Library service began for Mt. Vernon, Illinois when women started a Shakespeare Club in 1893 to “improve their members and establish a circulating library”. In 1894, the club took rooms on the south side of the square in what became the second floor of the downtown Mammoth Department Store. The circulating library opened its doors on January 9, 1895.
In 1899, when the city was considering establishing a free public library the club offered “our books, our bookcases and the use of our club room as a library, free of rent, provided we may select the majority of the directors of the Public Library”. On August 3, 1899, the Mt. Vernon Public Library was appropriated $700 and opened on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays.
Local businessmen worked to secure a donation from Andrew Carnegie and the city accepted $12,500.00 from Mr. Carnegie. On April 8, 1903, the city resolved to “furnish a suitable site and grounds upon which to erect said building, and to appropriate, levy, and raise, by direct taxation or otherwise,” 10% of the donation annually to support the library. Property was optioned in Green’s subdivision of block twelve (101 South 7th Street) for $7,000.00. The city council minutes of August 3, 1905 reported the building (at a total cost of $15,562.00) was now ready for occupancy. The library has continued to operate from these premises to this day.
Over the years, numerous remodeling projects were tackled. In 1962, the third floor (auditorium) was remodeled to house the children’s department. The basement remodeling finished in 1968 with the completion of a room for local history and genealogy research.
During the 1970’s it became clear that more space was needed in the library along with remodeling for accessibility. A study determined the need for two wings, elevator and a parking lot.
In 1978, Mr. & Mrs. Clarence E. Brehm gave the library board a challenge when they pledged $300,000 for the project. The library was required to raise the matching funds by December 1980. Unfortunately Mr. Brehm died on July 9, 1980, but the library board was able to match the funds on October 31st and the city council renamed the Mt. Vernon library the C.E. Brehm Memorial Library on November 3, 1980. Groundbreaking ceremonies were held on May 16, 1981 and the addition was completed 1982.
In 1989, voters of the three townships approved a referendum to create the C.E. Brehm Memorial Public Library District.
In 1992, the C.E. Brehm Memorial Public Library District took ownership of the Shawnee Library System’s genealogy and local history collection. This collection focused on the most common “migration” routes into southern Illinois. The Library has continued to add to and expand the Genealogy collection. In 1995, the Illinois State Organization National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution moved their state their library to be housed at the C.E. Brehm Memorial Public Library alongside the Library’s extensive Genealogy and Local History collection.
In 1998, with a grant from a local bank, C.E. Brehm Memorial Public Library District purchased its first computers to provide Internet access to the public. In 2001, the Library received a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to purchase new public Internet computers. This allowed the library to provide more Internet access to the public. The library continued to add workstations for general Internet and for Internet research in the Genealogy Department. In 2011, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation had a second round of grants to update and/or provide more computers in public Libraries. This allowed the Library to replace older workstations and expand the number of workstations available for public use.
In August 1999, the library celebrated 100 years of service to the Mt. Vernon community. Honored guests included Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White and Illinois State Library Director Jean Wilkins. Local organizations provided entertainment and refreshments during the Friday afternoon open house.
In April 2003, the voters of the twelve previously unserved townships in Jefferson County approved the April 1, 2003 annexation to expand the library district. As a result the library now serves residents in 15 townships in Jefferson County.
In June 2011, the Illinois Daughters of the American Revolution constructed a memorial honoring women veterans on the property of C.E. Brehm Memorial Public Library District. This memorial honors women veterans from the Revolutionary War to the present day. The span of this timeframe is represented by the figures of Molly Pitcher and Iraq War veteran and DAR member, Tammy Rout-Duckworth.
C.E. Brehm Memorial Public Library District again found itself needing more space. Because of the history of the location and the limitations of the property, it was decide to explore the option of an Annex that would house the Genealogy collection and be a technology center for patrons to have access to public Internet services and other technology resources. In 2013 the Library began looking at properties in the downtown area to serve this purpose. In May of 2015, the Library finalized the purchase of the former VFW Post 1376 building, property which adjoins the Library. The Library is currently working on plans for developing an Annex on this property, to expand the Genealogy Department and create a technology center for the Public Internet computers.