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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.

Salem and Steubenville Libraries

By Alan Hall, Director, PLSJ
Publish Date - Sunday, July 3, 2016

My wife and I were traveling through Salem, Ohio recently and we passed the beautiful public library building located on State St. in the downtown area.


Although the Salem Public Library looks nothing like our own Main Library building, they do share one thing: they are the only library buildings in Ohio designed by the Pittsburgh architectural firm of Alden and Harlow.


The two libraries are of completely different architectural designs, and someone would never guess that Frank Ellis Alden (1859-1908) put pen to paper and drew the plans for both buildings.


Our Main Library building was funded in 1899 by Andrew Carnegie, and once the lot at 4th and Slack St. was purchased, work began immediately on the building design.


Alden and Harlow were distinguished Pittsburgh architects that had once been associated with Alexander Wadsworth Longfellow, Jr. (1854-1934), a nephew of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.


All three in the firm had attended MIT and worked as apprentices for H.H. Richardson, a foremost architect of the period.


They relocated their office from Boston to Pittsburgh, and became well-known for designing some of Carnegie’s new libraries, constructed with his donations to build libraries.


Longfellow returned to Boston in 1896, with Alden and Harlow making their name in the Midwest.


The Steubenville Library job was underway at the same time as their Oakmont, Pa. Library commission, so the two libraries have very similar features even today.


Oakmont has only three window sets on either side of the front door, and no tower as did Steubenville.  Both share mullioned windows and stepped stone trim with special features on the ends of the building.


Our Main Library building was under construction in 1900, moving to completion in 1901 with a budget that neared $ 80,000 even with the rear wing eliminated to reduce costs.


The 1904 Salem Public Library shares none of Oakmont and Steubenville’s classic features, but is equally beautiful with a red-brick exterior and limestone trim, centered by a two-story portico with four stone columns.


The Salem Public Library had its first addition in 1931, as well as a much larger addition in 1984; both in the rear of the building leaving the façade unchanged.


Our Main Library building had a garage added in 1948, and a second addition in 1963, both also in the rear leaving the façade unspoiled.


The Oakmont Library underwent a massive restoration and addition in the past decade, again leaving the façade unchanged.


All three of these “library cousins” remain operational as public libraries, while other libraries designed by Alden and Harlow suffered the fate of demolition.


In the architectural firm, Alfred Branch Harlow (1857-1927) supervised design and office production, and was known for his beautiful home designs.


It was apparent that Frank Alden was the lead designer for the Oakmont, Steubenville, and Salem projects, as well as other commercial building work performed by Alden and Harlow.


His death at age 50 seemed to shift the firm’s work to private homes, work that continued until Harlow’s death in 1927.


With the completion of the Oakmont and Steubenville libraries, Carnegie libraries changed in style and format as Andrew Carnegie hired librarians to review plans for functionality.


After 1904, the Carnegie buildings were smaller with less ornamentation.


So, the next time you pass through Salem, remember that their library is related to our library by designer, and Oakmont is similar in design and shares the designer.