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Tom Harper: Celebrating renovations to the oldest library in Kansas (Column)

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Note: The Lawrence Times runs opinion columns and letters to the Times written by community members with varying perspectives on local issues. These pieces do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Times staff.

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Members of the Coal Creek Library Board in Vinland recently hosted an open house for community members and donors to celebrate the successful restoration of the nearly 125-year-old library building.

The extensive work on the structure included rebuilding the front porch, lifting the building up, bracing it, repairing wood rot, installing a concrete foundation and then returning the limestone blocks that once supported the building. 

Tom Harper/Lawrence Times

“Each stone was labeled and returned to its original location,” said Ray Wilber, who helped lead the renovation project. “The building now sits about 6 inches higher because it was constructed in a low area where water would pool.” 

When Mom and I pulled up, there were lots of cars on the road and people mingling on the porch, in front of the building and inside the library.

The front door and windows were open, allowing the fresh crisp air to circulate. Everyone was happy to see the library and express gratitude to those who pulled off a successful historic preservation project that will be enjoyed for many years to come. 

Tom Harper/Lawrence Times

A brief history of the library appeared on a bookmark that was given to attendees:

“The Coal Creek Library Association was organized on November 22, 1859, for the moral, social and intellectual improvement of its members. Originally the Library was housed in a local home belonging to the Cutters. In 1875 it moved to the Grange. The building here now was built in May 1900 and is a wood frame single room building with attached porch, typical of a turn of the century Kansas schoolhouse. Coal Creek library is the oldest library in the state of Kansas. It is on the National Register of Historic Places as of 2004.”

Coal Creek Library, c. 1904-1910. and Vinland Presbyterian Church, 1879. (Contributed image)

In addition to Wilber, Cathy Dwigans led the preservation efforts, along with fellow board members Paul Caviness, Ralph Earles, Christy Huntington, Stan Lawson and Mel Verhaeghe.

Walking around the building, I noticed the exterior siding. Initially I thought it was painted brick, but on closer examination I discovered it was painted sheet metal that was pressed to resemble brick. Wilber said the siding was original to the building. 

Tom Harper/Lawrence Times

The front section underneath the porch was in good condition because the porch roof had protected it from the elements, but the other three sides of the building were damaged and needed to be replaced. Fortunately, a company in Nevada, Missouri, W. F. Norman Corp., still manufactures this type of siding. Remarkably, the company still has the metal presses that were used to make the original siding. The siding on the sides and rear of the building are the new “old” siding.

My favorite architectural detail of the building was the windows, specifically the north elevation, where there are five gorgeous one-over-one double hung windows.

Tom Harper/Lawrence Times

According to the building’s historic register nomination, “All of the building’s windows and the door are created by white cast metal lintels consisting of an entablature bracketed by medallion-stamped blocks.”

It was also interesting to visit with Huntington, the building’s librarian, who cataloged its 4,000 books. She said a group of volunteers cleaned each book.

Tom Harper/Lawrence Times Christy Huntington, board member and librarian

Huntington organized the older books, which date back to the early-to-mid-1800s, on a shelf on the south side of the library.

Unfortunately, books cannot be checked out of the library, but the board is working to create a space in a corner of the building where people can sit down and do research. 

The library, which is located at 696 East 1719 Road, will be open to the public from 1 to 4 p.m. on the remaining Sundays in October. Vinland is a bit more than 8 miles from Lawrence, an easy 15-minute drive southeast through some of the prettiest sections of Douglas County. 

The board also is planning a larger celebration next March.

Bravo to everyone involved with this historic preservation project, including many volunteers, donors and the Kansas Historical Society, which provided a grant from the Kansas Heritage Trust Fund.

If you want to learn more about the library, the historic register nomination can be read here.

About the writer

Tom Harper is a Realtor at Stephens Real Estate helping people in Lawrence and Douglas County buy and sell real estate. He is the founder of Lawrence Modern, a group whose mission is to raise awareness of midcentury and modern architecture. You will find him posting frequently on Instagram under @lawrencemodern, sharing his daily observations of his favorite place on earth: Lawrence, Kansas. Read more of Tom’s writing for The Lawrence Times here.

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