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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.

New Brochure about the Library Building

By Alan Hall, Director, PLSJ
Publish Date - Sunday, November 2, 2014

One day, somebody asked me, “What denomination was the church that occupied the building where the library is today?”


I have also been asked if the Main Library building where I work was the old Courthouse.


Perhaps the oddest comment was from the out-of-town person who thought that the Carnegie Library Building was kinda ugly, and maybe it could be made into a jail.


I have never found my workplace to be “ugly,” rather I find it a classic turn-of-the-Twentieth Century Carnegie Library Building, with its architectural style termed as “Richardsonian-Romanesque.”


It is an early form of Carnegie Library, actually one of the first three in Ohio.  Sandusky and East Liverpool share the spotlight with us and depending on whether you count the date of the letter, the date of the property purchase, or the date of the opening; any of the three could grab the significance of being Ohio’s first Carnegie Library.


To answer these questions, our Public Relations person, Jennifer Cesta, has prepared a brochure titled, “History, Facts, and Information about the Main Library.”


It all started with a letter in February 1899 from Dr. A.M. Reid written to Andrew Carnegie in Scotland, asking if perhaps the fine citizens of Steubenville might be allowed one of those new libraries that Mr. Carnegie was funding.


Dr. Reid was the superintendent of the soon-to-close Steubenville Female Seminary, and the answer to his letter is hanging in a frame in our Board room.


“I have a warm place in my heart for Steubenville” writes Carnegie in return, recounting when he learned to run the telegraph in 1850 in the city.  He finishes with “Some day if Steubenville will maintain a library I shall try to give it one, but I don’t wish to help any people who don’t help themselves.”


A committee went to work and looked for site, which was a difficult task in 1899.  The rapidly growing city had buildings crammed all over the river valley site, and locating a site large enough for a library was difficult.


The formal answer came June 30, 1899.  Carnegie would provide $ 50,000 if the City of Steubenville agreed to fund operating expenses of $ 4,000 per year and provide the site.


For 300 cities around the United States, that ended the process; but Steubenville bonded $ 11,000 to purchase the lot at S. 4th and Slack Streets from the Heirs of Joseph Sarratt.  The 1840 house was demolished and the bricks stacked to be reused as the interior walls if the library.


The architectural firm of Alden & Harlow of Pittsburgh was engaged to design the building, like they did for several of the Pittsburgh-area Carnegie Libraries including the Oakmont Library under design at the same time.


A kind gesture from Carnegie provided an additional $ 12,500 for the building due to cost overruns.  A third request for more money reportedly was met with a less kind response from the Scotsman, so the clock in the tower and the entire rear wing was eliminated.


By the time all work was completed, and the controversial stone wall around the front yard was finished by the bricklayers and stone masons, the whole project exceeded $ 80,000.


It is not clear where the added funds came from, but a long list of supplies were needed from twelve dollars for a barrel of soap polish to $ 3,200 for radiators (still in use today), to books from New York and Boston ranging in price from 70 to 90 cents each not counting railroad transportation.


Old books were gathered from the former City Library Association and School Library to supplement the new books purchased, but by the fall of 1902 librarians weren’t sure if there would be anything left on the shelves.


The first librarian was Ellen Summers Wilson from the Carnegie system in Pittsburgh, and she passed out business cards at the Steel Mill gates to promote the library, causing a bit of commotion within the city.


The brochure tells more about the library history.  Andrew Carnegie stated, “A library outranks any other thing a community can do to benefit its people.  It is a never failing spring in the desert.”