Burnham Athenaeum (Champaign Public Library)
Dating to 1896, the Burnham Athenaeum is a neo-Classical structure designed by Julius A. Schweinfurth, built from cream-colored bricks with terra cotta accents and a pale green slate roof. Its south side boasts a pediment surmounting four Ionic columnns. An inscription over the door reads "This building was erected by A.C. Burnham as a free public library for the city of Champaign anno domini MDCCCXCV." Burnham was the Champaign banker and philanthropist who donated the building site and additional funds for the library's construction and acquisition of books. The building faces out onto West Side Park, the county's oldest public park, established c. 1854. Since 1980, it has housed a law firm.
Backstory and Context
At the Athenaeum's official opening in 1896, University of Illinois president Andrew Draper delivered the ceremony's closing remarks: "We have been given this magnificent building and now we should undertake to put it to its true uses. There is no Institution which can be reared in a community which will work greater good than a public library" (quoted in Winay et al., "National Register of Historic Places"). Students and faculty from the University of Illinois frequented the Burnham Athenaeum, and a children's department was established within the library in 1899.
Burnham Athenaeum served as the Champaign Public Library until 1978. Over the decades, its holdings and staff expanded considerably, from only 5593 books and 2 librarians in the beginning to more than 100,000 books and over 40 staff members at its closing. At this point, the Champaign Public Library needed to move to a bigger location. A 1979 fire damaged the Athenaeum's roof and interior, but most of its interior decoration (paneled wood ceilings, columnns, wooden molding, fireplaces and mantels) remained intact. Following restorations, the law firm Meyer Capel moved into the building in 1980.
Hi, Sai, Viktorija Stropus, andZhou Yu. "Burnham Atheneum." ExploreCU. Accessed December 26, 2017. http://explorecu.org/items/show/297.
"History." Champaign Public Library. Accessed December 26, 2017. https://champaign.org/about/history.
Winay, Nora, Paul Selin, Gary Olsen, Michele Olsen, Joyce Wajenberg, and Russell Dankert. "National Register of Historic Places Inventory--Nomination Form: Burnham Athenaeum." U.S. Dept. of the Interior, NPS. January 17, 1978. Accessed November 17, 2017. http://gis.hpa.state.il.us/pdfs/200206.pdf.