About the Library
History of the Library
In the Beginning...
The Mission Public Library is one of the oldest libraries in the Lower Rio
Grande Valley. It was organized by a group of educated, ambitious women
who had come as settlers to this new country with their families.
In March 1914, interested persons met and formed the
Civic League of Mission in order to care for the park and to form a library. The
first library board was composed of the officers of the League.
There were two card clubs in Mission at this time and
one played for books which were donated to the library. Two local women
also donated 75 books to the library.
The library was located wherever there was a room available
free of charge. Many empty stores were used.
At first the library charged for services! $0.05
per hour for "story-telling" on Saturday mornings ...$0.05/week to
borrow a book...and overdues ran $0.03/day. The money went to run the library.
In 1929 Mission passed a city ordinance making the library
a city department, with appropriations of $0.03/$100 valuation of taxable property. The
sum reaching the library that year was about $50.00!
In 1930 the library was in a room over the First National
Bank...later it moved to City Hall.
From the early 30's until 1947 the Public Library shared
facilities with the School Library... when the books were divided.
By 1960 the library had 11,741 books and had outgrown
From the 1960's to the 2000's is a
big jump and to fully understand it there are two Questions that we must Answer...the
first one is "What is the Relationship between Morton Downey-the Singer
and Morton Downey-the Cat?", ...and the second question is "What
is the Relationship between Morton Downey-the Cat and the Speer Memorial Library?"
Downey - The Cat
by Florence Ward Barton
You will tread the pavement softly as you approach the Speer Memorial Library
in Mission, if you are a cat lover. You will pause
beside the anacua tree guarding a plot of blooms beneath its spreading branches
and there catch a glimpse of a small white marker bearing the name Morton Downey
and the date January 19th 1964. So fleeting is fame
that few recall Downey, the silver-voiced radio-crooner of the Forties who
died at age 85 this past October... Morton Downey-the Singer died in his
native Wallingford, Connecticut on October 25th, 1985. Many loved
him and many a cup of morning coffee was sweetened by his liquid notes.
Mr. and Mrs. George Speer of Mission loved this Irish
tenor and they loved as well the adorable kitty that frolicked into their lives
one April morning. The Speers named the kitten Morton Downey, perhaps feeling
the pet deserved the name for his dulcet tones.
When Kitty Morton Downey died, his small body was buried
with many tears in a sunny field owned by the Speer family. An anacua tree
was planted to shade the tiny grave.
Years went by and the town of Mission grew. The
gentle couple who had loved the Morton Downeys passed away, leaving one daughter.
She too had loved Kitty Morton Downey.
The tree grew above Kitty Downey's grave, grew and spread
its branches as though aware it had a duty to perform. Wild flowers filled
the field. And there was peace.
Then came a real
estate agent. "Would
the couple's daughter sell the field?"
Yes, but with one stipulation. "Morton Downey's
grave must never be disturbed."
There was no sale.
Then came the City of Mission. "The City needs
a place to build a library. Would the daughter sell the field?
The daughter did not sell. Instead... She PRESENTED
the city of Mission with the flower-filled field but with the same stipulation...
that Morton Downey's grave must never be disturbed ... and ... the Speer
Memorial Library became a reality.
Now Kitty Morton Downey will sleep, undisturbed, under
the spreading anacua tree for years and years to come.
Yes,... In 1976, Juanita Speer Farley, as a memorial
to her parents, gave the people of Mission the deed to her inherited property,
two acres on 12th Street which her father, George, had acquired when he first
came to Mission. In 1976-77 (officially June 1, 1977) the new library
complex drawn up by Mission Architect Warren Suter was completed and the library's
14,000 square foot building acquired its name.
Mrs. Bernice Baker was librarian-in-charge at the time of the 1977 dedication.
Mrs. Baker was followed by Maria Herrera in 1978, Lily Torrez in 1982, and
Diane Chladil in 1986. In 1988 addition brought the
library's sq. ft. to 18,660. Margaret Handrow was made
librarian in 1989 and Rusty Dove in December of 1990.