B.F. Jones Memorial Library: Forged in Steel
Terri Bogolea Gallagher
List of Illustrations 3
Library History Literature 6
A Library is Born in Aliquippa’s Steel Town 7
The Jones Family Founder and Steel in Aliquippa 16
B.F. Jones Memorial Library – Researched then Built 19
The Architecture 24
The Carnegie Connect 32
The Unveiling 35
Library Today 38
Postcard of B.F. Jones Memorial Library 8
Aliquippa, Pa., Franklin Avenue 14
Postcard of Jones and Laughlin Aliquippa Works 15
4. Construction begins at B.F. Jones Memorial Library 21
5 . Robert Aitken’s Bronze Sculpture: B.F. Jones 26
6. Interior, Circulation Desk Circa 1930 27
7. Interior Adult Reading Room 28
8. Benjamin Franklin Jones Portrait 29
9. Elisabeth Horne Portrait 30
10. Story Room 31
11. Original Floor Plan 35
Appendix I: Library Expenditures 41
Appendix II: Statistics for 100 Libraries 42
This library science historical study examines the establishment of the B.F. Jones Memorial Library, a Pennsylvania public library in the 1929 steel mill town of Aliquippa. The study is in part the story of the birth and gift of a single mill-town library, but it is part of the larger story of the philanthropy of the times and of small-town, early twentieth-century experience. The author considers the creation of this library in context of its philanthropic founding as a non-Carnegie library, the library’s architecture as a National Historic Place and its detailed planning and cost of approximately $465,000 for the time period. The setting is the close of the 1920s era, in a factory-built town, occupied largely by immigrants and first generation Americans, perched on the precipice of Black Friday’s Crash and the Great Depression. Also considered are the library’s relationship to the steel industry and a study of the key figures involved. The author hopes this Ohio River steel-town’s library story will stoke the furnace of further historical analysis of other village library stories and, especially, of the treasures within their walls.
When I was little, we couldn’t see the stars in the night-time sky because the furnaces of the mill turned the darkness into a red glow.
We went to school across from the mill. The smokestacks towered above us and the smoke billowed out in great puffy clouds of red, orange and yellow, but mostly the color of rust. Everything _ houses, hedges, old cars _ was a rusty, red color. Everything but the little bits of graphite and they glinted like silver in the dust. At recess, when the wind whirled these sharp, shiny metal pieces around, we girls would crouch so that our skirts touched the ground and kept our bare legs from being stung.
Anna Egan Smucker, No Star Nights
Three little girls stood outside the library. They were about ten years old and had been peeking in the windows. They were filled with questions about the new building. They wanted to know when the library would open. One declared she was going to come to the library every day once it opened.
William Moreland to Elisabeth Horne, letter
In February 1929, B.F. Jones Memorial Library, Aliquippa, Pennsylvania, opened to the public in its sculpted stone, bronze, ornamental wrought iron and curlicue plaster splendor.1 This western Pennsylvania public library, which rose on main street in the factory-built steel mill town, is an example of twentieth-century philanthropy, a sample of non-Carnegie library experience in Carnegie home country and a model of library planning, classical architecture and fine art detail of the day. The library was gifted to Aliquippa by Elisabeth McMasters Jones Horne, daughter of Benjamin Franklin Jones, co-founder of Jones and Laughlin Steel Company, one of the world’s top steel producers for nearly a century.2 Horne spared no dimes in building the library in Aliquippa, spending approximately $465,000 to memorialize her father in a time when the Great Depression’s bread lines lurked only spare months away and the town’s steelworkers—many immigrants— labored “the long turns” in hard-scrabble conditions for a new life.3
LIBRARY HISTORY LITERATURE
In many ways, Aliquippa’s library story echoes the creation of many small town libraries of the early twentieth century in the time preceding and following the Depression years. Library literature unveils that “ladies of the club” were often the impetus behind the creation of the early twentieth-century library. In her historical account of the creation of the Winterville Public Library of North Carolina, Heather Anderson credits the survival of the public libraries to wealthy benefactors and the modern public system to women’s clubs.4
