Milwaukie and Lexington. Ground was broken on June 14, 1965, and the new 2,204-square-foot library celebrated its opening on September 30, 1965. The new building was truly a community venture, designed by Westmoreland architect Loyal Lang on property owned by Fillmore Investments Oregon, Ltd. of Milwaukie Avenue.

In 1983, the state’s troubled economy hit Multnomah County hard, and the library cut hours at the Sellwood, Albina, Capitol Hill and Gregory Heights branches to balance the reduced budget. Multnomah County Library combined the remaining Sellwood and Albina staffs to cover each branch at alternate times. A year later, with the help of volunteers, Sellwood was able to open every Saturday afternoon rather than just every other one.

In May 1996, Multnomah County voters passed a $29 million general obligation bond measure to improve technology in all libraries and to renovate deteriorating branch libraries. Physical and functional assessments of Sellwood-Moreland Library revealed plumbing, mechanical and electrical systems that needed replacing, and a lack of the cabling and wiring needed to support new technology. In addition, the building — the smallest in the library system — was bursting with over 31,200 items in the collection. It had been designed to house 6,500 items.

In August 2000, the Multnomah County Board of County Commissioners approved the lease of ground floor space in a new mixed-use building on the corner of S.E. 13th Avenue and Bidwell Street. Loren Waxman developed the site with a mix of the library, commercial space and 16 residential condominium units. A foundation-laying ceremony on April 9, 2001, marked the start of construction.

The old library closed on January 27, 2002. That afternoon, the community helped library staff transport books and other items to the new location at 7860 S.E. 13th Avenue. The new library opened on February 12, 2002.

Thanks to Eileen Fitzsimons, Sellwood-Moreland Improvement League (SMILE), for her assistance in researching this history of Sellwood-Moreland Library.

Fact sheet

  • Library area: 4,375 square feet
  • Book capacity: 20,000 volumes
  • Architects: Waxman & Associates (exterior)
    Thomas Hacker and Associates, Inc. (tenant improvement consultant)
  • Contractor: Gray Purcell
  • First librarian: Margot Moore-Wilson
  • Opening: February 12, 2002

Read the histories of all neighborhood libraries, and explore historic library photos.