Old Main Public Library, 1874-1955
This early sketch of the historic library appeared in Harpers Bazaar in the late 19th Century.
The historic library included several reading areas, including this incredible space that served as the main reading room.
Street view of the library
The library employed dozens of pages who retrieved books from these multi-story shelves.
Backstory and Context
The Ohio Common Schools Act that was passed in 1853 set aside provisions for funding a public library. The public library would see several temporary homes before the board found a more permanent one. A new spot was located on 629 Vine Street it was a building that was originally designed to be an opera house but ran out of funds before it could be completed. The Library Board purchased the Truman Handy’s Opera House Project for $83,000. The inside had to be revamped and altered but it opened a few years after the board purchased the property in 1874. The library itself was four floors and one of the biggest and most elaborate in the country. The main hall looked more like a cathedral than a library and it opened up to a huge atrium with a skylight that contained five large alcoves of books. It was one of the most extravagant and ornate libraries of its time.
The library was well-maintained and staffed. The entire fourth floor was devoted to a school for training other librarians. Other members of the staff included pages that were in charge of getting the book requested. There was also a special library police who patrolled the library at all times. the library's ornate and expansive reading rooms included works of art among the large and spacious reading desks and shelves of rare books and one-of-a-kind manuscripts.
The library's collection grew each year and by the 1920s, it was clear that more space was needed. In 1944, voters approved a bond measure that would create a new central library. By 1955, all of the old library's 1.25 million volumes had been moved to the new Main Public Library located on the corner of 8th and Vine Streets. In that same year, the historic library was demolished, replaced by a parking garage. Beyond the collection of books and manuscripts, the only remnants of this historic ibrary are a collection of photos, paintings, and the busts of Shakespeare, John Milton, and Benjamin Franklin that were in the entrance of the library.
Suess, Jeff. Charming Old Main Library. Cincinnati Enquirer. March 22, 2014. Accessed April 23, 2017. http://www.cincinnati.com/story/ourhistory/2014/03/02/charming-old-main-library/5949235/.