During this time, libraries were funded by philanthropists often for combating social vices of the era and founders became convinced that the public library was an excellent place for “the promotion of good manners and morals,” according to Goedeken.5 Donors—whether club ladies or corporate kingpins—also had the ability to influence the library’s mission and content. Libraries were key in creating community identity and culture across social, cultural, and ethnic groups.6 The creation of a library was also often seen as a reflection of the town’s progress.7 Literature by Elizabeth Hubbard also maintains that monied donors and community support were the foundations of public library development in the early twentieth century.8 Libraries were born of private philanthropic initiative and towns across the nation prospered from the library spread. According to Hubbard’s study, wealthy men provided what tax revenues could not in the founding of libraries.9
When examining the literature about library growth for this era and the decades around it, it became evident that library expansion occurred across the United States. Goedeken cited that Charles Seavey’s research showed that during the Great Depression, new libraries were founded in almost every state.10 His research allows that during hard times, resources were mined to create libraries where they never existed before.11 Libraries took on the role of social agency and political activist during this period and the ALA worked diligently against the anti-tax movement to enable libraries to keep doors open.12 Luyt poignantly describes the time: “It was a time when Americans starved to death in their homes and unemployment figures skyrocketed to around one quarter of the population.”13 The proliferation of the American Public Library in what Seavey described as the “teeth of the Great Depression,” demonstrated the importance of the institution here in America.14
A LIBRARY IS BORN IN ALIQUIPPA’S STEEL TOWN
Aliquippa’s public library story was painted in the national pattern, especially for small, northern industrial towns, but was also brush stroked with individuality in architecture and planning that would make it remarkable both in its time and today. Both “ladies of the club” and a wealthy benefactress had a part in creating the B. F. Jones Memorial Library, a facility that would be touted in national magazines and draw 9,000 people to the mill town streets for its opening in 1929.15
Figure 1: Postcard B.F. Jones Memorial Library. Used by permission, Mark Delvecchio Private Collection.
However, the opulent B.F. Jones Memorial Library was not the first effort at forming a library in the industrial river town, today called Aliquippa (and known as Woodlawn until 1928). In 1921, through the work of the Woman’s Club of Woodlawn and a house-to house canvass collecting $2,791 and change in donations, the first town library was born.16 The Woodlawn Woman’s Club’s stated mission was to be ‘both civic and literary.” The library was the club’s literary effort; a well-baby clinic and Christmas for the poor in the mill town were the primary civic missions of the 29 members.17
The public library opened in a room in the town’s municipal building, atop the fire department. It was so well-received with its donated, borrowed, and bought texts, including some in Polish, Italian, and Hungarian for the vale’s large immigrant population, the library expanded to two rooms within two months.18 The borough provided utilities, furniture, and janitorial services. The council was asked by the club for more support. They committed to an annual contribution in 1921 and the council still appropriates an amount of support to this day.19
By 1926, the library had outgrown the stacks and charge desk in the borough space too. The ladies of the club began sleuthing out a new home.20 The Woman’s Club members were considering a project remodeling a house on Franklin Avenue in town, owned by the Woodlawn Land Company, a Jones and Laughlin subsidiary. Mill Officer William Moreland heard about the quest. Moreland had an idea. He asked Tom Girdler, mill superintendent, for a week to look for a benefactor to build a new library for Aliquippa.21
Moreland was the long-time private secretary of the by-then deceased B.F. Jones, co-founder of Jones and Laughlin and nationally-known industrialist. From his secretarial duties, Moreland had risen to vice-president in the business that shipped its steel on the rails along and on the rushing current of the Ohio to all corners of the earth.22 Besides his mill duties, Moreland had become a liaison between the Jones family—or merely “the family” as many called the Joneses—and the company and others.23 Moreland promptly wrote to Elisabeth Horne, one of the founder’s daughters, about the town library’s dilemma.24 Horne replied that she would be interested in exploring the need and planned a trip to Aliquippa.25
