Is Eau Claire Time Travel Possible?

Nothing disorders my mind quite like the mutability of time. It feels like an age since our library – the real library – was open. For me, the Real Library is the downtown location as it was before the renovation and pandemic: open to everyone, with copious oak and brick, faux skylights, endless tall shelves, and that wooden man statue* at the top of the stair…  Yet even as that library seems a thing of the distant past, our imminent move back downtown feels simultaneously sudden.

I get the sense I’m not the only one whose memories are mixed up with concerns of the future. In recent weeks I’ve heard from several library users fondly remembering what the library was like when they were kids, and expressing a mix of curiosity and apprehension about the renovated building – will it be shiny and exciting? Unfamiliar and intimidating? If solidarity helps, the staff of LEPMPL are facing a similar jumble of feelings and will be taking this brief closure to get our bearings (physically and mentally) so that we can greet you and show you around our new home when those doors finally open.

Doubtless, it will take a while for me to regain the feeling of familiarity and ownership I had for the library of my memories. But time assures that I inevitably will, just as it guarantees that the renovated building which seems so new to us now will likely not be the library’s final form – after all, it has had many already. If I’m honest, I’ve always felt a little deprived in being too late to use or work in the library when it was in the Carnegie building (since taken over by City Hall), with its grand stair and large arched windows. You see, I nerd for many things, one of these being architecture. While time indeed comes for us all, I find comfort and fascination in the defiant beauty of those things built to last. I’m often saddened by the rarity of truly old things in Eau Claire; there are, of course, some notorious holdouts that we can still appreciate: the last turret standing in the Stone’s Throw (formerly a bank), the venerable Antique Emporium, or some truly stunning churches of varying styles. But when these islands of architectural intrigue are not enough, I turn to perusing our vault of Eau Claire Area Historical Photographs, where it’s easy to unearth lost gems like those I’ve gathered below.

Historical photographs are only one of the resources available to those seeking to do a bit of local time travel, and architectural nerdery only one possible use for them. Perhaps you want to trace the history of your property, or find pictures of your old school, or use old city directories to find the addresses and occupations of your ancestors. Whatever your aim and motivation, it’s worth exploring our Chippewa Valley History page. Feel free to ask our wonderful Reference staff (oh, hello!) if you would like any pointers on your way. Those interested in the echoes and records of our local past may also tour the Chippewa Valley Museum’s Eau Claire Then & Now exhibit, which runs through the end of the year.

Happy (time) travels!

*To library staff, this statue was affectionately known as ‘Herman.’ In recent years, he’s found a new home at the Pablo Center, but he will forever be at the top of the stairs in my heart.

A few of my favorites…

The Schlegelmilch Building once brought a touch of Germany to 122 S Barstow, current site of the Lutheran Social Services building. The building had classic details galore, and now that I know it existed, I miss it.


On the same corner as the Schlegelmilch building once stood the Eau Claire House, one of Eau Claire’s oldest hotels, which was originally a frame building erected by Adin Randall in 1856 before being replaced by this brick structure around 1880


Oh, to be an Eau Claire high school student when that meant rolling up to this Jacobean beauty in a horse-drawn carriage…


It turns out that in the 1930’s, 602 S Barstow housed this oddly endearing mix of old English cottage and art deco gas pumps.

    • Jan
      Jan says:

      Hmm. I wonder when and how the name change occurred – I only know that ‘Herman’ predated me. He does kind of look like a George… :)


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