A flag-raising and the “B.F. Jones March,” specially written for the occasion and played by the Harding High Marching Band, were part of the ceremony. The headlines of the Aliquippa Gazette front page on February 5, 1929 proclaimed over 9,000 attended the opening events. The opening of the library garnered above-the-fold- coverage and headlines in Pittsburgh Sun Telegraph, Pittsburgh Press, Evening Times, and Aliquippa Gazette as February dawned. Architectural attributes and master art works were main subjects of the newsprint.
Western Pennsylvania readers were not the only ones regaled with the success story of the mill-town library; the opening of the doors of the B.F. Jones Library also earned national press coverage. Library Journal in July 1929 devoted a two-spread article to the library opening authored by Susan Himmelwright.136 The librarian focused on the building’s design and planning but peppered real-life stories of visiting children, one who wondered if the story room chimney was where Santa arrived. The details of the unveiled B.F. Memorial Library were also featured in Carnegie Magazine, which Moreland forwarded to Horne.137 Horne was affronted because her portrait by Hoen was featured without her permission by the Carnegie publication.138
The Quotarian, the national publication of the Quota Club, also published a story about the library scribed by Himmelwright that year. The story included physical description and a peek at library usage: During National Book Week, more than 1200 Aliquippa tykes participated in the Mother Goose story program.139 Company publication for Yawman and Erbe Manufacturing, Library Equipment also featured B.F. Jones on its cover and an inside two page spread announcing that the company products were used at the library and estimating building costs at one half million dollars.140
In 1932, the library again caught the nation’s eye when it was showcased in June 1932 in Architectural Forum. The premise of the story was that libraries should combine the aesthetic and functional. The article featured photos of thirteen national libraries besides B. F. Jones Memorial Library including: the Folger Shakespeare Library, Haishe Memorial Library, San Pedro Park Branch Library, Alexander Sanger Branch Library, Greenwich Public Library, Richmond Public Library, West Toledo Branch Library, Winchester Public Library, Dunbar Branch Library, Palos Verdes Public Library, and Bexley Public Library.141
THE LIBRARY TODAY
Following much of the hoopla of the library opening, Moreland expressed that he was instituting a hands-off approach with the library to give Himmelwright and the staff the freedom to run the library as it should be.142 That has been happening for 80 years. Today, a mill worker from the 1930s may look at the exterior of B.F. Jones Memorial Library and think that little changed in those decades. Patrons still go in and out of the brass doors on a daily basis. Children attend several storytime activities each week.
But a glance down the Franklin Avenue to the Wye near the plant tunnel reveals the town has undergone vast change to include empty storefronts, abandoned buildings and empty lots. Girls in the Aliquippa schoolyard no longer avoid mill dust. Smoke does not billow. Stacks and mill buildings are gone. A barren moonscape—interrupted by a new jail and drywall plant—stand where thousands came, tin lunch pails in hand, to work the long turn.
In a stroke of what could be labeled prophecy, William D. Evans, counsel for Jones and Laughlin steel, addressed the opening ceremonies of the B.F. Jones Library,
that long, long after these great mills and factories are stilled and abandoned, even long after this beautiful structure has crumbled and passed away, the priceless treasure which it contains will live on, because they are the embodiment of everlasting truth. 143
The stilled mills came sooner than everyone in Aliquippa hoped. In 1984, the Jones and Laughlin name ended with a merger of LTV Steel. That business would enter receivership in 1986.144 The town of 27,000 is now 11,000. Foreign born residents amount to only 342; about 881 speak a language other than in the home.145
Inside, the library, though, the works of Bach, Hoen, Hunt, Chartran, and countless stone and plaster artisans still awe the patrons. Horne’s oil overlooks the Young Adult area; Oscar Bach’s gates open to a computer kiosk.146 A recent flood has changed the basement, a brightly lit children’s area has emerged, splashed in color. One must wonder what Nora Thorpe would add from her palette. Foyer and fountain are now preschool area and the lecture room is a children’s library.
The library serves as a district headquarters. On the library home page, library employee Cindy Murphy has scribed in a Historic Images project.
The collapse of the American steel industry has changed the face of this area. Most of the Aliquippa Works has now been torn down and the Aliquippa area, like many other American rust-belt towns and cities, continues to struggle for a new identity. Yet, there remains a great sense of pride and historical interest by the area residents.147
Like Himmelwright, Murphy and her co-workers believe the B.F. Jones Memorial Library is part of that pride as well as part of the hope for the town’s future.
This analysis of the establishment of the B. F. Jones Memorial Library in Aliquippa is a window to a small town library’s history, architecture, philanthropy, and industrial heritage as the 1920s came to a close. Philanthropy made resources available that town coffers were not capable of funding, especially when financial disaster loomed. A library’s history is often woven closely with the town’s history. A library gave dreams to girls in the school yard and veterans of the tin mill. Labor and public libraries are bound with ties. Architectural treasures and priceless art works are tucked in the libraries of small villages and vales across the land if one cares to look.
The archives at B.F. Jones Memorial Library still hold much of the town’s story and the steel industry’s story to be examined. More than 400 letters from B.F. Jones final years, telegrams from the White House, a local history photo collection and oral town history await exploration.
In a history of the Erie Public library, Adam Blahut quoted Peter Dobkin Hall’s sentiment that the more fundamental an institution is to a town, the less likely society is to examine it.148 Change is long overdue for library history. The author hopes this Ohio River steel-town’s library story will stoke the furnace of further historical analysis of this library and other village library stories and, especially, the treasures within their walls.
Table 1: Financial Statement of Library Expenditures149________________________________________
Service Company Disbursement
General Building Contract A&S Wilson Company $299,072.23
Architect's Commission Brandon Smith $21,076.95
Furniture and Equipment Remington Rand *
Furniture and Equipment Yawman and Erbe Manufacturing *
Furniture and Equipment Art Metal Construction Company $15,725.93 * combined
Decorating Interior Joseph Horne Company *
Decorating Interior Norah Thorpe Advisory $10,968.79 * combined Wrought Iron Screens Oscar Bach $6,750
Lighting Fixtures Beaux Arts $5,620
Shrubbery Ezra Stiles $1,048.63
Wrought Iron Fence Moore Metal Manufacturing $680
Leaded Glass Window Henry Hunt $620.00
Marble Benches C. Francini $605
Miscellaneous heating, lighting, janitor $537.47
Watch for Maitland Wilson Hardy and Hays $204
Electrical Work W.P.Klein $203.00
Marble Discs Wall Medallions Iron City Marble $147.60
Dedication expenses Invitations, Decorations $141.70
Chelsea Clock Hardy and Hays Company $135
Toys for Children's Room Kaufmann's $113.15
Water Meter Woodlawn Water Company $80
Electric Light Bulbs Jones and Laughlin Steel $73.57
Portrait handling J.J. Gillespie Company $47.75
Waxing linoleum C.B. Townsend $33.16
U.S. Flag A. Mamaux & Son $20.00
Total $379,418.09 150
Table 2: Statistics of 100 Libraries, compiled by S.E. Weber, Charleston, WV; used by William Moreland.
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