Don’t worry. Tallahassee’s first library is going to be OK.
Though construction of a new six-story office building and parking garage that flank the historic building had some worrying about the future of the Walker Library, precautions are being taken to make sure the 113-year-old, two-story building is not damaged during construction.
The Walker Library, at 209 East Park Avenue, was Tallahassee’s first library from 1903 to 1956. Since 1977, it has served as home of Springtime Tallahassee Inc., the organization that runs the annual festival. The Walker Library is one of 65 Leon County properties listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Demolition of the structures surrounding the Walker Library began in February. But the general contractor, Culpepper Company, has established retaining walls and added sub-structures around its foundation to ensure the Walker Library is undisturbed during construction.
The new project – currently named 201 East Park Avenue, for its address – will wrap around the Walker Library on three sides.
“We’re taking a lot of care and doing everything we can to protect it and keep an important historic heritage in place,” said Brian Ballard. “It probably would have been easier to move it. But I’m a big believer in historic properties. I think it’s neat to have it there.”
Ballard, a Tallahassee attorney, is constructing a $20 million, 6-story building on the southeast corner of Park Avenue and South Monroe Street. One floor of the building will house Ballard’s 25-person lobbying firm, which currently occupies the historic Lewis Lively House at 403 E. Park Avenue.
The project will include an upscale restaurant and a parking garage; four floors will be rented out as office space. The project is slated to be finished in September 2017. The new building replaces the former home of the Florida Home Builders Association.
While the new building is under construction, Springtime Tallahassee Inc., has moved into temporary quarters at 501 E. Tennessee St., across from Leon High. The organization will remain there through next year’s festival in March.
“We anticipate being back in the building by next April or May,” said Blake Moore, Springtime’s membership and event director. “We have no concerns about construction (harming the building).”
The Walker Library salutes a former Florida governor, who helped start Tallahassee’s first library.
A native of Kentucky, David Shelby Walker moved to Tallahassee in 1837 when he was 22 and started a law practice. He came to Tallahassee with his brother, George, a land speculator who built a mansion called “Highwood,” on the site of today’s Florida A&M University.
David Walker served in Florida’s first legislature under statehood in 1845 as a senator from Leon and Wakulla Counties, then in House of Representatives in 1848. From 1849 to 1854 he was the state register of lands and superintendent of public schools. In 1850, he set up the state’s first system of free schools. In 1857, the school he helped establish in Tallahassee was subsumed into the new West Florida Seminary, forerunner of today’s Florida State University.
After the Civil War ended, Walker, who had opposed secession, was elected governor of Florida without opposition. He returned to his law practice after serving as governor (1865-1868) and was appointed a circuit judge in 1876, a position he held until his death in 1891.
In 1884, local citizens accepted Walker’s offer of two rooms for a library in a building he owned at the southeast corner of the Park and Monroe — the site Ballard is building on. Residents raised donations to buy books and create a reading room, which was open to the public. In 1903, after Walker’s death, the building was sold in exchange for the lot next door on East Park Avenue. His widow donated the lot to the libraryassociation, which built the present red brick, white-columned building – with a large sign over the doorway that reads “Library” — which was named in honor of Walker for his support of the library.
The Walker Library served the community from 1903 to 1956, when the library moved into the basement of the Columns, an antebellum mansion two blocks west on Park Avenue (a building since relocated to Duval Street and Park Avenue, where it is the home of the James Madison Institute).
In 1962, the county library moved into the former Elks Club on North Monroe Street (a site now occupied by the Tennyson Condominiums). In 1978, the library relocated to the basement of the Northwood Mall. In January 1991, the Leon County LeRoy Collins Library opened in its present home at 200 West Park Avenue.
This is not the first time the Walker Library has endured construction around it. In 1922-1923, the four-story Cherokee Hotel was built on its east side; the hotel was demolished in 1964. Its westside neighbor, the building where Walker started his library, and known for decades as the Western Union building, was torn down in 1978, to build the Florida Home Builders Association building, which is now being replaced by the Ballard building.
“(The Walker Library) is going to be well-protected; it’s probably going to be on better physical footing with the new building (beside it) than it was before,” Ballard said. “We are very excited. I think we’re going to interject a lot of energy on that corner, coupled with the historic building and FSU’s (new Moran Institute on South Monroe Street). It’s going to be very cool.”