Manny P. here…
A most unusual library has added my book Forgotten Hollywood Forgotten History in the heart of the Midwest. By looking at the photo (below), you can see the beauty and serenity of Elgin, Illinois. The library’s website explains the origins of this unique site.
Rather than put this in my own words (which I just couldn’t do as well), here is their story:
“Gail Borden was not a woman despite the spelling of his first name. He never lived in Elgin, and he never donated funds for the library which bears his name. How his name became attached to our library is as fascinating and complex as the man himself.
Born in New York in 1801, Borden found his way to Texas as a young man where he farmed and published a newspaper. His publication supported the Texas independence movement, and he became associated with such historic figures as Stephen Austin and Sam Houston.
After struggling with various other enterprises in Texas and New York, Borden suffered the death of his wife and was near financial ruin. At the age of 55, after years of experimentation, Borden was awarded a patent for condensed milk.
Although the patent was awarded in 1856, it wasn’t until 1861 financing was secured, and the first plant became operational. Condensed milk, sold from handcarts in New York City, became an immediate success in urban areas where fresh milk was difficult to distribute and store.
As the company began to prosper, Borden’s life took another turn; he met and married Eunice Church, a widow with two sons. The Church family had once lived in Elgin, Illinois, prior to the death of Hiram Church, an early settler in this area.
When his new wife described the Fox Valley area to Borden, it seemed the ideal location for expansion of his company to the West, and in 1865 the Elgin Milk Condensing Company was established. Borden visited often but never lived in Elgin. He bought a home there in 1873, but failing health led him back to Texas, where he died in 1874.
By 1892, the citizens of Elgin were desperately seeking a building for the library, which had barely survived for years in rented rooms in the downtown area. Samuel and Alfred Church, residents of Elgin (and stepsons of Gail Borden), offered to purchase and donate the Scofield Mansion for this purpose. All they asked was that the library be forever known as the Gail Borden Public Library.
With great pride, we still bear this name, which has become synonymous with our local library…”
(This article first appeared in the Fall, 1991 Library newsletter)
I’d like to thank the Gail Borden Public Library District – Rakow Branch for being the newest location to house Forgotten Hollywood Forgotten History.
Until next time> “never forget”