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Interior and exterior of the Chester Library located beside the Feather River, photographed in late 1928 just before opening to the public in 1929. Photo submitted

Chester’s first librarian is celebrated

Catherine May Clarke Stover was Chester’s first librarian, The library opened beside the Feather River on 1st Avenue in 1929. Photo submitted

As part of the 90th anniversary celebration of Chester Library, Joan Sayre, Marilyn Quadrio and Marilyn Ornbaun of the ChesterLake Almanor Museum created an exhibit inside the Chester Library depicting the history of the library and Chester’s first librarian, Catherine (Katie) May Clarke Stover, Ornbaun’s great aunt.

Her father, William J. Clarke, was an Irish immigrant who came to California on the Lassen Trail in 1849, Quadrio noted, arriving in Placerville on July 4 of that year. He became a substantially successful farmer and cattleman in the College City (Arbuckle) area of Colusa County, and by the 1860s, had large summer pastures in the northern end of Big Meadows (on the upper side of today’s causeway before Lake Almanor was completed in 1914).

“Clarke drove his cattle up to higher elevations each spring and back down to the valley in the fall,” Quadrio said, “until selling his property to the Martin family a few years before his death in 1894.”

In middle age he married Catherine Foster, and together they had seven children, the fourth child being Katie May, born in 1871, who was included in the seasonal migration to the mountains.

In the year 1900, Katie May met and married George Stover, oldest son of early settler Reuben Stover. Together they continued a “seasonal migration” between College City and Chester, maintaining a small home in town on Lassen Avenue.

Said Quadrio, “Her career as Chester librarian was cut short in August 1931, when the avid fisherwoman had her husband drop her off to fish at the eastern end of the causeway,” adding that a local townsman noticed her dog behaving strangely, investigated, “and found Katie dead in the meadow, presumably from a stroke.”

As part of the current library display, an excerpt from page 99 of “Plumas Sketches,” written by Jane Braxton Little, covers the history of how the property for the library was donated by literary enthusiast Edith Martin, granddaughter of Melissa Bailey Olsen.

The excerpt noted that, “Melissa Bailey Olsen loved books. She brought precious few along her covered wagon journey from Ohio, but she instilled her interest in literature in each of her six children and in her granddaughter Edith Martin, all raised on the Olsen dairy ranch near Big Meadows.”

The books Melissa Olsen managed to collect throughout her life formed the first library in northern Plumas County, wrote Little, moving as it expanded from Olsen’s general store to Maud Gay’s post office.

Interior and exterior of the Chester Library located beside the Feather River, photographed in late 1928 just before opening to the public in 1929. Photo submitted

“When Edith Martin donated a generous acre of land for the library building in 1928, the community rallied ‘round to build it.”

Fletcher Walker of Red River Lumber Company contributed the logs, “and dances in town, by then called Chester, raised money for the rest of the materials.”

Charley Yori and Melissa Olsen’s son, George Olsen, with help from local residents they directed, debarked and prepared the logs, and constructed the building.

Yori and Olsen did the finish work on the library, which opened beside the Feather River in 1929.

The library also served as a classroom in the mid-1940s when Chester was a smaller, more informal community, Quadrio remarked, until the new school opened in February 1949. But over the years it has had many other functions; as a voting precinct, local draft registration center, voter registration place, as well as a location for community bridal and baby showers.

Many years later, in 1985, funds were raised by the Friends of the Library and local history collectors Sayre and Quadrio, including a grant from the Collins Pine Co., which paid for the large log addition that houses adult book stacks and the Chester-Lake Almanor Museum.

The excerpt concluded, “During the 1940s, when Collins Pine’s prosperity put Chester through growing pains, school classes met among the books in the library by the Feather River. … In 1983, it was one of four Plumas County branch libraries, and bulged with over 8,400 volumes.”

ChesterLake Almanor Museum

Taken on a cold and icy day, a recent photo of the entrance to the Chester Library, located at 210 1st Ave. in Chester. Photo by Stacy Fisher

The ChesterLake Almanor Museum contains the photographic history of the original pioneer communities and settlers from the pre-Lake Almanor era of Big Meadows through the first half of the 20th century.

Included in its archives is information on early dairy and cattle ranching, logging, gold mining and tourism, including memoirs, research articles and artifacts of local culture, from the Mountain Maidu to the modern era. Also housed are thousands of historical photographs of the Seneca Township’s growth and its citizens, plus an account of Lake Almanor’s creation from 1900 through the 1950s. Available for the public to watch are videos of interviews, historical society programs, and videos of special historical interest.

All materials are available for casual investigation and serious research studies.

The museum is open all year long. For questions and access to collections, call Marilyn Quadrio at 596-3011.

The Chester-Lake Almanor Museum was added in 1985 (lower photo) to the original building that housed the library.

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