History of the Public Library of Steubenville and Jefferson County, Ohio

By Alan Hall, Director Emeritus

Library service began in Jefferson County, Ohio in 1815 with the establishment of the Steubenville Library Company in Michael Johnston’s Drug Store on 3rd Street.  The subscription library was open one day per month to those purchasing memberships.

In 1830, a young Edwin M. Stanton opened a circulating library in his home while serving an apprenticeship at the Turnbull Bookstore.  Books were loaned for 10 cents per volume.

The City Library Association was formed in 1845 with 450 volumes and continued until it closed in 1857.  Without continued funding and supervision, early subscription libraries came and went and interest waned.

The books from the Association were moved and added to the books of the school system and housed in the Scott Building on 4th Street until the Odd Fellows Building was opened, and the library collection was moved there.

All of the collections were moved to the New City Hall at 3rd & Market Streets when it opened in 1884 in an upstairs room, then boxed for future use elsewhere.

Rev. Dr. A.M. Reid, the Superintendent of the Steubenville Female Seminary which operated from 1829-1899 and educated thousands of women over those years, write a letter to Mr. Andrew Carnegie regarding funding of a public library for Steubenville.

On June 30, 1899, a letter was received from Carnegie’s Skibo Castle in Scotland recounting the two weeks that a young Carnegie spent in Steubenville in 1850 learning to run the telegraph.  He also pledged $ 50,000 for a new public library if the town of Steubenville would provide the site and $ 4,000 per year for operations.  Steubenville therefore became the first Ohio library to be funded by Carnegie, joined by East Liverpool and Sandusky.

The Pittsburgh architectural firm of Alden & Harlow was hired, and construction began on the site of the Estate of Joseph Sarratt at 4th & Slack Streets.  Carnegie donated an additional $ 12,000 and the new Victorian-Romanesque building opened March 12, 1902.  The design was similar to the Oakmont (PA) Library under design at the same time, and the building draws some design features from the 1888 Cambridge (MA) City Hall, also designed by Frank Alden.

Officially called the Carnegie Library of Steubenville, the building was a success but by the 1920s all Ohio libraries were having operational issues due to a lack of operating funds.  In 1933, the new Intangibles Tax for public libraries in Ohio was approved and the State Library of Ohio studied library services to expand the availability to all Ohio citizens.

On January 1, 1936, the library was expanded to the Carnegie Library of Steubenville and Jefferson County, with WPA fund used to establish countywide service through the use of branch libraries and Bookmobile Service.

The Main Library was renovated with expansions constructed in 1948, 1952, and 1963 as services were provided countywide.  In 1956, the original clay tile roof on the Main Library was replaced with a slate roof, and the deteriorated top-of-the-tower was removed.

In 1962, the name “Carnegie” was changed to Public Library of Steubenville and Jefferson County to recognize that tax monies were supporting the library system.

In 1987, the library system utilized Federal LSCA funds, donations, and a capital account to construct the Schiappa Branch Library.  In 1990, additional Federal LSCA funds were used to construct a new Toronto Branch Library.  A new building was constructed for the Dillonvale-Mt. Pleasant Branch Library, and renovations were performed at the branch libraries in Adena, Tiltonsville, and Brilliant in the following years.

A capital improvement fund was established to renovate the Carnegie Main Library to make the facility ADA-Compliant (Americans With a Disability Act) as it was the last Ohio public library to be inaccessible.  In 2014 the architectural firm of Valentour, English, Bodnar & Howell of Pittsburgh was contracted to review the building and determine options to make it accessible to all.

Construction began on the $ 4.0 million project in 2017 with the Main Library closed for 18 months as the garage and annex were demolished and a new addition compliant to regulations of the National Register of Historic Places were followed in designing a new addition with a new entrance onto Slack Street.  A community meeting room, new reference and computer room, a new Bookmobile service area and garage, and new children’s library were added with a 2-story atrium connecting the 1902 Carnegie building to the new building.  The book stacks and audio-visual area were returned to the main floor of the Carnegie building with its restored marble floors.  Administrative offices for the library system, and work areas for technical services for the system were located in the renovated lower level of the Carnegie building.

The State of Ohio repealed the Intangibles Tax in 1985, replacing it with the Public Library Fund which receives a percentage of the state general revenue fund, to fund the 251 Public Library Districts in Ohio.  In 2010, the residents of Jefferson County supplemented the reduced state fund with a 1 mill local levy to fund operations of the Main Library, 6 Branches, and Bookmobile.