The history of Xenia’s Carnegie library


In recent years, there have been many conversations about restoring the old Carnegie Library building located on East Church Street. The building has been placed on the National Register of Historic Buildings, and a group of residents are hoping to find ways to restore and find new ways to use this wonderful structure.

Here is some background information about the building which still has etched above the door “Free to the People.”

In 1902, the need for a bigger and better library facility to accommodate the community was apparent; the old facility located in the YMCA building on Market Street was not adequate to suit the needs of the people.

A grateful community was informed that Diana Roberts and Louise Lackey, descendants of Silas Roberts had offered to sell a site for a new library building on East Church Street at the corner of Collier. The lot, 150 feet in length and width would be quite adequate for a new library. The sisters asked for a sum of $500 to pay for the lot. Thus, the dream was closer to reality.

As you are no doubt aware, Andrew Carnegie was a huge fan of public libraries, and donated more than $56 million to more than 1,600 libraries throughout the United States. He was approached by the Library Board and agreed to donate $20,000 for the building in Xenia, provided the land could be secured, and the community would provide ten percent of that amount for annual maintenance.

The goal of the 10 percent had been reached through a school board levy of one-half mill, which would generate the necessary $2,000 per year. In November 1902, the school board agreed to a one mill levy, which would raise the annual support to $4,000, and with that, Carnegie was asked to raise his pledge to $40,000. In the end, $20,000 was donated and the building erected for that amount of money,

Mr. Carnegie did contribute an additional $1,350 toward furnishing the building. He was a man with a mission, wanting all Americans to have easy access to books.

Excitement grew as the plans for a new building were taking shape. Several of the Library Board members visited Greenville, Ohio to see the new Carnegie Library there, and planned to visit other sites as well. The State Legislature was in the process of passing special legislation regarding public library buildings and as soon as that was established, they would begin to get contracts for the new building.

At last, architectural plans were presented and approved, and construction was set to begin, the architect was William Kauffman, a nephew of the Roberts sisters, while Thomas C. Owens served as the general contractor.

A special ceremony for the laying of the cornerstone took place July 22, 1904. The new building was under construction as the ladies of the Xenia Library Association met to place the box, donated by C. C. Henrie into the corner stone.

Quite a number of items were placed in the box including a Bible donated by Belle McD. Patterson, correspondence with

Carnegie and a Trade dollar of $877 donated by Major James Galloway. Other items included “The Library Edition” of the Xenia Republican published in 1897, the May 7, 1904 Xenia Gazette which included a picture and sketch of the Xenia Library with names of association members. An Official Guide to the World’s Fair was donated by Mrs. JP Chew (wife of the publisher of the Xenia Gazette).

The well-known Xenia poet and author Ridley Torrence wrote a poem for the occasion in began: “Of granite and marble we build us walls with iron and oak for outward furniture, within our dreams … ”

More entries were The Review of Reviews July 1904, The Finding List, Constitution of the Library Association and library cards, along with a listing of the attest books with names of the author. The building was opened to the public on Jun3 7, 1906.

The marble walls and iron staircases were wonderful to behold, and the library collection continued to grow. After some years, it was no longer considered the Xenia Library, but was known, as it is today, as The Greene County District Library,

The April 3, 1974 tornado did some damage to the building, but in less than three weeks, the library was back in business, serving the Greene County community, as always.

However, after a few years, the Library building was no longer adequate to accommodate the needs of the community. More and more books and publications were made available, and the Greene County Room had grown with many more historical documents. The Carnegie building was closed to the public in 1978, when the newer, larger facility opened.

By Joan Baxter

Joan Baxter is a Greene County resident and a long-time historical columnist.

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