Friday, October 1, 2010

Worthington, Indiana

Friends: If I were a hunter I would have had venison on the grill the past two nights. Both nights I've had inquisitive deer nose around my tent shortly after I set it up just as night fell. I could hear them tentatively approach, gently crunching the recently fallen leaves. One set returned to munch on the banana peels I tossed out after my dinner of peanut butter and honey and banana sandwiches.

I wasn't able to push on to full dark last night, as I was closing in on Bloomfield and its Carnegie. I stopped three miles south of town, venturing off on a dirt road that ran between a field of brown corn stalks and a forest. A minute down the road, I could slip into the forest, ending my day with 75 miles, a bit less than I would have liked thanks to a head wind from the north and visits to four Carnegies.

The first in Paoli had recently closed, just as the first I had come upon in Indiana the evening before in New Albany, just across the border from Kentucky. New Albany's library is now a Carnegie Center for Art and History. Paoli's has yet to find a new incarnation. It was so recently replaced that a hand scrawled message was taped to the door giving the address of the new library four blocks away and that its hours were the same.

It had a prime location in the corner of the typical small town Indiana square with a monumental limestone town hall standing solitarily in the center surrounded by a grassy expanse. When I asked a white-haired gentleman out walking his dog directions to the library he told me about the new one first, saying it was necessary, as the old one had too many steps to walk up. There were only a dozen or so, but steps up to its entrance are indeed a feature of many Carnegies, enhancing their elevated, exalted air.

Crowded in by other buildings, this Carnegie was more quaint and charming than majestic. The red-brick building with a green awning and matching green gutters and trim had been well-maintained. If it had been on its own private lot, as most Carnegies are, it could have easily been expanded, as have three of the five Carnegies I have visited since, including this one in Worthington. The expansions have ordinarily been down so seamlessly, that it is barely detectable.

Just eight miles north of Paoli I came upon the Carnegie in Orleans. It resides in a wooded lot right along the town's main street and hasn't needed to be expanded. When I started asking about the library, the librarian pulled out "Temples of Knowledge, Andrew Carnegie's Gift to Indiana," by Alan McPherson written in 2003 about Indiana's 167 Carnegies. There is a photo and a page devoted to each of them. George Bobinski and Theodore Jones have both written books about the 2,500 Carnegies scattered around the world, but this was the first book I had found about a particular state's libraries. I would think that every Carnegie library would have these books on their shelves, but surprisingly, few do.

The Mitchell Carnegie, seven miles north of Orleans, didn't have the cathedral/bank emporium look of many Carnegies. I asked the librarian who the architect was. She didn't know, though she said she had heard that Carnegie got upset when towns began to embellish their libraries with unnecessary grand features. Carnegie considered them a waste of money, wishing his contributions to go to more functional aspects of the library. The Mitchell library was a later Carnegie, built in 1917. It celebrated its 90th birthday and will have a gala 100th celebration when that comes around. The librarian proudly pointed out the original lights and check-out counter. It had rose buses along one exterior wall.

After three Carnegies in 15 miles, it was 20 miles to the next in Shoals. It was small enough to have been a one-room school house. It had high ceilings and a very pleasant wooden interior. I wished I had more time to linger.

I hit two more Carnegies in the first hour today, Bloomfield and Worthington, both expanded and going strong. Now I have a long stretch of 35 miles to the next in Brazil along quiet country roads. It is a sunny cool day with the leaves just beginning to show their fall colors, as fine a day as one could want to be out bicycling.

Later, George

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