A part-time resident of Sewickley Heights in nearby Allegheny County, Horne made a visit to her family’s and Aliquippa’s steel kingdom, a town hemmed by the river and the sentinel-like Pennsylvania hills.26 At this juncture in 1926, Horne’s brother, B.F. Jones Jr. was manning the company helm (he would pass away in 1928 before the library opened).27
On the visit, Librarian Susan Himmelwright explained to Horne that the current library could no longer accommodate the needs of the community, which was home to 27,000 people, mostly mill families and a large immigrant population.28 Escorted on her walk-about by a cadre of Moreland, B.F. Jones III, F.E. Fieger, Granville Lewis and Architect Brandon Smith, Horne was captivated by the idea of a memorial for her father and a gift to the town that his vision built. That day, Horne informed Himmelwright of her intentions.29 The wheels of a many-car locomotive began churning. With her deep Jones and Laughlin Company ties, Horne had access to experts in finance, business, planning, and law. Research was gathered about building a public library. It was to be a building of cost and culture, perhaps beyond the imagination of many of those sharing rooming houses in the Aliquippa mill’s residential plans and those who came to the library to find texts in their native tongue and translations to their new one.
Horne’s father’s right hand man, Moreland, would become Horne’s own point man for the library project. On Nov. 5, 1926, representatives of Elisabeth Horne were present at an informal meeting of the Borough Council.30 The announcement was that the Mrs. Horne wished to gift the town with a library. The building was to be located on the town’s main street, Franklin Avenue, and cost projections were $200,000. (This amount would more than double by the time the library checked its first book out to a patron).31 The proposal stated the library would be deeded to the borough without condition except as to maintenance. Representatives to the agog council were told the library would hold 25,000 to 40,000 volumes when completed, separate rooms for adults and children, and that plans were to make the library “one of the most beautiful and complete buildings of its size in the country.”32
In a letter to the burgess and members of Woodlawn council dated Nov. 9, 1926, written from Pittsburgh, PA, Horne followed with a formal offer stating she was interested in “the general progress and advancement” of the Borough of Woodlawn and that the current library was inadequate for the usage, “garnering more usage than libraries of its size throughout the state.”33
Horne offered that it would be a personal privilege to purchase a plot of ground on Franklin Avenue and, erect a library building (she supplied a detailed plan and Architect Brandon Smith’s watercolor of the proposed building with the offer letter) subject to minor alterations needed upon construction.34 Upon completion, the deed would then be conferred to the Borough of Woodlawn as a free gift. The conditions were the property would be known as the B.F. Jones Memorial Library of Woodlawn in perpetuity. The library was to be a free, public and non-sectarian library.35
The letter also delineated the library’s administration for operation. It is evident that the mill administration would be involved, as it was in almost all aspects of the town living at this time period. A memo with the first suggested board would be issued from company headquarters.36 According to Horne’s provisions, the library and property were to be administered by a nine member board, one to be appointed by the mill president, two council members including the president of council and other member chosen by council, two school district representatives including the superintendent of schools, president of the women’s club and three residents at large appointed by the board members. Addendums were even made for board vacancies. Codicils for mill ownership transfers and Jones family retraction from the company were covered in her offer. Without mill advisement, Horne would be the assignee or in the case of her death, other B.F. Jones offspring and, at their absence, the closest kin. Horne’s detailed offer was not out of character. Horne and entourage demonstrated such attention to detail and planning throughout the next three years of the library project.37
On Nov. 15, 1926, Ordinance 301 of Woodlawn Borough, formally accepted Horne’s offer of a public library.38 (On Jan. 26, 1928, Ordinance 365, again accepted the offer _ the library was already in progress _ with identical terms except for term change of B.F. Jones Memorial Library of Aliquippa because of the town’s name change from Woodlawn.39 )
The B.F. Jones Memorial Library was coming to Aliquippa.
