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www.mybaycity.com August 9, 2014
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Sage Library Around The Time of Dedication in 1884

Sage Library History Presented

Tom Birch Gives Second Saturday Talk At Museum

August 9, 2014       Leave a Comment
By: Stephen Kent

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Henry Williams Sage
It was 130 years ago in 1884 that West Bay City dedicated the glorious new Sage Library in Midland Street. Crowds gathered across the street at the Westminster Presbyterian Church to hear speeches by Spencer Oliver (S.O.) Fisher, then Mayor of West Bay City. A dedication address was given by Professor Moses Coit Tyler, and the presentation was made by Henry Williams Sage himself.

Tom Birch, Director of the Bay County Library System, told the story of the Sage Library at the Bay County Historical Society's free "Second Saturday" presentation given at the Museum today. Birch accompanied his talk with a slide show of historical photos taken through the history of Library.

Following the 1884 dedication, the gathered citizens were given a tour of the new building. Mr. Sage was surprised with the unveiling of a portrait of himself, which had been painted without his knowledge. That painting still hangs in the Library.

Sage and his partner John McGraw were prominent lumber barons living in New York. They had purchased property on the West side of the Saginaw River and build one of the largest sawmills in the world on land that is today's Veteran's Memorial Park. West Side Bay City was then the village of Wenona and basically a company town.

Sage was a religious man and great believer in education. He began talks with West Bay City in 1881 to establish a free public library. "He envisioned a library with a reading room and a debating school where young men could learn to think and talk on their feet."

In 1882 Sage donated the land and approximately $50,000 for the construction of the building. He donated 8,000 books for the opening day collection and gave seed money for staffing and utilities.

Charles Babcock of Ithaca, NY was retained as the architect. Construction was supervised locally by the firm of Pratt and Koeppe. Andrew Thompson of West Bay City was the building contractor.

Early on, the building was described as "a bewildering mixture of styles termed modern architecture." It has since been characterized as French Chateau, Victorian Gothic, and Ruskin Gothic.

Originally the first floor was devoted to a high school, which soon moved to it's own building across the street where the Allen Medical Building now stands. The second floor was the reading room and library. The third floor was for the superintendent and services. The basement was reserved for the furnaces.


Koberger Bible
A number of important artifacts are still associated with the Sage Library. In 1900 a 1492 Koberger Bible was gifted to the library. That Bible still resides in the building's custom built vault. The vault itself was original and weighed some 2,000 pounds. When the building was recently renovated, workers found a way to remodel around the vault without trying to move it.

Over the years the library saw cannon's gracing the lawn. Those were melted for metal in WW II. In 1917-18 the Red Cross headquarters were in the library. Branch libraries were established in 1938. Some of the first major renovations happened in the 1940's.


Leda and the Swan
The well know fountain and "Leda and the Swan" from mythology graces the front of the library today. In the beginning there was some controversy about the semi-nude statue and there was concern about the direction it faced as the church was across the street.

The statue of "Leda" is belived to have been made in Italy. The fountain was cast by Mott Foundry in New York. The statue was removed and stored in 1964. In 1977 the fountain was smashed to pieces by vandals. Scott Pope helped found Friends of the Fountain and that group restored the fountain and statue after 13 years in storage.

In 1973 the Bay City, Sage and Pinconning libraries merged to form the Bay County Library System.

The Sage underwent a major restoration in 1982-84 as it entered its second century of service. It was added to the State and National Register of Historic Places and has been designated the oldest continually operated library building in the state of Michigan.

The 106 year old slate roof was replaced in 1990 with a grant from the Federal Library Services and Construction Act.

The most recent renovation took place in 2002-04. During this time the branch moved to temporary quarters in the Bay City Mall. The project brought back many historic features, converted the attic into an adult fiction and teen services area, and included a 3,840 square foot addition to the existing 14,004 square foot building.

On January 16, 2014 the Library celebrated it's 130th birthday. The facility has been completely brought up to date and the citizens of Bay County can anticipate another hundred years of service from this beautiful and historic structure in a beautiful and historic town.


Drawing of Bay City looking to the East.
The Third Street Bridge is the only bridge.
The Sage Mill occupies the land to the south (right) of the bridge.
The village of Wenona (a true "company town") extends West from the mill.
The Library would eventually be build in the vacant land near the bottom of the picture.

Combination clock and calendar
now resides in the collection of the Historical Society

Sage in 1884

Sage in 1900

Sage in 1977 - Around time of the fountain restoration

Sage exterior in 1982

View from the East parking lot before addition in 2002

View after 2002 addition

Sage Branch Library in 2014

The attic storage area before renovation

The attic after conversion to adult and teen area.

West Minster Presbyterian Church in 1884 when the Library was dedicated


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Stephen Kent

Steve Kent and his family have lived in Bay City for 40 years. He is VP of Technical Services at MMCC which produces MyBayCity.Com. Kent is active in many Bay City civic organizations.

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