Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Florence, Colorado, GLT

With the possibility of a Carnegie library having been torn down, as more than two hundred have, I confirmed with the librarians at the Canon City Carnegie that the one in Florence was still standing before I made a detour to reach it.  They gave me the happy news that it still stood, though it no longer served as a library.  The last they'd heard, it had become a homeless shelter, though they weren't positive if that was still its use.

I've come upon Carnegies that have been reincarnated into many different guises (as a church, a car dealership, a used book store, a restaurant, a hair salon, law offices, homes, government offices, a printer), but never a homeless shelter.  If I knew for sure it was still a homeless shelter I might have spent the night there, but instead camped half-way between Canon City and Florence in a clump of bushes beyond a sign that warned "No Dumping."

It was nine miles from Canon City to Florence continuing along the Arkansas River that I had been following for over fifty miles from Salida, where I visited the first of the many Carnegies that will dot my 1,500 mile ride from Telluride to Chicago through Colorado, Nebraska and Iowa.  It had been mostly down hill after crossing the Continental Divide over the 11,312 foot Monarch Pass, a ten-mile six per cent grade climb, the last and most demanding of the several passes I'd had to cross in my first 150 miles.

Like the Carnegie in Canon City, Salida's had been tripled in size not so long ago.  As is often the case, the former grand entrance to each had been sealed and blocked, since it was up a steep set of steps, a feature that did not anticipate present-day access laws.  The climb was a trademark of Carnegie libraries, adding to their mystique and majesty, but a bane to those trying to make these century-old libraries handicap-compliant.   It is generally easier to make a new entrance than adding a ramp or some lifting device.

The blocked entrance somewhat detracts from their original beauty, but they still convey a strong and distinct personality that has earned many of them a place on the National Register of Historic Buildings. The Carnegie in Salida put bars across its former entrance.

The more common solution is to camouflage it with bushes, as Canon City has done.

Rather than trying to modify its Carnegie, Florence simply moved its library three blocks down the street to a former laundromat.  The town of less than 4,000 people hadn't grown much since its Carnegie was built in 1919. Additional space was less of an issue than accessibility.  The former library presently serves as a real estate office, though with no signage, as it is zoned residential.  It was a rare Carnegie without columns or any embellishments other than the symbolic upward steps that led to its demise.

The present owner, Brandon Angel of Keller Williams Real Estate, said it had been a homeless shelter immediately after being a library, but that only lasted a couple of months.  When that didn't prove feasible, he moved his office into the building.  It was more space than he needed, but he likes being in the library he grew up with and there is enough room for his extensive set of weight-lifting equipment.  He never expected to end up owning the library or making it his office, as his youthful ambition was to escape Florence and make his mark elsewhere.  But after going to college, he was happy to return to his small-town idyll and raise his family there.  

His father had been the city manager and coined the town slogan--"A Great Little Town."  He had a small business and on its sign he posted "GLT" to attract attention. People would invariably ask him what it meant.  In time the town adopted it.  

I arrived in Florence early enough for breakfast and enjoyed my first small-town cafe stack of hotcakes of this trip at the Two Sisters Cafe, an American classic.  An American flag dangled out front and a cow bell dangled on the doorknob to announce each arrival.  It was crowded with locals having their morning coffee and biscuits and eggs or, for the ambitious,  a hefty stack of hotcakes with enough calories to last till dinner.  I could only manage to eat half of this platter, the rest going into my Tupperware bowl for consumption down the road.

Each table had utensils wrapped in a paper napkin and an upside down bottle of ketchup and mustard.  A large glass of water half-filled with ice was accompanied with a straw. All about me was the friendly chatter of locals who seemed to be on the best of terms.  I couldn't ask for a better start to the day.  Hopefully there will be many more such occasions in the days ahead.

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