If the quartet of Carnegies in Garrett, Angola, LaGrange and Albion in the northeast corner of Indiana were stars in the celestial sky, they would form a crown sitting atop the other 145 Carnegies in the state. They made for an appropriate climax to these travels, bringing me to within one library of my completion of the entire slate of Carnegies, with the last in Kewanna, one hundred miles away back towards the center of the state. With my arrival in Angola, I had reached all four corners of the state in this three-week 1,500-mile excursion, which began with the pair of Carnegies in East Chicago in the northwest corner. My route hasn’t stuck to the state’s perimeter, though many of the miles have been along it, especially beyond Mount Vernon six hundred miles ago in the southwest, where I began following the Ohio River.
Corn fields and forests were the predominant geographical feature top to bottom, and also my usual camp site. I nestled into a corn field on the coldest night of the ride when I awoke to ice in the water bottles I left on my bike.
The sleeping bag I brought, not anticipating such wintry temperatures, was only rated to forty degrees. I needed my tights and sweater that night, but they weren’t enough as I awoke at one a.m. feeling a slight chill on my chest. I pulled the bag’s extended flap tighter around my head. I failed to return to sleep, even using Tony Kornheiser’s remedy for insomnia of listing all fifty states in alphabetical order. Chuck Todd, host of Meet the Press and weekly guest on Kornheiser’s podcast giving football picks, said he puts himself to sleep by running through all one hundred senators state by state. There can’t be too many people who can do that. Few can probably even name their own two senators.
None of these reveries put me to sleep, nor was I warming up, so I put on a vest. That worked, but I woke up cold again three hours later. I added my wind-breaker to my layers, knowing I still had a lightweight down jacket in reserve. That got me through the night. The sun was shining bright in the morning. It’s direct rays warmed me until I started riding through the frigid air. I needed plastic bags over my gloves to keep my fingers from going numb, but otherwise I had enough layers to be fine as I closed in on Angola.
I had paid my respects to the Carnegie in Garrett the evening before, arriving after it had closed. It was the last of these travels unencumvered by an addition.
The Carnegie in Angola had had two additions. The first to its back side wasn’t enough. With no more room to expand behind it, Angola settled on the extraordinary measure of enclosing the Carnegie within its second, much larger addition, turning it into a virtual museum piece. It’s bricks walls and original entrance are inside the library. So is the fountain that used to stand in front of the library.
It now serves as the reference library and is overseen by a woman by the name of Margaret who patronized the library as a child and is now nearing retirement. She feels very fortunate to spend her days behind a desk in the Carnegie she grew up with. She had vivid memories of the liberian during her formative years, Vera, who ruled the library for 47 years. She was the stereotypical small town librarian, unmarried and a stern taskmaster, hushing any one who spoke out of turn and monitoring what people read.
She wouldn’t let Margaret check out books that she didn’t think were appropriate for her age. She was reading above her age level, having gotten an early start with a mother who taught at the local college. Her mother had to come in and attest to her reading capabilities to Vera before she’d allow her to check out what she wanted. While we talked, another librarian came in who was aware of my interest in Carnegies and asked if she could take my picture and put it on the library’s Facebook page. I should have stood under the portrait of Carnegie in the room, but didn’t care to rise from my comfortable chair, resting my legs for the battle ahead with a strong headwind.
It was twenty-two miles due west to LaGrange through Amish country. One-third of the county’s 37,000 residents are Amish. There are 1.2 million Amish scattered around the world in 63 countries, and this is one of its largest concentrations. I shared the road with a few horse and buggies and saw another parked in front of the library.
This library had a large addition to its rear.
The pair of tri-globed lights at its original entrance don't receive as much appreciation as they deserve, since the entrance is no longer used. It was the first library in a while that required a password to use its WiFi and also the presentation of ID.
I completed the final leg of the crown by turning south twenty miles to Albion. It’s Carnegie had been replaced and now served as the prosecutor’s office. It faced the towering courthouse in the center of the town. It closed at four, after I arrived, so I couldn’t gain entrance to confirm that it had been the Carnegie. It had been greatly marred by bunker-type additions to its front and rear, turning it into an unseemly fortress and rendering it virtually unrecognizable as a Carnegie. I had to duck into an antique store on the square to verify its previous existence.
Large glass windows had been inserted into its sides. Only a close look at its original intricate brickwork, compared to the generic new, gave a hint of its former glory.
The eighty-mile ride to my final Carnegie in Kewanna took me past the home of the last Indian chief in the area, Papakeecha of the Miami tribe. He died in 1937 shortly before the forced removal of the Indians from the area.
Kewanna took its name from the Potawatomi chief Kee-Wan-Ney. Kewanna announced itself as “A Small Town with a Big Heart.” Half its stores were boarded up, a rare site in Indiana. With just a population of 613, it seemed to be a small enough town that I had hopes that its Carnegie would be in its original state, unmarred by any additions, making it a fitting finale for me. No such luck. It had had an addition to its side in 2012 that now served as its entrance. It at least had “Carnegie” chiseled above “Public Library” over its original entrance, and also had a Main Street address, as did about a quarter of Indiana’s Carnegies. It radiated the usual quiet dignity of a Carnegie and stood out as the most significant building along Main Street.
The town had never had a population of more than 728, so it was remarkable that it had an addition. One wall of the original library had been knocked out, making for a large extended room. It had been fully modernized. A trio of boys sat in a corner at a table on their computers. Another sat in a comfortable chair speaking in a hushed voice into his phone. There was no mistaking which century I was in. But I was in another Carnegie and that made me feel good.
It’s now 120 miles back to Chicago. It will be a triumphal ride. The winds will dictate whether I make it back in time for the most anticipated Bears game in a few years against the Patriots. It has been another fine, fine ride despite the vagaries in the weather. At the start I had concerns of having enough water to drink in my tent at night. Lately I had to hope my water didn’t freeze. I haven’t had a single flat tire or encounter with the law. But I did accumulate a bounty of neckerchiefa and bungee chords, fully authenticating a ride through rural America.