By Emily Riippa and Allison Neely | University Archives and Copper Country Historical Collections
What parent wouldn’t be impressed with a Tech child’s newfound studiousness after yet another story of long hours spent at the Library? How often did a distant girlfriend call Wadsworth Hall or Douglass Houghton Hall in the 1970s, only to hear that her boyfriend was at the Library yet again? To graduates of other schools, it was a place one went for books. For Tech alums, it was a hot spot for good food and better brews. The Library Restaurant and Brew Pub holds a storied place in university lore and culture.
You might be surprised to learn that space that The Library now occupies has a long history as a place to dine. In November 1899, the adjacent Shelden-Dee Block first played host to a restaurant named “Board of Trade,” which largely catered to rail passengers at the nearby depot. The Board of Trade offered two private dining rooms and a spacious “Palm Garden Room.” Imagine Venetian marble, gold trimmings, green velvet, and rich red wainscoting–the works. With its reputation for opulence and a wine cellar that would please the most discriminating of sommeliers, it quickly became known as one of “the most exclusive eating establishments of the area.” Over time, however, the splendor of the Board of Trade faded.
The first iteration of the Library, soon to be beloved of Michigan Tech students, opened in 1967 under the ownership of Jon Davis. The little pub on Isle Royale Street in downtown Houghton began as a place to hang out and enjoy favorite beverages. The Daily Mining Gazette in 1972 went so far as to say that the Library boasted the largest selection of fresh cold draft beer in the Copper Country at that time. A Sunday pizza buffet also proved a smashing success. By 1978, Davis had added a spiral staircase of barnwood that led to an upstairs dining room with red carpeting and drapes that subtly hearkened back to the Board of Trade’s bold style. Custom stained glass windows added another elegant touch. At roofed tables and a circular bar in the upstairs room, dubbed “the Homonym,” diners enjoyed a wide range of dishes, including escargot, beef tartare, and Jon’s own famous chili.
The business evolved over the decades that followed but remained popular with the student body. In 1989, James (“Jim”) Cortwright, Linda Beeckman, and Jerry Mostek assumed ownership of the business; in 1995, they secured a loan to purchase new brewing equipment and transform the cozy bar into a thriving brew pub. On September 5, 1995, however, disaster struck. The operator of the Portage Lake Lift Bridge spotted smoke billowing from the Library shortly before 5am and quickly called the fire department. The fire, which is believed to have ignited in the kitchen area, quickly spread throughout the cherished building, collapsing ceilings and threatening the adjacent block. Through more than twelve hours of concerted effort, firefighters managed to spare nearby businesses and apartments from the worst of the fire, although smoke and water damage proved extensive. The Library, on the other hand, was a total loss.
In some places, this might have been the end, but this is the Copper Country, where sisu abounds. A little over two years later, the Library reopened, and it has remained as much a staple in the community as ever. The old brick walls and famous sign continue to greet patrons daily.
What memory does the Library bring back for you? What was the best item on the menu? Did your friends and family fall for the old “I’m at the Library” line?