Carnegie’s Gift to Mansfield

As mentioned in our last post, starting a library in Mansfield was no easy task. It took the work of many dedicated individuals and the building where the library is currently housed is no exception.  Ohio received $2.8 million in grants between 1899 and 1915 from Andrew Carnegie which were used to build 105 public libraries throughout the state.  Only 60 of these facilities remain as libraries today, the other 45 are either vacant, destroyed or are being used for other purposes, like offices[1].  Mansfield is lucky enough to have one of these magnificent structures still being used for its intended purpose.

Around 1890 Miss Martha Mercer became the head librarian of the Memorial Library, which was then housed in the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Building.  Miss Mercer traveled to New York and met with James Bertram, Andrew Carnegie’s secretary.  In 1903 Carnegie awarded a grant for $35,000 for the construction of a new library.  There were conditions attached to this grant, the city had to supply a site for the new library and provide $2,500 per year for maintenance.  At that time the Memorial library had an annual cost of about $2,300 and the library association had $5,000 available from the estate of John C. Larwill to help secure a site.[2] The future looked promising.  It took almost two years for a location to be secured and in January of 1905 the site of the Grace Episcopal Church on West Third Street was chosen.  A few months later the library board selected Vernon Redding, of Mansfield, as architect for the new building[3], who also designed the Galion Public Library.[4]

In 1907 there was a question as to if the books from the Memorial Library would be moved into the new Building.  There was some confusion between the Memorial Library Association, the trustees of the Soldiers and Sailors’ Memorial building and the trustees of Madison Township over who had the rights to the books.[5]  Early in the morning of Thursday, October 22, 1908 the books were moved to the new library building,[6] causing the mayor to say, a few days later, he would have stopped the removal of books had he been in the city.[7]  Despite all of this, the new building was dedicated on December 19, 1908 and the library was open for business.

Library 1908

Carnegie Library Before Renovations

In 1914 Miss Mercer retired and Miss Helen Fox succeeded her as head librarian.  During World War I the American Red Cross was housed in the assembly room of the library and in October and November of 1918 the library had to close due to Spanish Influenza.   It was during this time, in 1924, that the library changed from a municipal library to a school district library, which allowed the library to increase its support by bringing it under the tax support of the schools.  In 1927, Helen Keating, the first children’s librarian was hired and a year later the library held its first Summer Library Program with the theme being “travel.”  Helen Jennette Fox passed away January 2, 1931.

h Fox

Helen Fox

Mildred Sandoe replaced Miss Helen Fox as head librarian.  Miss Sandoe operated the library through the depression years when circulation elevated and funds were cut.  Despite this, in 1931 the library acquired its first book truck which served 6 city schools and 75 county schools.  That same year the first reference librarian was hired, Lois MacKellar, who would become head librarian in 1937 after Miss Sandoe resigned to work as a state library organizer.[8]  Lois MacKellar would serve as head librarian until 1963 and be the last female in that position.




Mansfield Public Library Book Truck

Branch libraries have been apart of the library system for many years.  Prior to having a dedicated building or space, most “branches” consisted a shelf of books in a general store that were regularly rotated.  In 1937 the first official branches were added to the system at Plymouth and Bellville, bringing much needed service to outlying areas. In addition to this the main library was outgrowing its space and in 1950 construction started to ease this burden.  The most notable changes where the removal of the front steps allowing patrons to enter on the first floor, and an addition added to the back of the building to extend floor space.  The library continued to expand and a branch library was added to Lexington in 1956.  In 1958 The Ohio State University, Mansfield Campus opened and the main library was designated the official library of The Ohio State University – Mansfield.  Miss McKellar retired at the end of 1963 after 26 years as head librarian.

