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The Modoc County Library Building
Formerly the Bank of America Building
460 Main Street

Cedarville Library (click to enalrge)

For a few years before 1976, Surprise Valley residents hoping to check out library books traveled to Alturas or stopped by the fire hall on Main Street.

There, branch library associates June Harris and her successor Margaret Schreiber sat at a small table, overseeing a modest collection of books that was locked up in cabinets when the doors closed at night. They shared the space not only with the volunteer fire department, but with a group of older men who liked to play cards together when the hall was open.

Though a fortuitous series of events in the mid-70s led to the establishment of what remains Surprise Valley’s only branch library, the single-story art deco-style building started off its life as a bank.

The bank was built between 1937 and 1938 on land that once belonged to local businessman Louis Pabst’s estate. 

The building crew, under a Mr. Cherry, was pouring the foundation for the new Surprise Valley High School at the same time they were working on the bank, helping researchers confirm its construction date much more precisely.

In 1937, the site became part of an extensive parcel owned by Heath and Georgie Stanley. Their large acquisition also included the old Surprise Valley News office, the building currently housing an art studio, an adjacent home, and the US Post Office. 

Despite the Bank of America not acquiring the deed to the land under its branch office until the site was parceled off in 1949, there are still local residents who helped install a large steel vault during its construction. Their recollections establish that the building was indeed intended for use as a bank from its earliest planning stages. Today, the original vault serves as a small ancillary room filled with paperback books.

The Bank of America, which operated a branch at 460 Main Street under managers Vince Court (1937-39), a Mr. Fogelsang (1939-1942), Paul Enos (1942-1947), Gail Hicks (1947-1969), and Mildred Burgoyne (1969-1986), served local customers at the site until 1970. The Surprise Valley branch then relocated into what is today the Senior Citizens Center on Main and Bonner Streets, closing its doors for the final time in 1986.  

Geologist Howard Milligan bought the building in 1972 and operated a business out of it until his death in 1975.  Fortunately, his mother Marie Berliner came from New York to gather his belongings.

Berliner was a retired librarian who promptly noticed the town was sorely in need of a permanent space for its public library. She made arrangements to donate her son’s property to the county for that specific use. 

In 1976, Schreiber and former Modoc County Librarian Betty Chism enlisted their husbands to help move the library’s small collection into its new home.  It wasn’t long before the space began to fill with the modern paraphernalia library patrons today take for granted: a phone, videos, music and books on tape, new computers allowing internet access, an automated card catalog, and even an automated book charger to replace the old check-out cards once glued into the front covers of every library book.

Today, the library is open from noon until 6:00 PM on Tuesdays and Thursdays – quite an improvement on the four hours a week Schreiber once put in at the fire hall!

If you stop by, take a moment to look over the memorial plaque honoring the donation made on Milligan’s behalf, his photo, and a poem he wrote. All are on prominent display inside.

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Page modified: 19 Feb 2024 10:17:37 -0800

Surprise Valley Chamber of Commerce
PO Box 518, Cedarville, California 96104

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