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Sellwood and Woodstock Libraries celebrate 150th birthday

by: RITA A. LEONARD - Library Administrator Jenna Scott poses by an historic photo of the first Sellwood Branch Library, established in 1905. Here’s a conundrum: Both of these Inner Southeast Libraries – Sellwood-Moreland, and Woodstock – are 150 years old, and yet the communities in which they are located are nowhere near that old! How can that be?

There’s a simple explanation. On February 15, all branches of the Multnomah County Library all over Portland celebrated the library’s 150th birthday. Each celebrated in its own way. In Sellwood, the historic branch focused on its rich history of five different locations in a little over a century. The Sellwood-Moreland Branch’s party was called “150 Years of Library Love” – in which visitors were invited to sample cookies and crafts, write a love letter to the library, and create a goody bag for free erasers, mints, and shiny silver pencils. Historic photographs of all five sequential Sellwood Branch Library sites were posted on the classroom walls, and Administrator Jenna Scott gave visitors historic data about her branch.

“The first Sellwood Branch Library was located in a storefront at 613 Umatilla Street,” she revealed. “It opened in 1905 with just 100 books. This was the first public library branch of the Multnomah County Library, although it was initially referred to as a ‘reading room’. By 1907 it had grown to hold a thousand volumes.”

But, the library moved on. The second location of the Sellwood Library operated from 1909-1915 at 570 Tacoma Street, and in 1915 the library moved to 582 S.E. Nehalem Street, where it remained until 1967. That address eventually changed to 1406 S.E. Nehalem, and the building can still be seen next to the Thrifty Cottage, across from St. Agatha's Church. By the middle of the 20th Century, the Sellwood Library’s book circulation rate was considered to be one of the highest in Portland.

In 1965, local support from businesses and school children resulted in a new, larger library branch built at 7904 S.E. Milwaukie Avenue. This fourth site served the public until 2001, when burgeoning library resources combined with building system deterioration indicated that a new, fifth location was needed.

The current brick Sellwood-Moreland Branch Library opened as part of a mixed-use commercial site at 7860 S.E. 13th Avenue – the triumphant reclamation of a hazmat site, on which a metal plating business had been located.

With inviting ground floor windows, a bank of computers, and an automated checkout system, the current Sellwood Library offers reading and research firmly placed in the technological era, yet embracing the past. It’s a little-known fact that the only official archive of THE BEE is located in the Sellwood Branch Library. It may not be entirely complete, but it is the most complete archive of this newspaper that there is.