Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Laughlin Memorial Library

Photo of Laughlin Memorial Library, Beaver Valley Times, October 5, 1953

Original caption reads: 

LAUGHLIN LIBRARY--Dedicated in 1929, the Laughlin Memorial Free Library in Ambridge was erected at a cost of approximately $200,000. It was endowed by Mr. and Mrs. Alexander Laughlin of Sewickley, as a memorial to their son, Major Alexander Laughlin Jr. In 1935, the name was changed from the Ambridge Free Library to its present title. The building fronts Eleventh Street and is used by various civic organizations for meetings. The library contains more than 20,000 volumes. Director is Mrs. Sarah B. Caldwell.

At some point after the library celebrated the 50th Anniversary of the building's dedication in 1979, the library dropped the "Free" from its name. I don't know yet when that change happened.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Laughlin Memorial Library

Laughlin Memorial Library

Although I could say my schools and church were the institutions outside of my family that most influenced me growing up in Ambridge, in all honesty, I'd have to say that my biggest influences probably were the library and the swimming pool.

I was a voracious reader. Every other Saturday during grade school—and sometimes more frequently than that—my friend Susan Hrusko (who still lived in Ambridge until she died in June, 2013) and I would walk to the library from our homes on Beaver Road. I'd borrow three books, the lending limit at the time, then walk home. Two weeks later when the books were due, we'd do it all again.

I always thought the interior vaguely smelled of furniture polish, perhaps explained by all the wood: the large four-sided circulation desk, shelves, tables, and chairs. And the card catalog cabinets. In those pre-computer days, the cards in the wooden cabinets' many intriguing small drawers would help me find books by title, author, or subject.

I'd leave the three books I was returning at the front of the circulation desk in the center of the library, then make a right to the children's section, which then took up about two-thirds of the front right side of the floor. There I'd check out the books displayed on tables with angled tops and benches to sit on, or the books on the tops of the low free-standing shelves. Then I'd peruse the books on the shelves on the walls, pulling out books that looked interesting, until I found my three selections to take home that week.

In nonfiction, I liked books about geography and history. In fiction, my taste ran the gamut from Louisa May Alcott to series books about girls or young women having adventures: teen detectives Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden; Cherry Ames, the mystery solving nurse; and Vicki Barr, the mystery solving airline "stewardess." You might notice a pattern there.

In the '50s and '60s, children under a certain age (12? 13?) were only allowed in the children's section of the library, which I seem to recall was set off from the rest of the right side by a low bookshelf. It was an exciting day when I was finally old enough to be able to see what was on the shelves in the rest of the library. The first book I remember reading from the adult fiction shelves was Tess of the d'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy. Another book about a young woman, but with a story much sadder and shocking to me than the girl detective heroines'.

There was a glass fronted set of shelves in the "grown-up" part of the library that, rumor had it, held "sex books." Oddly, I don't remember ever checking the titles on the books behind those doors. Probably afraid someone would see me. That would have been so embarrassing.

When I was ready to check out, I'd take my selections to the circulation desk and the librarian, usually Mrs. Grubbs, would complete the checkout process. (I only vaguely remember the checkout procedure, so if someone remembers the details more clearly than I do, I'd appreciate your providing a more accurate description in the comments).

I believe the librarian would take a card with the name of the book and its call number out of the paper pocket pasted in the back of each book, ink a date stamp, then stamp the books' cards with the due date and note on them that I was borrowing them (by my library card number?). She'd keep and file those cards. She would then find a smiliar card that had my name typed on it, stamp it with the due date of the books (and the books' call numbers?) and put that card in the back pocket of one of the books. I always loved watching the librarian stamp the dates and hearing the soft stamping noise.

On our way home with our books, Susan and I would sometimes stop at the religious supplies store on Merchant Street to buy "holy cards" or at the Rexall drug store at the corner of Merchant and 14th Street (now part of the Elderberry Court elder care home) and have a Reymer's Lemon Blennd at the soda fountain.

On my June, 2013 visit to the library, given all the changes in the rest of Ambridge, I was pleased to find both the exterior and interior mostly unchanged. Sadly, the exterior is now missing the two tall ornate lamps topped with glass globes that once stood at the base of the steps. They were stolen several years ago. Inside, the children's books are now shelved in the basement, and the card cabinets, of course, are long gone, but the all the marble and wood—still there. That made me happy. I didn't notice any furniture polish smell though.

A history and description of the Laughlin Memorial Library can be found in A History of Beaver County's Libraries by Christy L Blackburn on the website Beaver County History Online.

I had always assumed that just as the B. F. Jones Memorial Library in Aliquippa was built with money from the Jones family who owned Jones and Laughlin Steel (J&L), the Laughlin Memorial Library was built by J&L's Laughlin family. But according to the information on the site, I was wrong. It was built by the Laughlin family who once owned Central Tube Company in Ambridge as a memorial to their son, Alexander, Jr., who died at age 37.

The story behind the library's marble columns is impressive:
These columns are rare and majestic due to their source. The blocks from which these columns were carved were quarried from the top of a mountain on the Island of Palmerio, off the coast of Italy in the Bay of Spica. The quarry is located 600 feet above sea level. After being quarried, the giant monoliths were slid down from the top of the mountain to the shores of the Mediterranean Sea. There they were loaded on small boats and transported to the port of Leghorn, where they were transshipped by ocean steamers to the Hilgartner Marble Company in Baltimore. Here, the blocks were converted into highly polished columns. Black and gold marble is found only around the Bay of Spica. According to quarry authorities, "the columns of the library are the largest monolithic columns of this type in the world."