The public library in Delavan had its beginnings in 1885 under the Caxton plan. Under this plan, 100 people would pay $1 a year for two years and 200 books would be provided by the Caxton Library Company of Chicago. The books received were stored at local businesses.
In 1889, the Delavan Lake Library Association was formed at the Villa Clare home of Mrs. P. R. King. She donated over 500 volumes, which were available for loan by any lake resident at no cost.
Plans for a public library to be built in Delavan began in 1906. Major funding for the project came from James and Susan Aram as a memorial to their three daughters, Mary Elizabeth, Evaline and Marion Adell, who died early in their childhood at ages 13, 7, and 15, respectively.
James Aram was born in New York in 1813. He married Susan Rood in 1836. Soon after their wedding they moved to Ohio and in 1840 moved to the Delavan area where he bought 200 acres of land in East Delavan. In 1843 he sold this land and bought 300 acres near the south shore of Delavan Lake and the inlet.
When he died in 1897, his will provided for several generous gifts to the community, to be activated upon his wife’s death. One was the sum of $20,000 to establish and maintain a public library and reading room to be named the Aram Public Library.
In anticipation of a public library, the Delavan Library and Literary Association was established in 1899. Mrs. Aram died December 13, 1905 at age 92; at that time the provisions of Mr. Aram’s will became effective.
The first meeting of the Aram Library Committee met on January 23, 1906. By March 28, 1906 the association had selected a site for the library at Fourth Street and Walworth Avenue, the cost to be $4,000 and the present owners to remove buildings now standing on it if the people of Delavan could raise that amount. Alexander H. Allyn contributed $5,000 on the condition that local citizens contribute a like amount. Delavan area residents raised $5,280.
At the January 1907 Aram Library Commission meeting, the secretary was instructed to advertise for building plans to be submitted by March 5, 1907 at 1:00 p.m. They met on March 5th to review the eight sets of plans received. They unanimously selected those of Claude Starck, Madison to be best fitted to their needs.
The Commission met on May 2nd to review completed plans and specifications from the architects. The secretary was instructed to advertise for bids on building construction. Three bids were received. On June 3rd the Commission accepted the bid of Stewart & Hagen from Janesville of $14,459.00.
The final cost of the library was $22,833.29. It was dedicated on July 8, 1908 at 4:00 p.m. The library opened with 2,332 volumes including 686 from the old library/reading room. These later were accumulated by the Library and Literary Association which had formed ten years earlier to help build a foundation for a future public library.
On September 16, 1953 the library received $10,000 from the estate of George O. von Suessmilch to be used for an addition to house historical documents and records of the citizens of the City of Delavan. The collection was to be available for use by the general public.
In the spring of 1975 J. Meade Harris purchased the Irvin Dees home at 115 S. Fourth Street with the provision that Dees could live there rent and tax free for the next five years. After that time the house would be removed or razed and the land used for either library expansion or library parking. This was developed into a parking lot with the assistance of a $10,000 grant from Citizens Bank for the grading, paving, and landscaping.
The Aram Public Library became part of the Lakeshores Library System in 1982. The Friends of the Aram Public Library was established in 1987 to promote and assist the library.
The original building was one story and basement built from dark brown brick, with Bedford stone trimming and red tile roof. In the basement was a fair sized audience or lecture room, equipped with a small stage, besides which there were work, storage, lounging and toilet rooms. Above, was the library room, a spacious room the full size of the building, 70×37. At the rear of the room, sunken in the wall over a broad fireplace, was a beautiful bronze tablet bearing these words:
This Memorial Library is a bequest to the city of Delavan by James A. Aram, deceased, in memory of his children, Mary Elizabeth, Evaline and Marion Adell Aram, and made larger and more complete by the generosity of the public spirited citizens of Delavan.
Plans for a major expansion of the Aram Public Library were unveiled in December, 1986. The library would become accessible to the handicapped and its size would more than double (5,024 square feet to 12,112 square feet). As proposed, expansion of Aram would involve construction of a lower level and a main floor on the south side of the existing building, facing the public parking lot. A new entrance to the facility would be constructed, which would include an elevator to provide handicapped patrons with access to both floors.
Plans for the lower level included the construction of a modern meeting room, restroom facilities, and a storage room for valuable reference materials, along with renovation of existing space to provide room for book repair and mechanical operations. A public telephone would also be installed on the lower level.
Expansion on the main floor would include moving the children’s library area from its current location on the lower level to the main floor. Library officials would be able to set up specialized areas for study, pleasure reading, research, and private listening cubicles. The existing fireplace would be maintained, and a new main desk would be located facing the new entrance area.
Also included in the plan was the implementation of a modern card cataloging system, which would use microfiche to maintain the records of the library. Delavan architect Russell J. DePietro was contacted to prepare the expansion plan. Kick-off for the library drive was in April of 1989. The campaign had a goal of $600,000, which would be used to construct an addition to the present structure. The Delavan city council had committed the city of Delavan to provide up to $300,000 of this goal. Contributions were also expected from other local governments that are served by Aram Public Library. The balance of the $600,000 goal was sought through contributions from the community.
The groundbreaking ceremony for the new addition was on July 11, 1990 at 4 p.m. Completion of the Aram Public Library’s major addition and renovation of the older section was marked with an informal, short dedication program on June 13, 1991 at 7 p.m.
The present-day library now has the children’s library on the lower level. The children’s library has three public computers, one catalog computer, many children’s DVDs, CDs, audiobooks. It also has a small reference and Spanish section. Otherwise, it is overflowing with books. The lower level also houses a meeting room, circulation room, and a technical services room.
The main floor still has a pleasure reading area and tables for study. There is a large audio visual area, which includes DVDs, CDs, audiobooks, and MP3 books. Another area that continues to grow is the Graphic Novels section. There are 11 computers for public use and 2 for the computer catalog. The library also provides wireless service for patrons . Aram is continuing to meet the needs of an increasingly technology oriented society.