A framed roster of Sullivan County men who served in the Civil War hangs on the north wall of the Merom Public Library.
Just as it has for the past 94 years.
The wooden vestibule at the entrance also stands unchanged since Sept. 1, 1918 — the day the building opened in this tiny town on the Wabash River. Most of the tables, chairs and bookcases are original, too.
The only hint of the passing of a century lies in the basement. Now dim and used for book storage, the stone-walled bottom room was once used for town meetings and voting in elections. Today, kids in Merom scurry in the basement door to get a quick drink from the water fountain inside.
All of those activities would probably please Andrew Carnegie, the Scottish-American steel tycoon and philanthropist who paid for the construction of the Merom Public Library, and 1,688 others across the United States between 1889 and 1929. “It’s more than books. He wanted [the libraries] to be a feature of the town,” said Merom branch librarian Paula Adler, “and this building has served that purpose.”
As National Library Week begins today, the precise number of Carnegie libraries still in existence is not known. In the 1996 book, “Carnegie Libraries Across America: A Public Legacy,” author Theodore Jones counted 772 functioning as libraries. Another 350 Carnegies had begun second and third lives as community centers or school annexes. Nearly 1 in 6 had been demolished by 1996, the book reported.
The fact that the Wabash Valley is home to six surviving Carnegie libraries is no fluke. Carnegie funded more libraries in Indiana than in any other state — either 165 or 164, depending which source of information is used.
Neighboring Illinois received the third-most Carnegies, at 105. Today, those century-old public libraries still operate in the Indiana towns of Brazil (opened in 1904), Sullivan (1905), Clinton (1911), Rockville (1916) and Merom (1918), and in the Edgar County, Ill., town of Paris (1904). Most have undergone additions to add space and accommodate disabled patrons, as required by the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act.
Those alterations are subtle and typically do not obscure the original architecture.
“When you look at a Carnegie, you know it’s a Carnegie,” said Cindy Hein, director of the Rockville Public Library. “It’s got a unique style.”
Yet all are different, as well. Carnegie never pushed any particular architectural style. His foundation simply considered applications for grants from towns all over America, and dispensed a funding amount he considered appropriate to the selected communities. The designs were left to the citizens. Still, those styles tend to reflect tastes of the early 20th century, and of particular regions.
Original pieces remain
The striking dome atop the Sullivan Public Library resembles Carnegies in the Illinois towns of Paxton and Greenville, because all three were crafted by the same architect, Paul O. Moratz. At Sullivan, the dome structural format creates distinct round rooms on the upper and lower floors. As with other Indiana and Illinois libraries, the Sullivan Carnegie includes a fireplace.
“It was utilized, back in the day, for heat,” said Donna Adams, who oversees the genealogy and local history collection at Sullivan.
Like most Wabash Valley Carnegies, a framed portrait of Carnegie adorns a wall at Sullivan. A few contain permanent mentions of Carnegie as the benefactor of the structure. The Brazil Public Library facade sports an engraved “C” in its stone. A foundation stone at Clinton is etched with the words, “Gift of Andrew Carnegie 1909.” (That was the year Clinton received its grant.) Otherwise, the elements of the libraries vary from place to place.
Floors in the original portions of the Carnegies creak. That happened as Adams ascended the staircase from lower to upper floor at Sullivan, and walked past an old card catalog cabinet, a relic in the digital 21st century. It still has the metal hooks on each long drawer, designed to hold rows and rows of cards with the title, author and the Dewey Decimal System codes for each book. Sullivan’s collections are all logged into computer databases, as are those at most libraries. The card catalog cabinet now stores a file of the library’s patrons.
The old-school files are dear to the librarians’ hearts, though.
“When I go in a library and see a card catalog, I just want to hug it,” Adams said.
Such an embraceable amenity exists in the Paris library, where children’s books are organized into a card catalog. “We may have one of the few card catalogs still around,” said Paris librarian Teresa Pennington.
That structure also utilizes radiant steam heat. Like Sullivan, Paris’ Carnegie includes a now-retired fireplace. Its eye-catching design features tall windows throughout the library, and massive glass panes fielding sunlight around the entrance. “The windows are huge and lovely. It’s one of the features about the building I love best,” said Pennington, who’s served as librarian for 29 years.
Parking around the Paris library is limited, but much of its clientele arrives from the surrounding neighborhoods. Many patrons trek on foot or by bicycle, said Michelle Frost, Paris’ associate librarian. Free library cards are available to anyone who resides or owns property in the city of Paris.
