Carnegie building houses many memories


Greene County residents are fortunate to have such a fine library system.

Books of all sorts are available to check out or one can sit in a comfortable chair to read at the library. Of course, books are not the only items available. Videos of the latest movies can be seen, magazines of various titles, and a variety of newspapers are available. Computers have easy access to the public and of course the Greene County Room is a treasure trove of historical information. Newspapers from long ago can be read on microfilm along with other valuable historical data.

Today, the main library is located in Xenia, but there are branch libraries located throughout the county. If a patron desires a particular book or publication which is not in the collection, it can be ordered from another facility and made available.

As early as 1877, a library of sorts was available in Greene County. A group of ladies who called themselves the “Tuesday Club” organized with the purpose of discussing literature and other topics of interest. Unfortunately there was no library available to search for material.

The group decided it would be beneficial to all if such a venture could begin and so they organized the Young Women’s Library Association in 1878. They elected a president, vice president, secretary, and treasurer and they were off and running.

The YMCA in Xenia had a small collection of books which became the start of their project. Eli Millen owned the building in which the YMCA was located and agreed to provide a room for the ladies rent free for their new project.

The room was open a limited number of hours with the ladies of the club taking turns supervising the collection. This was not a “free” library at that time because subscribers were asked for a membership fee of $1 per year.

It was not long before the citizens wanted to take advantage of the system. By 1885, donations were requested from the patrons, who enabled hiring a librarian to supervise the collection,

Etta McElwain became the fourth librarian in 1888. She reigned over the library for the next 40 years. She loved the position and was rather strict with the collection I have heard. She was delighted when young children expressed a desire to read but was rather firm about the reading material she allowed them to check out.

This remained a subscription library for the next 11 years when the State of Ohio voted to allow school boards to levy a small tax toward libraries. The library them became a free public library on Sept. 1, 1899.

At that time, a new facility was needed as the collection began to grow and patrons were eager to utilize the services more often.

Andrew Carnegie came forward with a solution. He would provide $20,000 to finance a new building, provided an appropriate piece of land would be donated along with the sum of $2,000 to maintain the building.

The school board was responsible for the $2,000 due to the levy passage, but the City of Xenia readily agreed to pay the maintenance should the school board be unable to do so.

Silas Roberts owned considerable land in the area of present Shawnee Park and over to Church Street. Upon his death the property was passed on to his daughters Louisa Lackey and Diana Roberts. They felt the need of a public library so they donated a 150-square foot plot of land for the purpose in 1902.

Later Carnegie donated an additional $1,350 to equip the building which opened to the public on June 7, 1906.

A change in the state tax laws made it impossible for the school board to continue to pay the $2,000 for maintenance and it was said by historians that the city was too broke to pay it either.

By 1913 the library was in danger of closing due to lack of funding. Public-spirited individuals came forward with $400 to keep the library open on a temporary basis and then the county commission was solicited to take over the property to keep the library open.

For a while the revenue was such that McElwain offered her services without being paid for a period of time. McElwain loved the library and it was often said that she thought she “owned” the collection, she was so careful with her trust.

June 4, 1913 was the date that the county assumed ownership of the Carnegie Library. Taxes collected helped pay the bills. Another source of revenue was the sale of magazines and of course, late fees.

After the county assumed ownership, revenue increased and after many years of McElwain being the only paid employee, an assistant was hired.

A new and welcome addition to the library was the bookmobile. Books were taken to various parts of the county so that children and adults could easily secure desired publications without having to go to the library building.

As much as the old building was loved it became apparent that a newer modern, more easily accessible facility was needed so the current building came into being.

That Carnegie building has been vacant for many years, holding memories of residents who have fond memories of the old building.

Joan Baxter

Joan Baxter is a Greene County historian and resident.

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