A Historical Tour of the Wagnalls Memorial
150 E. Columbus Street, Lithopolis, Ohio 43136
Open Monday through Thursday 10:30 a.m. – 7:30 p.m. & Saturday 10:00 a.m. – 2:00 p.m.
On May 30, 1925, Mabel Wagnalls Jones dedicated The Wagnalls Memorial in honor of her parents, Adam and Anna Willis Wagnalls. Adam was the co-founder of the publishing giant, Funk & Wagnalls. Both Adam and Anna were born in log cabins in Lithopolis, Ohio. Mabel knew it had always been Anna’s dream to do something for the little village which had never had anything done for it and to provide opportunities not available to her as a child. With the building of The Wagnalls Memorial, Mabel would fulfill her mother’s dream.
Mabel, an author and a concert pianist, had a special fondness for her parents’ birthplace. Though she never lived in Lithopolis (she lived most of her life in New York City), she visited it from the time she was a small child to spend time with her grandmother who lived in the village.
At the dedication, as Mabel was giving the deed to the town, she said, “Now this is our deed and I hand it over with no admonishments at all, because I know you will guard our building and use it wisely. My only hope is in using it you will find as much joy as I have found in giving it.”
Building the Memorial
The architect Mabel hired was a local Columbus man named Ray Sims. Mabel’s husband, Richard Jones, worked closely with Mr. Sims. Most of the workmen hired were from Lithopolis, and most of the stone used was quarried from just behind the building site. As Jones stated, “That is really one of the wonderful parts of the whole story of Lithopolis. As nearly as possible we used local men and materials in construction. Every workman in Lithopolis worked for the love of the thing he was creating. Possibly not since the days of the Guilds has so much genuine interest gone into the erection of a building.” Success magazine in its September 1925 publication called it “the finest Tudor-Gothic structure in America.”
The original library is a work of art in itself, furnished with handmade tables and chairs. The upper walls have a sculpted grape vine with bunches of grapes to signify plenty. Owls stand guard over the room from their perches. Under the perches are shields that depict what was so important to the Wagnalls family: religion, industry, education and patriotism. The center window contains stained glass inserts to further tell the Wagnalls’ story: the State of Ohio Seal, a printing press, a log cabin, the lamp of learning, and the Seal of the United States.
The inscription above the fireplace is from a book Mabel wrote, The Rosebush of a Thousand Years. Portraits of Adam and Anna are displayed on the library walls as well as four oil paintings by Dunsmore that were used as illustrations for Mabel’s book, Palace of Danger. This room now holds a collection of adult fiction and biographies.
The Story of the Owls
During the quarrying of the stone from the ravine behind the Memorial, some baby owls were found in a tree that had been cut down. Mabel and her husband were called out to see them, and they decided that the owls would be remembered in the ceiling arches of the original library.
The 1961 Addition
The 1961 addition is located to the north of the original building and is accessed from the foyer by a central corridor completely enclosed by windows which provide a view of the grounds. The addition originally contained the juvenile library and rooms used for meetings, technical media services, and offices. A recreation room, kitchen, and more offices filled the basement.
The 1983 Addition
The current Children’s Library is in a lower level addition added in 1983. The train station and corral were built by a local craftsman whose children enjoyed storytime here. There are many illustrations signed by the artists adorning the walls.
The 1992 Addition
This addition is a two-story space placed on top of the 1983 addition. The first floor currently houses patron services, the Rager Reading Room, adult non-fiction, the computer lab, and administrative offices. The second floor is used for special events.
Mabel’s favorite Steinway grand piano from her Long Island home, DoReMi Manor, is also on display in the Rager Reading Room. The Loving Cup sitting on the piano was given to her by the village of Lithopolis at the 1925 building dedication.
Paintings and Memorabilia
Paintings that were used as covers for Funk & Wagnalls’ magazine The Literary Digest adorn the walls of the Rager Reading Room. Two original Norman Rockwell paintings are on permanent display near the patron services desk. Also on display are letters Mabel received from the author O. Henry while she was staying with her grandmother in Lithopolis.
Stroll the pathways in our garden to admire the rock sculptures and martin house of Dr. Edward Roller, a beloved local doctor who formerly resided on the land where the 1992 addition now stands. He collected rocks from all over North America and used them to create bird houses, vases, and other structures.
Formal Entrance Hall
This is the original entrance area of the building from the street. A “Tribute of Love” stone plaque dedicates the building to Lithopolis and Bloom Township in memory of Mabel’s parents.
The lower tower room was set apart for the writings of the famous poet, Edwin Markham, a close family friend. The poems that were displayed in the tower room were written in his own handwriting. The upper tower room was set aside to display the paintings of John Ward Dunsmore, another personal friend of the Wagnalls family and their official portraitist. The upper room of the tower is now used for storage, and Dunsmore’s paintings can be seen on display in the original library and auditorium foyer.
Pictures of the first Board of Trustees are displayed here along with Dunsmore’s portrait of Mabel Wagnalls Jones. Another of his paintings, “The Rosebush of a Thousand Years,” hangs over the stairway to the Banquet Hall. It was based on a monastery garden at Hildesheim, Germany, and the painting itself is an illustration of Mabel’s book of the same name. Under it is a bronze tablet naming the first officers, the first Board of Trustees, and the principal workmen who completed the construction of the Memorial. Other Dunsmore paintings, including his self-portrait, are exhibited in this area as well.
The auditorium, originally seating over 420 people, now seats approximately 300 due to the expansion of the stage. On the walls are a collection of photographs and letters that famous individuals of the day sent to their friend, Mabel. The only one who remains widely recognized today is Harry Houdini, whose photo and letter are located near the auditorium foyer door. Lift the wooden seats to see the special rack designed to store top hats! A projection booth is in the rear of the room.
It was important to Mabel that the Banquet Hall have a fully functional kitchen and a pantry filled with the necessary pots, pans, china, and silverware. There were approximately 300 place-settings of china, and the space cost $3.00 to rent in 1925.
Mabel spoke at the building’s dedication when she accepted a silver Loving Cup filled with roses given to her by the village. She stated that when the plans were designed, there was talk of combining the auditorium with the social hall, but Mabel was adamant that the two should be separate, remembering from her childhood all the church dinners the women had put on and how they had to haul all of the food, tables, and tableware to make it happen. As she put it, “We finally split the difference by letting me have my own way…when you are admiring this building and enjoying the library and auditorium, praise my husband and Mr. Sims, but when you are carousing downstairs, please remember me.”
The Story of Adam and Anna
Even though Adam and Anna were both born in Lithopolis, they did not know each other when they were young because Adam’s family moved to Findlay when he was five years old. While attending Wittenberg Theological College, Adam was in Lithopolis visiting his cousin Delia. She asked him what he was looking for in a wife, and Adam answered that his ideal wife would be someone who grew up like him, poor and working her way through college. Delia replied that she knew just the girl: her name was Anna Willis, and she was attending Xenia Female College. Adam and Anna began writing to each other, and they finally met at Anna’s graduation. When they married, Adam took Anna’s last name and made it his middle name.
To further enjoy a visit at the Wagnalls Memorial Library may be scheduled by calling (614) 837-4765 ext. 126.