One hundred years ago, a private citizen donated his personal library to the City of Orlando. The rest is history.
The year 1921 was an important one for Orlando: Before Disney World had made Central Florida a landmark tourist destination, Orlando was an up-and-coming city whose growth was fueled primarily by citrus farming. In that year, many historic Orlando structures began construction, including the Angebilt Hotel (37 N. Orange Ave.) and the Beacham Theatre (46 N. Orange Ave).* But most notably, Orlando had a devoted and civic-minded citizenry who were eager to break ground on one public service the city was sorely lacking: a public library.
Coroner O’Gorman and Inspector Charles Albertson (Albertson Public Library) shown on the landing at North Brother Island circa June 25, 1904 at the scene of the General Slocum disaster. The General Slocum paddlewheeler burned on June 15, 1904 taking the lives of over 1000 persons.
Enter Captain Charles Albertson. The retired New York police detective, and winter resident of Orlando, graciously offered his sizeable personal collection – made up of some 12,000 books – to the city in November 1921 on the condition they fund a building in which the library would be housed. The Albertson collection, which Captain Albertson spent more than 40 years developing, which at the time was values at $75,000 – an amount which would be equivalent to more than 1 million dollars today. As part of the donation, Captain Albertson included a hand-written accounting of the collection which was given to Orlando’s Mayor, Eugene G. Duckworth. In it, Albertson writes:
“The larger portion has to do with American history … History of the Revolution, history of the Civil War; history of other states of the Union. A considerable amount of biography of persons prominent because of their connection with the history of the United States.”
“The next largest group in the library includes poetry, essays and standard works of value because of their literary form.”
“Complete works of standard authors, both English and foreign, the latter in translations, minor American poets. Histories of literature; reference works, books especially valuable in a school or public library.”
“Rare works. Fine art. Many volumes of engravings. Fair sized collection of books on music. Science. The standard works of science are included.”
“Philosophy, fiction and children’s books.”
Photographer G. E. Stonebridge, 4143 Park Avenue, New York. Photo of from left to right: No. 2 Captain William Dean, No. 3 Inspector Charles L. Albertson, No. 4 Coroner O’Gorman. Photo is probably from June 25, 1904 either on the landing at North Brother Island or on the landing across the river in New York City.
The collection, along with supplemental materials supplied by the City of Orlando and Sorosis of Orlando Women’s Club, served as the bedrock of the Albertson Public Library collection when it opened its doors to Orlando residents in 1923. Over the past century, Orlando has seen dramatic changes. But while public library service in the city is no longer limited to just the two-story Albertson Public Library, Orange County Library System remains committed to providing the same level of care to customers as when only 9,000 residents called the City Beautiful home.
Photo by G. E. Stonebridge, 4143 Park Avenue, New York. Photo of Cororner O’Gorman, Inspector Albertson and others on the landing at North Brother Island circa June 25, 1904 with wreckage of the General Slocum in the background. The Coroner is center front with vest open and Inspector Albertson is behind him to his right.
For more information about Captain Charles Albertson, or other notable events in Orange County Library System history, visit orlandomemory.info.
*Fun Fact: At one time, the Angebilt and the Beacham were connected by an underground tunnel, which allowed visiting entertainers to travel between the two buildings undisturbed.