Free access a goal
Free access to learning for the common man was a primary goal of Carnegie’s landmark library project. In fact, the phrase “Free To The People” is etched on the outside of the Carnegie library in Brazil.
As a poor, young, immigrant boy in Allegheny City, Pa., near Pittsburgh, Carnegie saw a prominent local man, Col. James Anderson, open his personal library to boys in the area. In 1852, Anderson created a broader library, free for use by trade apprentices, explained Glenn Walsh, a Carnegie historian from Pittsburgh. But Andrew, not an apprentice, could not use the facility, and wrote a letter of protest to the Pittsburgh Dispatch. Anderson soon changed the rule.
“At that point, Andrew Carnegie learned the power of the pen,” Walsh said.
Once Carnegie amassed a fortune through his Carnegie Steel Co. (which he later sold to fellow industrialist J.P. Morgan for nearly $500 million in 1901), he turned toward philanthropy and the library initiative. Of course, Carnegie’s generosity remains a historical controversy. The treatment of workers by a man known as a “robber baron” colors his legacy. “Andrew Carnegie was a very complex man,” Walsh said.
Carnegie’s grandfather was “pro-labor,” Walsh pointed out, and Carnegie considered himself to be supportive of workers, too. Yet, many of his own steel workers put in such long, exhausting hours that they had no energy or time to visit the libraries he began building.
Nonetheless, without his coast-to-coast push, many tiny communities and blue-collar cities would have gone library-less for decades.
“If it hadn’t been for Andrew Carnegie, it would’ve been another half-century before towns would get a public library,” Walsh said.
Karen Walker can’t imagine Clinton without one.
“It’s part of our American democracy tradition of free information and learning for all,” said Walker, director at the Clinton Public Library for the past 11 years.
That library has nurtured a bond with kids in Clinton Township, its service base, and the nearby South Vermillion schools. Youngsters flow in after school, walking or riding bikes, skateboards or scooters, said Judy Karanovich, Clinton’s young adult librarian. The growing popularity of young-adult-oriented books, such as the “Hunger Games” trilogy, has adults scanning the shelves in Karanovich’s section.
“We’ll have a grandma in here, looking for a book, and have high-schoolers and middle-schoolers in the same aisle,” Karanovich said. “That’s something you wouldn’t expect to see.”
The libraries’ endurance from generation to generation is exemplified by their building materials — primarily stone and brick.
Little has changed at Merom, which is believed to be the smallest community in America still served by a Carnegie library. The town’s population dwindled to 228 in the 2010 Census from 294 in the 2000 count. Adler, a graduate of the University of Southern Indiana, has been one of those residents her entire life. Despite the shrinking numbers, kids keep the library busy.
“After school, we get bombarded with children,” she said.
The objective set out by Carnegie when he donated $10,000 for that Merom library, and hundreds of others, was to keep those kids learning into adulthood.
Standing beside the front doors of the Carnegie in Paris, Pennington said, “The library is an educational institution, just like a school, except we don’t stop at the 12th grade.”
Mark Bennett can be reached at (812) 231-4377 or email@example.com.
Original goal was to provide public with free access to information
A framed roster of Sullivan County men who served in the Civil War hangs on the north wall of the Merom Public Library.
Guiding Star: Inspired by family, Terre Haute native rallies famous names to fund cancer research
Famous people filled the Riviera Country Club, a scenic golf resort in affluent Pacific Palisades, Calif.
A city block away, Sunset Boulevard runs toward the Pacific Ocean. The Santa Monica Mountains overlook it all. Inside the Riviera, during a 2009 fundraising dinner, Terre Haute attorney Tony Tanoos found himself surrounded by a who’s who of celebrities — actors such as Ray Romano, Mark Wahlberg, Don Cheadle and others, and golfing greats like Gary Player, Johnny Miller and Rocco Mediate. Soon, the crowd of notables heard the words of main speaker Lisa Paulsen, the president of the Entertainment Industry Foundation.
‘Dinosaur Zoo Live’ brings prehistoric creatures to life
Kids of all ages will have the chance to get up close and personal with a menagerie of prehistoric creatures at 3 and 7 p.m. Sunday when Erth’s “Dinosaur Zoo Live” comes to Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology’s Hatfield Hall for two shows.
Gallery presents ‘Halcyon Days’ exhibit
Halcyon Art Gallery is presenting the regional juried exhibition, “Halcyon Days 2014,” on view from Friday until March 28. The opening reception will take place from 7 to 9 p.m. on Friday. This is the ninth in a series of juried exhibitions showcasing the best of contemporary art in all media.
