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To understand the beginnings of the Stinson Memorial Library necessitates pre-dating it by eighty-some years to the birth of its benefactor, Robert Burns Stinson.
Stinson was born in Montogomery County, Pennsylvania on December 6, 1830 and died in Anna, Illinois on October 11, 1903. Anna had been his home for 54 years, as he had moved there in 1849 with his parents. Prior to this, the Stinson's had migrated to the Mariposa Valley, in California, during the years of the Gold Rush. As the 'Rush' gradually waned, the Stinson's decided to join their close friends, the Phillip H. Kroh family, in returning to the Midwest. Kroh was originally from Anna, and Robert Burns Stinson, arriving there as a young man, remained the rest of his life (Census 1883).
In the Census of 1860, Stinson is listed as a laborer, although as in what capacity, there is no direct reference. In 1862, he is enrolled in Company F of the 60th Infantry of the Army of the Republic under the command of Colonel Silas C. Toler of Jonesboro, Illinois, the neighboring County Seat and the town which borders Anna.
Enrolled as a 2nd Lieutenant, Stinson fought in the Civil War Battle of Corinth in 1862 and was promoted to Captain. Battles in Mufreesboro, Nashville and Chattanooga in Tennessee, and in Dalton, Georgia (southwest of Chickamauga) followed. In 1864, he participated in the Atlanta Campaign which included the bloody conflicts of Dallas, New Hope Church and Kenesaw Mountain, earning a commendation for his gallantry at Jonesboro, Georgia on September 1st of the same year.
The 60th Infantry again battled in Chattanooga as the campaign moved on in the 'March-to-the-Sea', proceeding to Atlanta and, finally, into Savannah on December 21, 1864. Stinson had marched there with General Sherman, and he returned to Anna at the conclusion of the war, a local hero.
By the years 1877-1880, Stinson was Treasurer of the Commission operating the Anna State Hospital, the second such hospital in the State of Illinois. (The hospital was changed to a Mental Health Center in the mid-twentieth century, as the ebb and flow of the fashionably and politically correct descriptions shifted from the phrase 'State Hospital' to this more acceptable connotation. Even the town name is no longer used, as then Governor Jim Thompson of Illinois rededicated the facility as the Clyde Choate Mental Health and Developmental Center, re-named after a long-time local politician. He made the announcement in the town of Steelville, Illinois; a safe distance from the protestations of the Anna townsfolk.) By the 1880's, Stinson is Alderman of the Third Ward and a successful business man, owning a barrel factory that could produce up to 500 barrels per day (Perrin 1883). Being a member of the Presbyterian Church may very well have influenced Stinson in his attitude toward philanthropy. A certain Mr. Willard, an ancestor to a future Stinson Library assistant (who is unceremoniously relieved of her duties in the year of 1918) (Alden 1918), was a leading citizen and had richly endowed both the church and the Union Academy, which was the county high school. Perhaps because Willard had beaten him to the punch with contributions to the high school and the church, Stinson was moved to find another 'cause'. However, the argument might be made that he was in fact a well read man, and, from all accounts, a well liked and community minded soul, and may have intended to bequeath a library to the town of Anna and the people of Union County long before he had drawn his his last Will and Testament. The Will, however, was made only a short time before his passing, which leads to speculation. Nevertheless, in an apparent unexpected turn of events, Robert Burns Stinson bequeathed $50,082.00 to the City of Anna for the establishment of a library in 1903 (Stinson 1903.) Stinson's wife had preceded him in death and they had been childless, leaving the library as the main recipient of his fortune. According to an informal and speculative conversation with an economist (who shall remain nameless) from the University of Illinois, the sum of $50,082.00 would be worth somewhere in the vicinity of 2.5 to 3 million dollars today, using a conservative multiplier to adjust for inflation. Consequently, although a prominent citizen of the community had passed away, there was reason for joy in Anna.
A handwritten copy of Stinson's will (1903) was found in a conglomeration of newspaper clippings, handwritten notes and library correspondence, stuffed in a drawer of what may be the original card catalog, hidden behind stacks of yellowing paperbacks, in the intended Librarian's Room. The actual military and governmental commissions of Stinson were sent to the library in 1936 by his great niece for preservation (Annual Report, 1936), and were located in and around the same area