By: Martin L. Haffey, Director
"Awesome" is the most common word coming from first time visitors as they look at the ceiling of the Norwalk Public Library's main reading room. They are viewing the large oval rotunda with green stained glass on the first floor. The library still retains many of its classical features today as it did May 10, 1905. Library service has changed, however, from just books to information in many formats. This grand old building has adapted well to the computer age.
According to Mary Ellen Armentrout's book, Carnegie Libraries of Ohio: Our Cultural Heritage, "Norwalk is one of four operating Carnegie libraries having a skylight, dome and central rotunda in Ohio." Originally, the dome provided natural light for the stained glass ceiling until the 1950s when the trustees decided to seal the dome from bugs, birds and rain using concealed electrical lights to brighten the skylight. The dome was relined and covered with copper in 1983.
The Firelands Memorial Building (present library), like the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh in Oakland, housed a library, museum and lecture hall in the early days. Norwalk's civic leaders requested a grant in 1902 from Andrew Carnegie. The philanthropist’s secretary approved $15,000 for the building in 1903. Local funding of $10,000 came from the following three groups: the Young Men's Library and Reading Room Association, the Whittlesey Academy and the Firelands Historical Society. The City Council of Norwalk pledged $5,000 a year for the librarian's salary, materials, maintenance and utilities. Total building costs were $28,440.50 including $5,000 for the property.
Frank Packard, a Columbus architect, selected the Hahne Brothers of Dayton to design and execute much of the wall and ceiling ornamentation in the Renaissance style as well as the extensive wood work in cathedral oak in 1904.The interior remained the same until librarian Frances Edwards got a three mill levy passed in 1949 for $50,000 to renovate the facility with modern lighting, lounge furniture, natural birch registration desk and bookcases. The museum moved out of the basement to the house next door in 1957 creating an opportunity for an expanded children’s library which opened in 1964.
As a result of levy funds in 1982, the library hired the firm of Koster and Holtzheimer of Cleveland to undertake a $750,000 renovation and addition project which included a new children's room, two solariums, a mezzanine, an elevator, restrooms, new HVAC, office area, and an interior restoration of the main reading room in the style of the 1905 origins.
Although Carnegie libraries were built from sandstone or brick, it is the spirit of the librarians, staff, trustees, Friends and community that keeps the legacy of excellence strong in this library. In 2002, the board purchased the Hill's Interiors building adjacent to the library. The board is presently working on a long-range plan to develop the additional 10,000 square feet and renovate the current building for much needed space. In 2007, our voters approved a five year, .55 mill operating levy by 78.4%. We are looking forward to the 105th anniversary next year!