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Director's Column

PLSJC Director Alan Hall writes a weekly column discussing library and community news, history, and other interesting subjects.

The National Register of Historic Places

By Alan Hall, Director, PLSJ
Publish Date - Sunday, May 27, 2007

The National Register of Historic Places is a directory of historic sites in the United States, as a result of the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966.

 

That Act was due, in part, to awareness and publicity of the demolition of Penn Station in New York City, which took place between 1963-1966.

 

Americans realized that our historic treasures were in danger of disappearing without a guideline for preservation.

 

In 1992, the Steubenville Historic Landmarks Commission nominated our Main Library building for the National Register, with the application sent to the Ohio Preservation Office for review.

 

The building was nominated due to its architectural features, and connection to social history of the time period.

 

The architecture of the 1902 building is described as "Victorian Romanesque" and "Sullivanesque" by the building review.

 

It was designed by the Pittsburgh firm of Alden & Harlow, designers of the libraries in McKeesport, Duquesne, and Homestead, as well as Salem, Ohio.

 

Reading the description of the building from an architectural perspective, many features are highlighted.

 

The tower is the central feature of the fa├žade of the library, with the entry through a large arch on the front.

 

To the right is a stair tower leading into the tower and attic space, punctuated by various windows.

 

The secondary feature of the building is two matching chimneys on the ends, starting with rusticated stonework and extending above the roofline.

 

It is interesting that the stonework around the base of the building is real stone that appears to be huge blocks.  In reality, they are 2-inch thick veneer over a rubble wall.

 

What appears to be stone elsewhere is actually terra cotta, a formed detail that appears to be hand chiseled.

 

Unique to the building is the brickwork on the end of the building.

 

Only one other building in the U.S. is known to contain the "running bond of brick, laid up in a diagonal perpendicular to the slope of the parapet."

 

If you view the Slack Street end of the building, the brickwork appears to be in triangles as it works it way up the wall to the gable end of the roof.

 

Originally, the steep roof had red clay tiles forming the surface.  A gray slate roof was installed in 1956 to replace the badly broken clay tiles.

 

We are often asked if the building was "always a library."  The answer is "yes," a library from the first day.

 

The second question is "when was the Carnegie name removed from the building?"  The answer to that is "January 1, 1962."

 

Being on the National Register does not always protect a building from alternation or demolition.

 

The Act cannot control the actions of private owners, or force someone to correctly maintain or renovate a structure.

 

Government agencies, such as the library, must abide by the Act, and any use of government funds must follow the guidelines of the Act.

 

National Register sites must be considered when planning government projects.

 

And finally, sites are qualified for Federal assistance for historic preservation, when funds are available.

 

And that is the issue, since 1966 funds have been sporadic at best and generally unavailable.

 

Enjoy and be proud of our listing and recognition that the Main Library is a significant historic structure.