Paulding County Bicentennial Committee Part 2 of 2

PAULDING – In the early 1900s the movement to educate and enlighten agricultural communities in the Midwest was largely led by women’s groups. Clubs like the Ladies Literary Society in Paulding started fledgling libraries in their towns, and then beat the drum to establish more permanent buildings.

By 1911, Paulding’s library, which was located on the second floor of a Main Street building, had acquired 800 volumes and outgrown its space. The monumental task of securing funding for a new library building commenced. Ohio State Library organizer Mary Downey visited Paulding on January 6 and 7, 1912. Wielding a map of Ohio, Downey pointed out that Paulding was one of only 13 counties in the state without a publicly funded library. She pitched the idea that Paulding should approach steel magnate Andrew Carnegie – who had established a program to fund public library buildings throughout the United States – to grant the money to construct a library that would serve the whole county.

The Paulding Public Library Association would soon learn that the concept of establishing a county library would be a hard sell with Carnegie.

Ida Edge, former schoolteacher and president of the Paulding Public Library Association, and Charles H. Allen, president of the Paulding National Bank and member of the library association, spearheaded the correspondence with the Carnegie corporation beginning within days of Downey’s visit.

In the initial letter to Carnegie signed by Edge and Allen – as well as William Wheeler, J.W. Neeley, Sophia Eichling, Blanche Staley, A.R. Geyer, W.N. Shaffer, J.R. Ross, N.R. Webster, J.A. Mohr and John S. Snook – Edge painted Paulding County in a positive light, touting four first-class high schools, more than 700 miles of piked roads, and land valuations ranging from $80 to $225 per acre.

Edge named the German American Sugar Company as a large area employer, and mentioned the $20,000 armory then under construction in downtown Paulding. “The business buildings, all brick and stone, two and three stories, are in proper comparison,” Edge wrote.

Each of the signers of that first letter identified as “taxpayer” or “heavy taxpayer” after his or her name. Clearly, the library association had been educated about one of Carnegie’s stipulations before granting money to build a library in a community. He insisted that officials provide for ongoing library maintenance by levying an annual tax equal to at least ten percent of the cost of the library building. This revolutionary concept ensured that communities had a civic stake in the success of their libraries and established the duty of local governments to support public works projects.

Subsequent correspondence with the Carnegie foundation proceeded briskly in 1912, with nine exchanges in the month of February alone between the Paulding people and James Bertram, Carnegie’s personal secretary who had been in charge of the day-to-day operations of the library program since 1898. Carnegie, of course, had the final say.

Bertram requested that the Paulding Public Library Association provide population and real estate value statistics for the county and individual towns within it. He wanted numbers from the 1910 federal census only, having learned that some communities had inflated their population figures knowing that he loosely calculated grants at $2 to $3 per resident.

In answer, Edge broke down the census numbers by villages and townships, and reported that Paulding County’s total 1910 population was 22,730. However, she added, “By comparison of School census, and votes cast in the several precincts for the past decade, the present population of Paulding County exceeds 28,000.”

Bertram asked for clarification about whether the population figure that Edge had provided included all of the towns within the county or if that number represented additional citizens.

It did include the total population, Edge explained. “However, those who have informed themselves, insist that the Federal census of 1910 is not correct, or does not even approach the correct population, and basing calculations on school enumeration and the votes cast in the 35 voting precincts of the county, for the past decade, this county now numbers over 28,000 population.”

In the meantime, Charles Allen sent letters to Carnegie’s library program separately from Edge to pitch for the all county library idea on the basis that young farmers needed to be educated on the latest farming techniques through materials that a public library would provide in order to meet the growing demands for food in cities.

Allen also cited the example of a successful county library in nearby Van Wert. He explained that the Brumback Library had been built with a grant from the estate of a Van Wert businessman who wished to provide for a library that would serve that entire county. After that donation, legislation was passed in the state to pave the way for officials to accept donations for a county library and to levy taxes to pay for its upkeep, Allen noted.

Bertram was having none of it.

In a strongly worded letter dated February 12, 1912, he informed Mrs. Edge that erecting a library for the entire county was “impracticable” because other communities within the county would soon want their own library buildings. “Mr. Carnegie can only consider incorporated communities of a size and with resources sufficient to carry on a Library from the proceeds of a tax levied for the purpose.”

He further stated that in all of the county, only the village of Paulding, with a population of 2,081, would qualify for a Carnegie library grant, and that the only other option would be if a village joined with its township.

Two days later, Edge penned her response, emphatically stating that Paulding would like to proceed under the county organization, “which will not only give ample funds for a complete library but insure its permanency for all time.” She cited the specific Ohio Revised Code that made accepting gifts for a county library possible.

Edge further explained how a county library operated through a “circulating department” with branch stations throughout a county, “thereby placing in the hands of every citizen of the whole county hundreds of books each year. No buildings are needed or used in any part of the county, aside from the one county library building.

“In consideration and comparison of the taxable valuation of the county, with that of any township or municipality of this county, and the low rate necessary in the county to establish and maintain a county library, seems so far more practical and efficient that we shall be glad to use every effort to establish a county library, rather than that of a smaller political division.

“Such, we think, would far better serve the educational purpose for which intended, be a greater uplift to each individual citizen of the county, be wider in its scope of common education, and be a greater monument to your honorable self in the generous and philanthropic work you are doing for common humanity.”

A month passed after Edge sent that letter, and the Paulding Public Library Association still had not heard back from the Carnegie Corporation. After the flurry of exchanges that had taken place in February, all hope that a county library would be funded in Paulding must have felt lost.

On March 12, 1912, Mrs. Edge followed her unanswered letter with a note almost apologetic in tone: “....referring to your kind letter....we are still hoping that nothing has been done on our part or actions taken that has placed us in such a position that your further consideration to our petitions will be withdrawn....we fully realize that it is wholly your own wishes in this matter which must control....should your honorable sir see proper to grant the gift of a building to the city, in preference to the ‘county plan’....thanking you kindly for the consideration extended, and that we may be the happy possessors of a part of your splendid benefactions for the common good of our people....”

Two more months – what must have felt like another eternity – passed before Bertram replied. In a letter dated May 7, 1912, he informed Edge that if Carnegie was to consider the question of locating a library in Paulding to serve the entire county by delivery stations, all future correspondence had to come through county authorities “who look after the interests of and are responsible to all the population of the county; not from a resident or residents of Paulding, quite naturally, and perhaps unconsciously, considering the aggrandizement of the county seat.”

Within days, Edge forwarded a formal application signed by Paulding County Commissioners A.E. Blakeslee, S.O. Jackson and J.L. McClure “for the gift of sufficient funds with which to erect a County Public Library Building, adequate for the needs, use and benefit of all the citizens of Paulding County, Ohio.”

Two months later, on July 15, 1912, the long awaited response from the Carnegie Corporation of New York came: If the county passed a resolution to maintain a free public library at a cost of no less than $4,000 annually, the Carnegie Corporation would give $40,000 to erect a library for Paulding County.

True to Bertram’s formula, Carnegie had granted slightly over $2 per resident in Paulding County to build its library, and Paulding County’s claim to be the first Carnegie-funded library to serve an entire county was staked.

More information on the bicentennial can be found on Facebook at www.facebook.com/PauldingCounty200.