In January of 1901, Alfred Dickey called a meeting to establish a free reading room in Jamestown, North Dakota. Mr. Dickey, being too ill to attend the meeting, was represented by Mr. Smart. Mr. Smart announced that Alfred Dickey would provide furniture, periodicals, and a custodian for the room three nights a week. Sadly, three days after the meeting Alfred Dickey died; however his dream of a library did not.
Alfred Dickey's son, Alfred E. Dickey, called the library committee together and assured them he would carry out his father's wishes.
The reading room was opened on February 16, 1901, in a room in the Opera House Block. The room was open to the public as a free reading room. For $1 a year a library cardholder could borrow books.
In 1908 the city of Jamestown voted to support the library with city taxes and in January 1909 the library was moved to the city hall and the first trained, full-time librarian was hired.
Miss Alice Paddock was in charge of the library's 1,594 books and 32 magazines. She also started a teachers club to coordinate the library and school activities, and began a Story Hour.
Alfred E. Dickey died in 1910. In his will he left $20,000 to the Board of Directors of the library for a new library building. The city was to provide the site. He also left $15,000 as an endowment fund with the interest to be used for the upkeep of the library. The money was invested until a site was found and the sum was large enough to construct a building.
In 1917, with contributions from businessmen and city funds, the site for the library was purchased. By 1919 the Alfred Dickey Free Library was in its new home, with approximately 7,000 books.
The architect hired to design the new library building, J.A. Shannon, was a student of the Sullivan School of Architect in Chicago. The influence of Louis Sullivan's Egyptian style can be seen in the building.
A lotus leaf design can be seen in the windows, light fixtures, columns, and dome. The exterior of the building carries out the lotus leaf design in terra cotta on ornaments, cornices and window trim. The one remaining original light fixture with lotus leaf design hangs in the entryway and matches the design in the stained glass windows, glass dome and columns.
The building was designed with Roseate Tennessee marble for the main stairs and terrazzo floor in the vestibule and lobby.
Alfred Dickey's initials appear above the main entrance doors.
The Alfred Dickey Library was frequently visited by Louis L'Amour when he was young. The The Official Louis L'Amour Website says "it was at the nearby Alfred Dickey Free Library, where his eldest sister, Edna, was a librarian, that Louis spent many long hours exploring in depth subjects only touched on by the schools."
There have been two additions to the library. In 1973 a narrow room was added to the north for book stacks and in 1978 an elevator was installed.
In 1980 the Alfred Dickey Free Library building was entered in the National Register of Historic Places.
There have been two (additional) endowments to the library. Morris Beck, a businessman, left the library $13,000 to be used as needed. Chester Hodge, a banker, left an endowment of $20,000; the interest is to be used for the purchase of non-fiction books.
The library is supported by taxes and the generosity of the citizens of Jamestown and Stutsman County.