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Director's Column

PLSJC Director Alan Hall writes a weekly column discussing library and community news, history, and other interesting subjects.

The tree in the library chimney

By Alan Hall, Director, PLSJ
Publish Date - Sunday, May 4, 2008

Springtime at the Main Library means it is time to see if the tree in the chimney will sprout leaves and grow again.


But wait, you say, that tree was removed from the library chimney, correct?


Yes, the tree that grew in the "south" chimney of the Main Library building was removed in 1994 during the rebuilding of the top of that chimney.


The top of the unused chimney was sealed with a flat stone, ending the era of a tree in the library chimney.


It turned out to be two trees.  An ash tree with an odd configuration of roots, made to fit into the joints of the bricks; and a little bayberry bush complete with thorns and seeds.


Both were retrieved and planted in my garden at home, but the ash tree died over the summer, likely because its roots had never really touched Ohio soil before.


The bayberry bush survived, and has grown to shade the corner of my garden.


So why would we be looking to see if the tree in the chimney will sprout leaves this year?


Well, as luck would have it, a tree has developed in the "north" chimney of the library.


It doesn't seem to be as fast growing as the previous tree in the "other" chimney, and looks "bushier" from the ground.


But there it is, proving that the library's chimney must be the home to a tree.


When the "other" tree was permanently removed in 1994, some people were sad that a tradition had ended.  Other people thought we should have taken better care of the building and not let a tree grow in our chimney.


The first mention of a tree in the library chimney was in 1956, when the roof of the Main Library building was in terrible condition and needed replacement.


For years, pieces of the originally taller tower had been falling off and dropping to the main roof, breaking the red clay tiles that formed the roof.


By 1955, the roof around the tower was devoid of the clay tiles, and tarpaper covered with roofing pitch forming a messy surround to the tower.

The Library Board scraped together all the money they could spare from the budget and issued a contract for $ 14,500 to remove the clay tiles and the top 35 ft. of the tower, and replace the roof with gray slate shingles.


Work was completed by October of 1956.  The gutters were also replaced as they were found to be nearly "nonexistent" by the contractor once demolition began.


The removal of the top of the tower garnered little discussion; it had been a nuisance since the building was built in 1902; always leaking, and losing pieces of the stone, terra cotta, and brick.


There was some consideration of placing a Bond Issue before voters to renovate the building, repair the tower, and place a west addition on the building as was planned in 1902.


That plan was dropped in favor of a smaller addition that was constructed in 1963.


It was also suggested that a branch library in the West End should be explored.


It is interesting to look backward in retrospect.  The top of the tower with openings for a never-installed clock will likely never be rebuilt due to cost and design issues.


A West End Branch took over 30 years to come to fruition, and today the two buildings operate well in tandem providing library service to the broader area.


The slate roof is now 52 years old, and the Schiappa Branch is 20 years old.  Time and history marches on.