SNAPSHOT OF THE TOWN
To understand the impact a library could make to the town of Woodlawn and later Aliquippa, it is imperative to look at the town’s history, progress and composition. About 19 miles north of Pittsburgh, Woodlawn’s early history dates back to pre-Revolutionary times. The fertile river bottom land area was at the convergence of Shawnee, Iroquois and Delaware country and was used for trade purposes. The name Aliquippa, which became the official town moniker during the library’s erection and stands today, is derived from an Iroquois queen of that name whose name also christened the town rail station.40. The area has the claim of visits by LaSalle in 1659, frontiersman Christopher Gist and a twenty-year-old George Washington. Development was slow for the area in the frontier years. Until the Pittsburgh and Lake Erie Railroad built a station in 1877, the area remained primarily farm land, much of it owned by John MacDonald and his sons.41 The rail company leased a woodland area between the railroad and river and named it Aliquippa Park, an amusement park of “rollercoasters, razzle dazzle shows and other concessionaires and a bathing beach.”42 The whistle stop park flourished for 25 years but with little settlement growth. The town’s true boom didn’t come until after 1905.
In 1905, the steel industry came to town as Jones and Laughlin purchased the McDonald Tract and several other farms on the river plain beneath the surrounding rolling hills. Here, Jones and Laughlin would build a steel mill that in decades later would extend to more than six-miles, 700 acres of factory and employee 11,000 workers.43 Two years after Jones and Laughlin came to town, the borough would be organized on Dec. 5 1907.44 In the following two decades, the population would explode; street cars, busy stores, restaurants and taverns would grow as jobs and steel production rose like the smoke that permanently billowed and huffed over the town. In 1929, Jones and Laughlin profits would reach 20.8 million as the Depression hit $18 million of deficits would accumulate.45
By the 1930 census, right after the library’s opening, the town snapshot showed a total population of 27,116 including 15, 241 males and 11,875 females, 24,716 whites and 2562 negroes. Of the over 27, 000 residents, nearly 20,000 were immigrants or had immigrant parents.46 During this time period, nearly every worker in the town worked in steel, a Jones and Laughlin-owned business or organization, or a service that catered to the workers like the Greek restaurants or taverns along Franklin Avenue and neighborhood streets.47 Aliquippa was not the only local town with a bloodline of molten steel. More than 40 percent of Beaver County’s total population was employed in the steel industry.48
Families were growing in Aliquippa when Horne came to visit. In the decade from school year 1919-1920 to school year 1928-1929, student enrollment rose in Aliquippa from 2,292 students to 6,611.49 In addition, night school for the large foreign-speaking population was a need. In 1923, 196 men and women attended the Americanization night schools at the Logstown school and 68 at the Jones school.50
Figure 2: Aliquippa, Pa. Used by permission, Don Inman Collection, Beaver County Industrial Museum.
Mill Superintendent Tom Girdler in his autobiography, Bootstraps describes the town in the decade surrounding the library’s building: “There were thirteen major groups. The Italians had their hill; the Serbs, another. There were many Slavic people. There were many Negroes.”51 Girdler relayed a conversation with William Latimer Jones at the time of his hiring. W.L. was the nephew of B.F. Jones and an officer for Jones and Laughlin.52 A quiet, soft-spoken man, according to Girdler, they discussed the deplorable conditions of many other industrial towns. W.L. Jones said:
Around our Aliquippa Works, we have a blank page. We’ve bought the land. When the plant is fully built the men who work there will constitute with their families, the population of a good-sized town. We want to make it the best possible place for a steelworker to raise a family. 53
Figure 3: Postcard of the mill. Used by permission of B.F. Jones Memorial Library.
