Thursday, April 21, 2011

Rennselaer, Indiana

Friends: This is the fourth college town I've passed through in the past one hundred miles since DaPauw in Greencastle. Next came Wabash in Crawfordsville, then Purdue in West Lafayette and now St. Joseph's here, former training camp for the Bears. If it weren't for Carnegies, college towns could be the theme of this tour. I didn't realize how many I have visited until I gave it a thought. It began with Annapolis, then George Mason, VCU, UNCSA, Marshall, IU and a few more.

These I haven't been searching out, they've just been along the way. Many of them are towns with Carnegies, as three of the past four have been. West Lafayette was the exception. It was fortunate I didn't have to go in search of one there in that sprawling city, as I passed through its outskirts in the early evening when I was eager to push it down the road to get within a day's ride of Chicago.

But finding the Carnegie is never a difficult task, as among the stipulations Carnegie put on granting a town the funds to build a library were that the town provide the location and that it had to be within two blocks of the center of the town. Some have stretched it by a block or two, but I know that if I head to the heart of a town, the Carnegie will be near.

The Carnegie in Crawfordsville was on the town's main thoroughfare. It was a genuine monument of a building, a truly stately white stone edifice with four large bay windows and two pillars. It was the first of the 164 Carnegies built in Indiana in 1902. Its inscription was simply "Carnegie Library," a rare one without the word "Public" included. It is now a county museum. One of the museum's exhibits was a space suit of astronaut Joe Allen, who attended DePauw. The new quite impressive library across the street was built in 2005, next to a very stodgy Masonic Temple.

Just ten miles north of Crawfordsville in Linden is the last Carnegie Library built in Indiana twenty years later. The small town of 781 doubled the size of the library with an addition in 2007. The rather basic, put still dignified, red brick building, identified itself with the standard "Public Library." The portrait of Carnegie inside was one I had yet to see--just from his waist up standing in front of a table with an open book.

West Lafayette was thirty miles up the road. After I passed through its sprawl I rode along the Wabash River accompanied for a few miles by Purdue's women's rowing team. I slowed my pace a bit so I could go at their speed, watching the women giving it their all heaving on the long oars at the command of their coach in an accompanying skiff. It was another of the great pleasures of being on a bike. If I'd been in a car I would have had just one fast glimpse of them. I was similarly gladdened to be on a bike when I passed a few Amish in their horse-drawn carriages in Ohio, drawing a friendly wave and being able to actually see their warm, contented expressions.

I squeezed in one last Carnegie before making camp an hour after the rowers. It was in Brookstone. It was the first Carnegie I'd visited that had completely blocked off its former entrance when it expanded, putting an arcade of high bushes around it so no patron would be tricked into trying to enter by its former entrance even though above it was "Public Library."

I then had an early morning Carnegie in Monon, arriving before it opened. It's "Public Library" over its entry spelled "public" as "PVBLIC," as a few do. It had added a red brick addition behind it. The substantial library was quite a contrast to the bare bones town hall and police station across the street in this town of 1,718. It did boast a GM car dealership though.

The Carnegie in Rennselarr is now the Carnegie Center hosting a gallery, a foundation and an arts council. Built in 1904, it was a fortress of a building, significant enough to be included in the National Registry of Historical Places. When I have time to check, I'll have to search out how many are on the list. I will have quite a few nominations if the list is short. Just inside the entrance to the building on the post of the staircase is a bronze plaque stating "This building is the gift of Andrew Carnegie 1904." On the opposite side of the staircase is the same painting of Carnegie with a book on his lap that I first saw in Linden.

The town's new state-of-the-art library is just a block away. As I've been pecking away at the computer a lady came in searching for the guy with the bike. She said she often puts up touring cyclists and asked if I would be lingering for the night. I told her I was hoping to make it back to Chicago by dark. The young man at the computer next to me wished me good luck when he completed his session before me. It was more of the charm that makes traveling by bike so satisfying and infectious. Though I am happy to be off to France next week for more, I could easily spend the next three months meandering about the US rather than in Europe and have an equally fine and fulfilling time.

Later, George

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