Dolly Parton, The Walton’s And Books (Yes, They Are Connected)

There’s an episode of The Walton’s where Olivia makes an impulse buy – a collection of fifty Harvard Classic books from a traveling salesman.

It’s a terrible extravagance for an Appalachian family in the throes of the Depression but Olivia saw it as an investment in her family’s future. It’s moving to see how John Boy handles the books with reverence and joy. These are true gifts that are his access to learning and his own private gateway to the world outside his home on Walton’s Mountain.

It set me to thinking about books, reading and how important they are to me. I would rather buy a book than lunch (thankfully I don’t have to make that choice) and would rather read than do most anything else (I do often have to forgo reading for real life). The thought of life with limited access to books is distressing.

What’s more distressing is the lack of access many kids have to books and reading help at home. Families both rich and poor often don’t prioritize reading to their youngsters or providing them book access even to free books from the library.

Dolly Parton has a wonderful program that provides youngsters with free story books every month for the first five years of life. The program began in her home county in Tennessee’s Great Smoky Mountains and has grown to the rest of the nation and four other countries.

The program has given away millions of books.

Her own father never learned to read and she knows all too well what it’s like to grow up doing without basic needs, much less luxuries like books. Gifting children age appropriate books during their formative years improves literacy rates, sharpens young imaginations and gives kids access to the world.

It’s a pretty special program.

Want to find out if kids in your community qualify for Dolly’s Imagination Library? Click here for details.

Pomeroy Carnegie

Saturday found me wandering around Pomeroy for a couple of hours. I was both excited and sad to find this Carnegie Library.

It’s on Second Street, just down from the Courthouse and close to the post office, literally a stone’s throw from all the important things that go on in a county seat.

Like the Carnegie in Xenia that I showed you a couple of days ago, this one is no longer a library. The library outgrew it and built a new one out on Main Street in 1989.

Honestly, I can hardly blame them.

Pomeroy is built on the banks of the mighty Ohio River and this neighborhood feels narrow to me. On one side is the River and the other a hill. There literally was no way to add on to the historic Carnegie and it was too small for modern needs.

Opened in 1914, it’s one of the smaller and more practical Carnegies that I’ve seen in my travels. It fulfilled a real and tangible need in this Appalachian community and served that community well for 75 years.

Today it’s a law firm and seems well cared for, an observation that made my heart happy.

Today, the Meigs County Library System has multiple branches across the county and seems to work at serving the community in innovative ways. You can use your library card to borrow a hotspot for a week. They moved to a virtual program format when the pandemic hit and in-person event no longer permissible. They even are a distribution site for at-home Covid tests.

Plus, like most libraries today, they offer audio books, movies, and access to digital libraries that take readers far beyond the confines of their building’s walls.

People forget – or maybe they just don’t know – that modern libraries offer more than the tangibles than books. In Appalachian communities, they are very much a community center and a hub for free activities and learning for all. For many kids and even some adults, librarians are the first people who encourage them to read, learn and explore.

That stately Carnegie building served its purpose well for 75 years. I can’t help but be sad that change came but I’m glad to see it has a new lease on life while the library system continues to evolve and grow for future generations.

Oh, How She Loved To Be Home

“She was an adventurer at heart but, oh, how she loved to be home!”

Truer words have never been spoken. I’m either running around, taking in the world and recording everything in sight or I’m home.

There is no in between as these are my two happiest places in the world.

Today is a home day for me. Chores, a book and rest are all I have planned. Whatever you do, enjoy your day.

Carnegie Library of Xenia

Steel magnate Andrew Carnegie built close to 1,700 libraries in his lifetime. You’ll see a lot of them still used in towns and cities across America. I found one in Xenia while out exploring last weekend.

Carnegie spent about $40 million on his libraries. He believed that libraries were the best gift he could offer a community as it gave equal access to self improvement to all. Some of these libraries are still used for their original function but many have been repurposed into events centers, stores and restaurants. This one, sadly, is just empty.

There had been a revitalization project underway a few years ago but there doesn’t seem to be any movement afoot right now.

The building dates back to 1906 when it opened with a gala affair attended by local social and political leaders. The library eventually outgrew the space this beautiful building offered and a new library was constructed closer to downtown. It was used for storage for a while and then changed hands before eventually being sold to the county. As far as I can tell it has been unused all these years.

Volunteers formed a group called Carnegie Historic District that got it listed on the National Register of Historic Places. In 2017, the library made headlines for efforts to reimagine the building but things have gone quiet and I can’t tell if there’s anything still happening on that front.

It’s a gorgeous Classical Revival with a stained glass dome and ionic columns. I hate to see it empty but certainly understand why. These types of revitalization efforts are costly, time consuming and a real challenge to fund. Here’s hoping they are able to breathe new life into this exquisite piece of history.

Remembering Private First Class Douglas E. Dickey

Here’s one more story from the Garst Museum in Greenville, Ohio. If you’ve been following along this week, we’ve talked about Annie Oakley and other interesting exhibits the museum offers.

This is the story of Private First Class Douglas E. Dickey, a regular guy who did something extraordinary. He died on this day in 1967.

It was Easter Sunday when this twenty year old Marine from Darke County found himself faced with a terrible choice on the other side of the world.

The long and short of the story is that Dickey and his battalion found themselves in grave danger. He took one look at his buddies and made an impossible choice. He threw himself on a live grenade, absorbing the blast with his body and saving the others.

PFC Dickey was awarded a Purple Heart for this almost indescribable act of courage.

The exhibit about him includes a video of interviews with people who knew him, including his mother. In this grainy, black and white video, she says that the world is full of people who die for senseless reasons. Her son died bravely to save his friends and she asked how she could be bitter about that.

History comes to life when it’s presented well and when it focuses on individuals and their actions. I can think of no better way to talk about Vietnam and heroism than the Garst has done with this young man’s story.

Look for it in the first room of the museum.

Want more information? Visit the Garst online.

Historic Bear’s Mill

One of Ohio’s few working water powered mills is located in Darke County. It’s called Bear’s Mill and is a nice place to stop for local art, coffee, goodies and history.

The four story structure was built by a guy named Gabriel Baer in 1849 so they were in business when Annie Oakley was alive.

It’s built with fifty foot timbers and they use historic techniques and equipment to process grains and meals that they sell on site.

Today it’s owned and operated by a non profit organization.

I did not dwell here as it was awfully crowded for these pandemic days. I’ll go back my next trip and spend more time. Meanwhile, you might be interested in adding it to your Annie Oakley day trip or at least taking an armchair field trip. Find more information here.