THE JONES FAMILY FOUNDER AND STEEL IN ALIQUIPPA
William Latimer Jones’ idealistic attitude and the Jones’ family philosophy of civic duty were learned at the knee of founder B.F. Jones. The patriarch offered major support to Pittsburgh hospitals—Allegheny General, Passavant, and Mercy— the arts and education including Boston’s Bibliophile Society, and scientific manufacturing research.54 From the humble roots of a canal clerk, he became the chairman of the National Republican Party twice, met with presidents, and was the president of the National Steel Association for 18 years.55
Such civic obligation, in addition to daughterly admiration, may have induced Elisabeth Horne to build a library in memory of her father and gift the town.56 The Joneses traditionally “had feelings for the people” and were open to company funds improving the community from building pools to helping the local Boy Scouts troop.57
B.F. Jones is credited with unveiling the sliding pay scale in Pittsburgh industry. His steel companies while not a stranger to labor unrest were managed without the tragedies of Carnegie’s Homestead-Pinkerton clash.58 Jones was said to know the names of his workers and their family members’ names; when one of the workers bedecked smokestacks at his mill with a royal-appearing crest, Jones ordered the insignia altered to hats. He was a purveyor of democracy and as one business acquaintance of 60 years called Jones: “kindness personified.”59
Jones himself would not live to see the Aliquippa Works emerge from the riverbank (he died three years earlier) but it was his vision of a large site where easy river access was available, in addition to rail, which brought steel to Aliquippa.60 Of Welsh, English, and Scots stock and Presbyterian, Jones was a devoted husband to Mary McMasters, their children, siblings, and nephews and other family members.61
His governance was viewed as paternalistic, most likely as in a kind but just father but the steel mill’s role gathered a more dictatorial side as the years progressed and the founder’s rule faded. The company owned the mercantile, the land, the banks, influenced politics and news, laid out the town’s housing plans and sold the homes. “But, paternalistic, as it undoubtedly was, when I recall how well we realized the vision of The Family, I am proud to have a part in the making of Aliquippa.62 A new American town was born and it was a good town, although born out of a boom.”63
As the library building was coming to fruition, the Jones family, due to the aging of family members and none to take the reins, was losing its operational role but not its financial role at Jones and Laughlin, especially with the death of Benjamin Franklin Jones Jr., in 1928. Rumblings of dissent and unionization were roiling at the furnaces. The town was referred to as “Little Siberia;” not Girdler’s utopian steel town, for the company’s control and the large eastern European population who had witnessed repression before.64 Pro-union organizers concurred.
Aliquippa is a dark town. Even Bill Foster’s organizers couldn’t get near it back in 1919. Company and city police barred the roads and watched the railroad stations. When strangers couldn’t account for their time, they were hustled to jail overnight and then out of town.65
One of the most vivid historical accounts of mill life from the time period is from the 1922 inside account of Charles Rumford Walker, a World War I vet and Yale graduate. In 1919, Walker arrived in Aliquippa, which in his published account he named the fictional town Bouton to protect identities, and went straight to work at Jones and Laughlin to learn out about the steel trade. In later years, Walker admitted his story was about the Aliquippa Works. Walker portrayed the life in the town from getting a job and starting as the lowest worker in the Pit to the relationships between ethnic groups, “the mill Hunkies” to the hell of working the “long turn.” He called the administration at Aliquippa fair for the most part but the long “turns’ and dangers in the mill a challenge.66
This is the town that Elizabeth Horne would tour with William Moreland to decide if Aliquippa needed a library and if the town was the site to memorialize her father. Her gesture of a public library gift was not unusual in an industrial town. Historically, labor had a strong connection with public library history. Workers have long been viewed as the foremost recipient of the benefits of the public library.67 Library development has targeted workers for both educational purposes as well as in the area of “social control.”68 Public libraries have mentored and advocated for organized labor, as well as been sources of worker outreach, programs and joint services. Libraries have focused on laborers as both the individual and the work force. In the early 1900s, the education movement in labor was a focus for libraries which evolved toward union issues.69 It has long been perpetuated that libraries could have an equitable effect on class disparity and act as oil on water by offering literacy and knowledge to cure labor unrest.70 Documentation cannot confirm that this was Horne’s intention—to still ripples of labor—but the gift most probably influenced the climate and the sentimentality between Aliquippa and the Jones family.