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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.

Library Bond Issue of 1899

By Alan Hall, Director, PLSJ
Publish Date - Sunday, April 10, 2011

Sandy Day is always sending me little odds and ends of local history and genealogy, things that she finds while looking for other information.


If you don’t know Sandy, she is the Local History & Genealogy Librarian at our Schiappa Branch, and we co-authored the Steubenville book in 2005.


This past week, her little item of interest was a news clipping from 1899, showing that the Bond Issue for the Carnegie Library had been approved by city voters by a margin of 825 in favor, and 285 against.


Most people think that the library in downtown Steubenville was funded by Andrew Carnegie, which is correct; but Mr. Carnegie placed some restrictions on his donation.


To receive one of the Carnegie Library donations, the local community had to provide the building site, as well as an annual operating budget.


The letter from Andrew Carnegie agreeing to fund a library in Steubenville is dated June 30, 1899, on stationery from his Scottish castle.  The city had a short time frame in which to find a location.


Little documentation remains of that process, but we do know that ten possible sites were found, but the 4th and Slack St.  location was the largest and “best suited” for a public library.


Downtown Steubenville in 1899 was crowded with buildings, and building sites were hard to find.  Open areas were taken up with railroads and industry.


A site closer to the downtown commercial area was desired, but not found.  Since 4th St. contained the north-south streetcar line, it was felt that the Slack St. corner would be ideal for people coming to the new library.


The corner lot contained a house owned by the Estate of Joseph Sarratt, which could be purchased for $ 11,500.  Another $ 1,500 was used to purchase a portion of the neighboring Stewart property, and the remaining funds were used to demolish the house and clear the lot.


The bricks from the Sarratt house were cleaned and stack at the rear of the property, and reused to construct the interior walls of the library.


The 1899 newspaper article simply states that the proposition to bond $ 15,000 was approved by voters, although the total number of voters was very small.


The article also mentions that there was opposition to the issue, but in the end the supporters of the 4th and Slack St. location won the election.


The actual opposition to the site is unknown today, or at least until Sandy finds that information as well.


I would guess that the site should have been more centralized to the city, or should have been a larger lot that would allow the massive building to have more of a presence.


Despite the larger lot size, it was commented following the dedication of the new library that it had been placed on the lot with a “shoe horn.”


The summer after the building opened, some $ 1,200 in leftover funds were used to have the Floto Brothers erect a stone wall around the front yard to give the elevated terrace more of a presence against the large building.


The building that today is a beloved part of our county, didn’t receive all positive comments in 1902.  Wasted space and a steeply pitched roof were negative comments of the day.


110 years later, people marvel over the marble floors and fireplaces, and the unique brick pattern on the end walls.


The little 1899 article concludes with this statement, “The [election] result shows that a very little effort on the part of the opposition might have defeated the whole library project, while the friends were going about their business, feeling confident that the individual vote would make little or no difference in the result.”