Springfield library is architect’s favorite

Building one of the first in Springfield to install electric lights

Architecture is art. Our goal is to encourage readers to take a second look at some of the special buildings they pass every day and typically take for granted. We’ve invited the experts — area architects — to tell us about their favorite buildings and provide some background about the structure they’ve chosen.

Meet the architect

We continue the series with featured Springfield architect Stephen L. Sharp.

“Springfield is fortunate in that many of its wonderful old buildings are with us still, including an original Frank Lloyd Wright Prairie Style Home,” Sharp says. ” But my favorite of them all is the Warder Public Library, now known as the Warder Literary Center. In my opinion it is one of our ‘jewel boxes’ here in the Miami Valley It’s worth coming to Springfield to see this masterpiece.”

Here’s what Sharp has to say about his favorite building:

A bit of background

Springfield was at the height of its industrial power in the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century. At the same time Dayton was inventing automobile parts and cash registers, Springfield was manufacturing farm implements. Both cities prospered because the industrialists who created these inventions gave back to their cities, and our buildings are a testimony of their generosity.

In Springfield’s case, the Warder family was instrumental in founding what we know today as International Harvester and Navistar.

See photos of the building

Building a library

The concept of a free library or “Reading Room” was just catching on in America. Previously, access was granted by having a subscription but the Warder family saw a need and built the Warder Free Public Library, later to become the Clark County Public Library, in downtown Springfield.

Originally located kitty-cornered from the post office and across from the ornate Lagonda Club — a fashionable Businessman’s Club — the library was situated at the center of the city’s commerce. You’ll still find it on the southwest corner of East High and Spring Streets.

The library was dedicated June 12, 1890 and cost $125,000 to build. It was a gift of Benjamin Head Warder to the people of Springfield in memory of his parents, Jeremiah and Ann A. Warder.

The building was designed by Shepley, Rutan and Coolidge, architects from Boston and successors to the practice of Henry Hobson Richardson. Along with Louis Sullivan (People’s Federal Savings and Loan in Sidney) and Frank Lloyd Wright (Wescott House in Springfield), Richardson is recognized as one of America’s greatest architects.

About the building

The library is basically “L” shaped in plan. The arms of the “L” reach out to the north and east, as a funnel, and direct the patrons to the building entrance. At the inside corner of the “L,” near the entrance, is a 70-foot tall octagonal tower. East of the tower is an arcaded porch connecting to the building entrance. Behind the porch, the east arm contained the ”Library,” a stack area. Within the north arm is the “Reading Room.”

The most interesting aspect of the building is its exterior composition. It is easily recognized as being Romanesque Revival due to the massive quantity of stonework, the use of rounded arches and other Romanesque details, circa 1000 A.D. Most importantly, this building is “Richardsonian Romanesque,” a style popularized by Henry Hobson Richardson. Mr. Warder knew H. H. Richardson and commissioned him to design his home in Washington D.C.

Richardson’s buildings were an uniquely American style. They were frequently characterized by groups of rectangular windows, low, broad, heavy arches on short, grouped columns, a tower which contrasted with the facade, and a red tile roof which formed a backdrop for the rest of the architectural composition.

The stone was shipped to Springfield from either Worchester or Dedham, Mass., and cut on-site. The tan sandstone comes from Amherst, Ohio. Originally the building contained gaslights and was one of the first buildings in Springfield to install electric lights.

What’s inside

Upon entering the building, the first thing you see is a monumental stone fireplace, which uses most of the two-story vertical space. The mantle is intricately carved with the four faces of necessary evil, illiteracy, instruction, and communication looking back at you. And above is a large bas relief that includes part of the Great Seal of Ohio.

As the library grew, a glass floor mezzanine was added for stack space in the east wing in 1910. In 1969 a mezzanine was installed in the north wing for patron space. Although tastefully done, the soaring volume was bisected. However, the wonderful timber trusses with ornate steel connectors and the wood plank ceiling is still visible and incredibly impressive.

A favorite element

The absolute very best part of the building design was created by the skilled stone masons. On the east exterior wall is a knowledgeable owl resting on a man’s back. Around the windows, stone sleigh bells were carved on the bell (less) tower. There are creatures peering out from the porch column crotches and buffalo, a woman with a crown and swirling vegetation and flowers wrap around this ornately carved building.

Current status

After the Clark County Public Library built their new building, there was a push to create a literacy center so it is a good reuse of the building.

However, given the Coalition’s small budget, the situation is tenuous and the City of Springfield is looking for other ways to guarantee the building’s future in the community.

If you want to visit

The Warder Literacy Center is open to the public from 11 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.    Monday through Thursday. The contact number is (937) 323-8617.

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