Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Greenup, Illinois

Among the many charms of small town libraries are their wall hangings. Rather than the standard Read posters featuring a celebrity, they often decorate their walls with items of local interest--photos or plaques or homilies.  The Carnegie in Hillsboro gentlely reminded its patrons to observe the due dates of the books they check out.  In a small town, the librarian can be as significant a figure as the mayor and are often much beloved. Many are remembered with plaques.

The Hillsboro Carnegie may not have been designed by the most accomplished of architects, but he did include columns in his design.

The Carnegie in Pana had a cluster of photos of the local swimming pool from the 1950s.  The town was renowned for its above ground pool.  It's portrait of Carnegie above the entry was flanked by portraits of George Washington and the person who donated the land for the library.  The librarian said that when she gives tours of the library she always begins there so she can explain who Carnegie was.

Not only was the librarian most friendly and talkative but so was a twelve-year old girl out front who had arrived at the library on a bike as well.  She was the first, and only so far, person to react to the Trump mask adorning my bike.  "I like the Trump mask," she blurted, then added, "That's hilarious."

The Carnegie in Taylorville is now a law office.  Taylorville was one of the few towns with a slogan--"A Great Place to Live."  The slogan of the much smaller Morristown was more location specific--"Where Progress Meets the Prairie."  I stopped at a small store that advertised "All fountain drinks 89 cents."  It was Indian run.  It's owner said, "Come back, all our prices are cheaper than Casey's."

The central plaza in Taylorville featured a statue of Abraham Lincoln commemorating the time he served there as a judge.  It included a pig, as Lincoln was said to have had one as pet in his youth.

Hillsboro had a Lincoln statue as well, a few doors down from the cafe where I gorged on hotcakes.  For the first time in these travels most of the towns I've past through still have a restaurant for the locals to gather at, a small sign of healthy local economies.  This one had reopened two years ago and was owned by someone who lived in a nearby town where he had a similar restaurant.  It was nice to begin my days knowing I could count on a stack of hotcakes not too far down the road.

After a day with three Carnegies in sixty-two miles I had a glorious four-Carnegie day as I closed in on Terre Haute and the Indiana border.  The first was in Shelbyville with its flag at half mast in remembrance of the 59 dead in Las Vegas.

As with Pana it had an addition to its back that did nothing to mar its grandeur.  It's addition had similar  wooden bookshelves and wooden tables as those in the front of the library.

It wouldn't be easy to leave such a tranquil setting, if I didn't know a similar one awaited me in an hour or two.  The next came in the city of Mattoon.  It's original library was so large it only required a minimal addition, mostly to provide a handicapped entrance to the side.

It was just ten miles to another city in the 20,000 range, Charleston, home to Eastern Illinois University. It's much smaller Carnegie had a huge, nearly block-long addition.  It was almost a miracle that the original library had been incorporated in the design, though it's entrance was closed up and had been appropriated by kids as a skateboarding ramp.  It was the only library in this batch to identify itself as a "Free Public Library," all the others didn't feel the need to include the word "free."

The original library was now the periodicals room, comprising not even ten per cent of the floor space of the library.  As with the Edwardsville Carnegie and many others that have built additions around their original library, the former outside wall is now part of its interior, almost as if it is a Roman ruin in a museum.

One could certainly appreciate the beauty of the front of the original library and feel great gratitude that there was enough enlightenment in the community to preserve it.  That is not always the case.  Of the 111 Carnegies built in Illinois, seventeen have been demolished, many in the suburbs of Chicago.  The Hall of Shame includes Evanston, Wilmette, Highland Park, Des Plaines, LaGrange, Brookfield, Harvey and Downers Grove. Only two of those built outside Chicago remain standing and only one as a library, in Maywood.   The Park Ridge Carnegie, across the street from the new library, houses several small businesses. 

My final Carnegie in this Illinois batch in Greenup is now a military history museum, something that would not please Carnegie.  He spent the final years of his life as a personal ambassador to the world trying to avert WWI.  Discouragement over his failure led to his death in 1919.   The Greenup Carnegie had a turret that made it look like a castle or military installation.

Seven of the nine Carnegies I visited in Illinois still served as libraries, right around the average for the state, with 68 still functioning as libraries.  My final stretch to Bloomington will only include one Carnegie that I have yet to visit along the way.  But if I'm feeling deprived I can always drop in on the Carnegie in Bloomington, now a museum.

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