I have library envy. That’s because the village of Lithopolis has an amazing library that’s just a little too far away for me to frequent. One hour and six minutes away, to be exact.
The Wagnalls Memorial Library was gifted to the people of the town by Mabel Wagnalls Jones in the twenties. She was a writer and concert pianist who wanted to honor her parents Adam and Anna Willis Wagnalls.
Recognize the name Wagnalls? If your family was like mine, you had a set of books with that name on a shelf in the living room. Her dad was the cofounder of Funk and Wagnalls Publishing Company, the people who brought encyclopedias into many an American household. They also published a periodical called The Literary Digest and there are paintings on display that are originals of that magazine’s covers. They even have two Norman Rockwell originals.
Adam and Anna were born here in log cabins and loved their hometown. Mabel grew up in New York City but was fond of her parents’ hometown where she still visited her grandfather.
This Tudor Gothic structure and the grounds consume an entire block. It is constructed of native stone which was quarried nearby.
The library has been added onto over the years but that original building is like a work of art, a cathedral of learning. It features stained glass, a formal entrance hall, tower, auditorium and banquet hall.
Look closely and you’ll notice carved wooden owls along the ceiling. They are perched on shields depicting religion, industry, education and patriotism. This is more than decor – these owls are a nod to some baby owls found in a tree that was cut down during the quarrying of the stone.
The center window contains stained glass inserts that tell more of the Wagnalls’ story. The State Seal of Ohio, a printing press, a log cabin, the lamp of learning and the Seal of the United States are depicted in this window.
The tables and chairs of this room are handmade.
It is magnificent.
It is exactly what a library should be. Yes, they have a fantastic selection of books, periodicals and movies. Yes, they have free WiFi and a place to sit and study or computers to hop on for entertainment or research. Yes, they have a substantial children’s library and all the things you would expect from an outstanding library.
They also have a great sense of history, community and of their role in the town’s well being.
Mabel wanted this to be a center for the community. That’s why they have so much event space.
When I was there for the Norman Rockwell exhibit Saturday, there was an event happening in the classrooms and a dance recital in their auditorium along with all the other patrons coming and going to check out materials and stroll the grounds.
The place was alive. It was positively radiating life from all corners.
They have several clubs and a volunteer group maintains the grounds including a flower garden which visitors are welcome to stroll through. They’ve added fairy gardens since my last visit and I was thrilled when the rain subsided so I could explore them Saturday.
The library has grown and adapted a lot over the years but it appears they have been true to the integrity of the building and to Mabel’s intent to give the community an amazing place to go for learning and entertainment.
If I lived closer, I would be there all the time. Instead, I just enjoy rare visits and hope that they are able to maintain this spectacular old building and the uniqueness of what they do for another century or longer