MIKE LUNSFORD: The long goodbye to winter
I have no idea what the weather is to bring to us on the morning this story runs, but on the day I write most of it, the sun is shining, and we have just come off a weekend of pleasant warmth and cloudless skies.
Making Waves: Woman devotes part of rural Vigo County home to museum on hairstyling
Some studies show that women spend more than $50,000 in a lifetime and more than one month of their entire life at a beauty salon, trying to get and keep their hair just the right style. How they have accomplished this through the ages has been a fascination for local hairstylist Brenda Ellis for more than 50 years.
Heaven on Earth: Writer gets lost — both figuratively and literally — at Acadia National Park
Editor’s Note: Today, we continue the New England Journal as Mike Lunsford writes of a day hiking the Atlantic shoreline and the trails of Maine’s Acadia National Park.
Rock of Ages: Hulman Center stage has been entertaining crowds since 1974
As the stage lights came on, Sam Wellington and his cohorts gazed out at an audience of 8,060 Midwesterners.
The scene was familiar for him. Wellington and his country music quartet, The Four Guys, opened shows night after night for fellow RCA Records artists Ronnie Millsap and headliner Charley Pride on tours across North America.
Wearing a Legacy: Inspired by Debs, a variety of places and things beyond Terre Haute — from a town to beers — bear his name
A town and a school. Two styles of beer. A radio station, a street, a township, and a house for college students. Even a parade.
Any of those places or things named in honor of legendary labor and social activist Eugene V. Debs could theoretically exist in Terre Haute. Alas, none do.
Flowing forward: As Riverscape leader retires, he sees great things ahead for the Wabash River
An iconic photo of Harry Truman hangs in John Mutchner’s office.
The walls of that room and others inside Mutchner’s scenic eastside home offer glimpses of his interests, from auto racing to basketball to political history. The famous picture of a triumphant Truman, hoisting an erroneous “Dewey Defeats Truman” Chicago Tribune headline, rests neatly framed alongside a 1952 campaign button and an autographed notecard from the former president.
Hope Awakened: On a floating hospital, Terre Haute nurse sees lives of needy transformed
The woman was 24 years old. She weighed 70 pounds.
She had young children and, for a long time, a heavy burden. A tumor, large as her head, engulfed her jaw. Eating and breathing became all but impossible for her. Undoubtedly, she’d been ostracized because of it, too. Such cases are rare in the Western world, but they occur frequently in the Republic of Congo. The coastal African nation has just one doctor for every 20,000 people.
Rock Collector: Indiana Coal Council president loves rocks, fossils and 4-H
You might say Bruce Stevens grew up with lots of pet rocks.
Scavenging for rocks and fossils as a boy near his home at Coalmont launched Stevens’ fascination with geology. His love of all things sedimentary led him to a successful career in hydrology, reclamation and the coal industry.
‘Afternoon on a Hill’: The formal poet who led an informal life — Edna St. Vincent Millay
EDITOR’S NOTE: Today, we continue the New England Journal as Mike Lunsford writes of an afternoon exploring the rural gardens and home of poet Edna St. Vincent Millay near Austerlitz, N.Y. Join Lunsford in February for the sixth installment of this series as he wanders along the wooded shorelines of Jordan Pond in Acadia National Park.
No Intermission: Character meets demise on ‘Walking Dead,’ but lively acting career continues for Terre Haute’s Jose Pablo Cantillo
Characters often make dramatic exits from television shows.
Few could top Terre Haute-raised actor Jose Pablo Cantillo’s departure last month from AMC’s “The Walking Dead.”
The scene occurred in the fourth season of cable TV’s most popular drama series ever.
Telling stories in song
Pieces of Terre Haute’s infamous past gather dust in the town’s metaphorical attic. Closed-up, old baggage — forever linked, like it or not, to the historical record.
Real people lived through those times, but as generations pass, memories of those characters fade and disappear.
Effort under way to restore Civil War monument to original grandeur; ‘Soldier of the West’ unique in state of Indiana
“How sleep the brave, who sink to rest with all their country’s wishes blest.”
A lone soldier sits atop Forest Hill Cemetery in Greencastle. He is seated with his foot on a cannon of long ago, looking westward, perhaps toward the future he fought for. “He” is a stone memorial, rising nearly 30 feet in the historic cemetery. He represents all the men, young and old, from Putnam County who fought and died in the Civil War, and he is aptly titled “Soldier of the West.”
