The Marietta Public Library
Marietta and Washington County have had a long history of public library service. In 1796, the private library of Colonel Israel Putnam became what is considered to be the first public library in the Northwest Territory. Records show that shares in the Putnam Family Library were sold as early as 1796. This goes before the organization of the more famous “Coonskin Library” in Amesville by six years. The Putnam Family Library later became known as the Belpre Farmer’s Library. In February of 1830, the name was changed to Marietta Library, and it is now a Washington County Public Library.
Backstory and Context
The first library building was erected on Front Street on the present site of the Masonic Temple Building. It was a two-story building; the upper floor had a speaker’s platform and seats while the lower floor was reserved for the library and offices. A lyceum, an association for discussion by lectures, was formed in 1831. It continued to operate for ten years and was then replaced by a similar organization that sponsored lectures by college faculty. The Library Hall was the site of many meetings over the years, including the Anti-Slavery Society in 1835 and the Marietta City Council which met in the hall until 1870.
During the Civil War, people became less interested in the library. They were distracted by the difficult times in which they lived, preferring to read newspapers about recent happenings rather than fiction or histories. Cheap literature available at newsstands also contributed to a decline in library use, particularly among the young. Then, the generous founders of the library died, and income decreased. According to the Journal of A. T. Nye, 2nd, the Marietta Library closed by an order of the shareholders on January 30, 1883. The books were placed in a private attorney’s office and then in storage. In 1889, Library Hall was leased to the Woman’s Centennial Association. They used the hall as an assembly room until the building was sold to the Masonic Building Company in 1907.
On November 16, 1897, the Marietta Library was reorganized as the Marietta Library Association. On March 6th, 1901, a Code of Regulations was adopted, and a Board of Trustees were then appointed. They collected $2,700 to purchase books for the library. The new library opened on May 1st, 1901. In June, Willia D. Cotton was selected as the permanent librarian after the library was moved to the new high school building on Scammel Street. By that time, the library received many books from the old Library Association in 1907. The two collections were particularly rich in history and biographies.
In 1912, the Marietta City Board of Education informed the Library that it would have to move to a different location because of the size of the high school. The trustees purchased an option on a property at Fourth and Putnam Street that fall, but the lot was covered in water due to a flood in 1913. The library trustees then chose an elevated site called Capitolium near Fifth and Washington Streets. The city of Marietta gave the property to the Library Association on May 20th, 1915 to construct a free public library. It was set aside by the Ohio Land Company in January of 1796 for public buildings. Andrew Carnegie pledged $30,000 for library construction while the city provided the lot and monies for operation. Public donations yielded $4,000. Construction began during the summer of 1916 and was completed in 1918. Today, the 615 Fifth Street location serves as the main library for the Washington County Public Library System.
The library sits on a temple mound called the Capitolium. It is eight feet high, fifty feet long and twenty feet wide. When excavating, no bones were found to indicate that it was a burial place. Capitolium also was part of the earthworks systems that also include Quadranaou at Sacra Via.
Andrews, Israel Ward. Washington County and the Early Settlement of Ohio. Marietta, Ohio. Peter G. Thomson, 1877.
Adams, Jann Kuehn. Behind the Doors of Historic Marietta. Marietta, Ohio. Jann Kuehn Adams, 2011.