The Modoc County Library Building
Formerly the Bank of America Building
460 Main Street
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
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
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
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
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
to the county for that specific use.
In 1976, Schreiber and former Modoc County
Librarian Betty Chism enlisted their husbands to help move
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
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
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