Walk of a Lifetime: Writer discovers views fit for a painting while walking the cliffs of Prout’s Neck, home to famous artist Winslow Homer’s seaside studio
Editor’s Note: Today, we continue the New England Journal as Mike Lunsford writes of a day walking the Maine seacoast in search of the great artist, Winslow Homer. Join Mike in January for the fifth installment of this series as he visits Edna St. Vincent Millay’s rural New York farm, Steepletop.
Heightened Sense of Place: Educators’ efforts helped put geography back on map in schools
Geography transcends dots on a map.
Teachers traveling abroad alongside Terre Haute geographer Dorothy Drummond have experienced the real-life cultures, atmosphere and people existing within those dots. An educator herself, Drummond has organized affordable geography tours of foreign lands for Wabash Valley schoolteachers for many years. The journeys involved more than sight-seeing.
Fade to Black: A few local theaters among last to part with century-old 35-mm film
The projectionist behind the first movie shown in the Indiana Theatre nearly 92 years ago would likely feel right at home in that same booth today.
HEALING WATERS: Team River Runner offers inspiration, opens doors for wounded veterans
Some people say the fun of boating on the Wabash is dealing with unexpected challenges such a big body of water can present on certain days; others delight in the wild beauty at Terre Haute’s doorstep, from bald eagles soaring above trees lining the banks of the Wabash to the panorama of the river itself as it curls through woodland in many places reminiscent of primeval splendor seen hundreds of years ago.
Leaving ‘footprints on the sands of time’
CAMBRIDGE, MASS. — Had I taken the time to read a street map, I would have been able to walk through Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s historic home four years ago. My daughter, Ellen, and I spent the better part of a day hiking over the grassy hillsides of historic Mount Auburn Cemetery, just a few blocks away from the great poet’s house, and never knew we were that close.
See dinosaurs, Dr. Seuss characters at Children's Museum
On Sunday, March 9, Terre Haute Children’s Museum guests will be in for a special treat. Prehistoric creatures from Erth’s “Dinosaur Zoo” will be roving the museum, and Dr. Seuss characters will come to life when the Children’s Theatre of Terre Haute presents “Seussical Jr.”
GRAPE SENSE: News from the world’s wine regions can affect future prices
News from the world’s wine regions can affect even the average wine drinker. There is a lot going on, particularly in California, which can affect future wine prices.
TRIED ’N’ TRUE: The easiest ham loaf I’ve ever made
I have been asked for a good ham loaf recipe. This is really good. It comes from a friend of mine in Morton, Ill. Eileen Knapp makes this for her kids and grandkids — we all enjoyed it.
Party New Orleans-style at Swope Mardi Gras celebration
The Swope Art Museum’s fifth annual Mardi Gras celebration is this weekend. Enjoy a visit to the Big Easy on the museum’s third floor from 8 p.m. to midnight Saturday.
‘A complete meal of classical music’ at Central Presbyterian
Beethoven composed his masterpieces nearly two centuries ago. George Gershwin wrote “Rhapsody in Blue” a few years after World War I.
Final Fridays: Lunes Domingo at Verve
Lunes Domingo returns to the Verve this Friday with special guests The Brown James.
The show starts at 10 p.m. Admission is $3.
TRIED ‘N’ TRUE: No need to knead dough much for these rolls
I know we all like homemade bread. These rolls are great.
When we used to have Christmas with Gene’s family, his uncle Bob Beard’s daughter made these Oatmeal Rolls.
YOUR GREEN VALLEY: We can help save the manatees, right here in the heartland
The year 2013 was the deadliest on record for manatees with about 829 reported deaths. This was a major jump from the 392 in 2012 and the record of 766 in 2010. While the cold weather played a role, one major attributing factor has been toxic red tide events caused by algal blooms.
Eric Bibb, Ruthie Foster to bring ‘Joy!’ to Rose-Hulman
He has been compared to blues greats like Taj Majal and John Lee Hooker. Blues Revue said she sings with a “full-on blast of soul.”
Yara to bring international sounds to ISU performance
Sarah Stone, a mezzo-soprano and alumna of the School of Music at Indiana State University, will perform works by international composers with her ensemble Yara at 7:30 p.m. Sunday in the Recital Hall of Landini Center for Performing and Fine Arts.
- More Features Headlines
- Guiding Star: Inspired by family, Terre Haute native rallies famous names to fund cancer research