About the Library
The Portage Lake District Library serves the citizens of the library district – the City of Houghton, Chassell Township, and Portage Township. The library also checks out materials to fee-paying individuals and families from outside of its district.
A Little History
The Portage Lake District Library began life as the Houghton Public Library in a building constructed using funds from a donation by Andrew Carnegie. Opened on Feb. 19, 1910, the building was located three blocks up Huron Street from its current location. Local taxpayers approved $1,500 for maintenance and support almost immediately, allowing the library to start off on the right foot.
Three years later, the Keweenaw Historical Society was founded on the premises. In 1942, state aid to libraries was established with the Houghton Public Library receiving a portion. That money, along with what taxpayers gave, was enough to maintain the building until 1957, when it was forced to close due to lack of funds. When the same issue arose in 1963 and 1964, local taxpayers agreed to a levy of one mill in order to reopen the library in 1965.
The funding change came along as Houghton moved from a designation of village to city. When the library was preparing to reopen, it was reorganized from the Houghton Public Library into the Portage Township Library. It remained as such until 1974, when the current name took hold. By 1974, the Portage Lake District Library served both Portage Township and the city of Houghton.
Two years later, the Carnegie Building was designated a historical site by the Michigan Historical Commission. This allowed PLDL to seek and receive a grant to refurbish the building’s entryway, front steps and stonework. The construction projects allowed the building to remain the home of PLDL in the late stages of the 20th Century. As PLDL moved into the 1980s, record circulation numbers allowed it to offer a number of programs and services that remain today, including Storytime, a curbside book return, magazines, books on cassette, and even toys for young patrons.
By the early 2000s, it became clear that PLDL had grown beyond what the walls of the Carnegie Building would allow. In December 2003, Houghton City Manager Scott MacInnes proposed renovating the Gundlach warehouse that sat on the waterfront in downtown Houghton. When the PLDL Board of Trustees met again in the New Year, they agreed to look into the feasibility of that location.
During the first half of 2004, after the decision was made to look into the Gundlach location, the warehouse burned down. In July of that same year, the Gundlach Construction Company proposed constructing a new building on the location. In a special meeting of the Board of Trustees on Oct. 10, 2004, MacInnes was vocal in his support for the Gundlach location.
By April of 2005, a second potential location for the library emerged and was proposed by Moyle Construction. The location, the second floor of the UPPCO building, also appeared to be a reasonable location in nearly every way except one, it lacked the ability to expand. On April, 14, the two sites were voted on by the Board, with the Gundlach site winning in large part due to the relative ease with which it could be expanded if necessary.
Construction of the current building took place nearly immediately after, finishing up in May 2006. On May 15, the Carnegie location closed in order to facilitate the move between buildings. Over the next 16 days, books, CDs, magazines, DVDs, desks, and bookshelves were packed and unpacked as part of the transition.
The new PLDL building has been in operation at the old Gundlach site since June 10th, 2006. The library has become a dynamic crossroads for the community, offering hundreds of programs each year covering a variety of topics. With the new building has come further expansion of the collection. Today, PLDL offers the traditional materials of books, audiobooks, and magazines, along with electronic resources such as eBooks and eMagazines, and services like Mango Languages, Atomic Training, and Ancestry Library Edition. PLDL has come a long way from its humble roots in the Carnegie building in 1910. Visit us at PLDL.ORG.