06 APR 1914 p3

Mansfield Daily Shield, April 6, 1914, pg.3


Old Lexington Branch

In 1964 Arthur T. Dickinson Jr. was hired and the title head librarian was changed to director.  In August of 1965, the roof caved-in over the circulation area and it took nearly a year for repairs to be completed.  Also, during this time OSU-M campus opened their own library and designation as the campus library ended.  In 1967 two exciting features were added to the library: a public pay phone and a do-it-yourself photocopy machine.  The following year the microfilming of local newspapers was completed.  Dickinson hoped to expand the current branches and open a branch in Butler, which happened in February of 1971.  The library changed its name from the Mansfield City School District Library to the Mansfield/Richland County Public Library in 1977.  In September of that same year Arthur T. Dickinson Jr. had a fatal heart attack while visiting family in Arkansas and passed away at the age of 51.  Rick Allwardt was appointed acting director until Jeffrey Krull was hired in 1978.


Butler Branch in 1979

Jeffrey Krull came to a facility in need of renovation and a plan was made to buy the properties on both sides, raze the Carnegie library and build a new, modern library building.  Many like Steven McQuillen, regional preservation officer, argued it should not be torn down and that the building should be placed on the National Register of Historic Places.  The library board placed a levy on the ballot anyway in June 1979, which failed by 1,894 votes.  In November 1980 another levy was placed on the ballot which proposed to move the library to Park Ave. West, which also failed.  In 1981 a decision was made to expand into the Oswalt Building which had been purchased in 1979.  In 1982 computers made their way to the library with the purchase if TRS-80 microcomputers.  In April of 1985 a new Plymouth branch opened due to the generous gifts of Rhea Stambaugh.  A year later Jeffrey Krull resigned after accepting the position of director of the Allen County Public Library in Fort Wayne, Indiana.


Bellville Branch 1979

In 1986 Ed Kieczykowski took over as director and plans were made to expand the main library as a recent levy had passed.  In May of 1987 library materials were moved to the Tucker Building on Park Ave. West and construction began on the expansion. In July of 1987 and August of 1988 the Ontario and Madison Branches opened and, a year later, construction was completed on the Main library, with an opening ceremony on February 12, 1989.  The Lucas branch opened in June 1990, even though the board was turned down for funds, thanks to community donations.  Ed Kieczykowski left the library the following year after accepting a position as director of Solano County, California Public Library.

In October 1991 Joseph Palmer became director of the library.  In 1992 Palmer started a black history month celebration which included music, dancing, exhibits and a dessert contest and for a number of years the post office presented the new black history stamp at the library.  In the late 1990s internet access was brought to the library, in 2000 the library had its first website and in 2001 the library received a grant from the Bill and Melina Gates Foundation and replaced public computers and opened a computer lab.  The Crestview branch was added to the system in May of 1998 at Crestview High School and then was moved into the middle school for easier community access.  In addition to this the library was able to give the Friends of the Library their own space in the Wilging Market building, which allowed them to have monthly book sales.  Palmer is proud of many of the services implemented during his time here, including First Call 211, Books on the Go, and literacy programs.[9]  Joseph Palmer retired in June of 2017.

On July 8, 2017 Chris May became the current director of the Mansfield/Richland County Public library and hopes to match Palmers longevity in the position.  The reputation of the library and the excellent one-on-one customer service is what brought May to Mansfield.[10]


Note: Some of the information about former head librarians and directors was taken from speeches and other material from the 2008 centennial celebration of the library.


[1] The Columbus Dispatch. 19 JUN 2016. Retrieved 12 SEP 2017.
[2] Mansfield Daily Shield, 30 APR 1903, pg. 2.
[3] Mansfield Daily shield, 21 MAR 1905, pg. 1.
[4] Carnegie Libraries of Ohio by Mary Ellen Armentrout, pg. 109.
[5] Mansfield Daily Shield, 10 JAN 1907, pg. 1.
[6] Mansfield Daily Shield, 22 OCT 1908, pg. 1.
[7] Mansfield Daily Shield, 24 OCT 1908, pg. 2.
[8] Mansfield-Richland County Public Library Building Study, February 1978, pg. III-5-III-7.
[9] The Mansfield News Journal, 23 JAN 2017, pg 1A
[10] The Mansfield News Journal, 26 JUN 2017, pg 1A


One thought on “Carnegie’s Gift to Mansfield

  1. Pingback: History on the Page: Mansfield Memorial Library Board Bookplates, designed by Louis Lamoreux | The Sherman Room at MRCPL

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