January 16, 2019

Peer Back in Time With These Magical Photos of the ‘Old Main’ Library of Cincinnati

Cincinnati's "Old Main" was once considered to be one of the most magnificent public library buildings in the country. Spiral staircases weaved between five levels of towering bookshelves. When patrons entered, they were greeted by busts of William Shakespeare, John Milton and Benjamin Franklin. Marbled, checkerboard floors lined the space and slants of light poured in from skylights in the roof. Located downtown at 629 Vine St., the building — which was designed by architect J.W. McLaughlin — was completed in 1874 and originally meant to serve as an opera house. “The main hall is a splendid work," The Cincinnati Enquirer reported at the opening. “The hollow square within the columns is lighted by an arched clear roof of prismatic glass set in iron, the light of which is broken and softened by a paneled ceiling of richly-colored glass. One is impressed not only with the magnitude and beauty of the interior but with its adaptation to the purpose it is to serve." The historical images of the library's past are magical — it's the kind of space in which you could imagine Matilda wandering or Hogwarts' students studying feverishly. Despite its beauty, it was demolished in 1955. An Enquirer clipping from May 4 that year reported that "the old Public Library Building, constructed originally as an opera house, is fast disappearing under demolition by the Cleveland Wrecking Co. at its long-occupied spot on Vine Street adjoining The Enquirer Building." Its reason for demolition was simple: The library had outgrown its space and was starting to show wear. The archival clipping was joined by a photo taken of the rear of the library's building being torn down. Now, a parking garage occupies the space. The new Main Branch of the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County is situated nearby on Eighth and Vine streets, designed by architect Woodie Garber. One prominent element was carried over, according to the library's website: the skylight and atrium ceiling. The aforementioned trio of busts still reside in the Main Branch's garden.  
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A visitor retrieving a book at the Old Main Library
Photo: Courtesy of The Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County Digital Archives
A visitor retrieving a book at the Old Main Library
Photo: Courtesy of The Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County Digital Archives
Looking down at the Main Hall, which housed over 200,000 books
Photo: Courtesy of The Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County Digital Archives
Looking down at the Main Hall, which housed over 200,000 books
Photo: Courtesy of The Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County Digital Archives
Kids using the stereopticon slides in the Children's Room at "Old Main," which was a popular form of entertainment and education before the introduction of moving pictures. 
Photo: Courtesy of The Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County Digital Archives
Kids using the stereopticon slides in the Children's Room at "Old Main," which was a popular form of entertainment and education before the introduction of moving pictures.
Photo: Courtesy of The Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County Digital Archives
More kids using the stereopticon, which is a slide projector also known as a "magic lantern." The device is made up of two lenses, typically one layered over the other.
Photo: Courtesy of The Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County Digital Archives
More kids using the stereopticon, which is a slide projector also known as a "magic lantern." The device is made up of two lenses, typically one layered over the other.
Photo: Courtesy of The Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County Digital Archives
The street the Old Main library was built on in the late 19th century. The original building was completed in 1874 by architect J.W. McLaughlin. 
Photo: Courtesy of The Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County Digital Archives
The street the Old Main library was built on in the late 19th century. The original building was completed in 1874 by architect J.W. McLaughlin.
Photo: Courtesy of The Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County Digital Archives
A patron looking through the fiction section
Photo: Courtesy of The Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County Digital Archives
A patron looking through the fiction section
Photo: Courtesy of The Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County Digital Archives
The library's first Children's Room opened in 1900 in the "Old Main." The following year, the first story hour was held. 
Photo: Courtesy of The Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County Digital Archives
The library's first Children's Room opened in 1900 in the "Old Main." The following year, the first story hour was held.
Photo: Courtesy of The Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County Digital Archives
A boy visits the Children's Room, photo dated 1923
Photo: Courtesy of The Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County Digital Archives
A boy visits the Children's Room, photo dated 1923
Photo: Courtesy of The Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County Digital Archives
"Sixty years ago, 'charging' a book out of the 'Old Main' required an elaborate ballet at the Circulation Desk of rubber stamps, three different cards, and various penciled notations." — John Fleischman, Free & Public: One Hundred and Fifty Years at the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County 1853-2003.
Photo: Courtesy of The Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County Digital Archives
"Sixty years ago, 'charging' a book out of the 'Old Main' required an elaborate ballet at the Circulation Desk of rubber stamps, three different cards, and various penciled notations." — John Fleischman, Free & Public: One Hundred and Fifty Years at the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County 1853-2003.
Photo: Courtesy of The Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County Digital Archives
This image looks toward the front entrance of the "Old Main."
Photo: Courtesy of The Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County Digital Archives
This image looks toward the front entrance of the "Old Main."
Photo: Courtesy of The Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County Digital Archives