Early History of the CSL

"Among the most interesting institutions at the seat of government is the State Library, located in the 2nd story of the Hasting's Block on the south-west corner of J and 3rd Streets." – State Tribune, 1855

With "An Act defining the duties of the State Librarian and prescribing the rules for the government of the State Library," the California State Library was created in 1850. Its first five years of existence was chaotic. The Library followed the Legislature as it traveled from one temporary capital to another. This state of transience reflected the fluid, rootless anarchy of Gold Rush society.

Early State Library label for a book donated by John Fremont, 1850
Early State Library label for a book donated by John Fremont, 1850.

The "Capitol on Wheels" finally came to a halt when Sacramento was established as the permanent seat of government in 1854. However, it would not be until 1869 that the State Library found a permanent home in the newly opened State Capitol building. Up until 1861, the Secretary of State acted as the ex-offico librarian, along with his many other duties.

Colonel Jonathan Stevenson letter regarding the first book donated to the State Library, 1849
Colonel Jonathan Stevenson letter regarding the first book donated to the State Library, 1849.


California’s first State Capitol at San Jose and home of the State Library, c. 1850
California’s first State Capitol at San Jose and home of the State Library, c. 1850.


Early lithograph view of the B. F. Hastings Building Sacramento which housed the State Library in Sacramento, 1857
Early lithograph view of the B. F. Hastings Building Sacramento which housed the State Library in Sacramento, 1857.


Portrait Colonel Jonathan Stevenson
Portrait Colonel Jonathan Stevenson.