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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.

What we found in the Carnegie

By Alan Hall, Director, PLSJ
Publish Date - Sunday, January 13, 2019

 

I am always getting questions about what “things” we are finding in the renovation and construction of the Main Library --- and I am sorry to say, “not much.”

 

The renovation of a 1902 building sometimes reveals tid-bits from the past, and have some of those items on display at our Schiappa Branch Library display case until the end of this month.

 

The latest item found is a metal grating in the wall of the Technical Processing room of the lower level of the Carnegie building, which had been covered for years by a wood panel.

 

This grating was part of the ill-fated ventilation system built into the brick walls of the Carnegie in an attempt to bring fresh air down into the building.

 

By 1908, it was found that all that happened was the steam boiler was always fighting the ventilation system to warm the building so the brick ducts were sealed off at their entrance to rooms in the library.

 

This one was simply covered with a panel, as well as at the 1st floor level.  As the contractor was restoring the lower level walls for painting, the grating was found and it will remain as a memory of engineering gone array.

 

Another construction error found on the lower level is the brick arches that form interior doorways.  Arches were constructed to find that the door frames were square, so the arches were chipped away to make them square thinking that no one would see the mistake --- which was correct for 117 years.

 

The space for the new staff lunchroom is comfortably larger than the old space, but a substantial steel I-beam occupies the center of the room which cannot be moved, so staff will live with it.

 

The wall behind the seating still shows the brickwork that sealed off the coal chute where fuel for the boiler was dumped into the bin for the boiler.  It was closed off in 1957 when the boiler was changed to natural gas.

 

The stone wall that surrounds the front yard of the Carnegie had to be excavated in several locations to allow sewer access as well as new utilities.  The stones are back in place after the sewer was found to be 14 ft. deep and the manhole raised to again be accessible.

 

The stone wall was a “1902 change order” at the end of the project feeling that a Floto Bros. stone wall would be better than a sloping embankment.  Local citizenry in 1902 found the $ 1,800 price tag to be outrageous.

 

The wood floor in the lobby area has been restored to its 1902 level of pine boards with multiple layers of floor tile and carpet extracted.

 

Half of the lobby is restored marble, and other half is wood with the faint images of the original octagon-shaped desk still showing which was removed in 1952.

 

If you look long enough, the prints of the high-button shoes worn by Miss Wilson, Miss Neidengard, and Mrs. Kelley can be imagined on the wood floor standing behind the desk illuminated by the new-fangled electrical lights of 1902 while the gas pipes were plugged off that were originally installed.

 

And speaking of new-fangled things, we did find some old phone wires in the ceiling under the desk area that likely were part of 3 telephones installed in 1902 to service the library.

 

A last minute change involved a check for $ 12 check to the Steubenville Telephone Exchange Company for installation of 3 phones.

 

Libraries tend to have renovation work done every few years, and our Carnegie building is no exception.

 

Some parts of the lower level had plasterboard applied to the walls that had “1922” stamped on the back.  It wasn’t clear how the space was changed, or whether it was developing space not finished in the original 1902 construction.

 

One original oak door remains and I hope to reinstall it on the lunchroom doorway.  Other doors were 1950s replacements.

 

I read again the minutes of the 1899 Library Board meetings, and they were indeed in a quandary regarding the Andrew Carnegie donation.  The letter of June 30, 1899 stated that Mr. Carnegie would donate for a library in Steubenville, but it never stated the “amount of money” he was donating.

 

The Board proceeded and engaged Alden & Harlow architects of Pittsburgh to quickly begin design work based on Carnegie’s donations to the various Pittsburgh area libraries which had been $ 300,000 - 400,000 per library.

 

When the $ 50,000 check arrived for Steubenville, there was quick changes to the early plans eliminating the West Wing, auditorium, book stack unit, and unknown features.

 

He did provide a 2nd check for $ 12,000 but the Board slowly added some items as funds became available finally declared the building finished in 1908 for $ 80,000.