AUBURN – The earthy tones and original designs of the Eckhart Public Librarys stained-glass windows are a huge part of the 1910 buildings enduring appeal.
So when Janelle Graber heard glass shatter on her first day of work as the librarys director, she thought her tenure would be short.
There was a crash, and you could tell a window had been broken, she said. I thought, Im going to be fired before I get started.
But the kids carelessly tossing a ball outside the library on Sept. 14, 1992, broke only an ordinary pane of glass – a relief to them and the librarys new director.
The library in Auburn has not only survived a century but has also thrived.
In the past decade alone, its physical size and digital offerings have greatly increased.
A public celebration will be conducted today in the librarys courtyard park to commemorate the laying of the librarys cornerstone 100 years ago this month.
In his book Auburn: The Classic City, DeKalb County historian John Martin Smith describes the early 20th century as the citys most exciting era.
Auburn had just become a city in 1900 but had no paved streets, no water system, no sewer system and only a primitive, privately owned electric system, according to Smiths history.
But the advent of the automobile was about to change all that. Charles Eckhart and his sons owned the Eckhart Carriage Co., founded in 1874, and would later found the Auburn Automobile Co.
Early in the 20th century, Eckhart offered to donate a site for a library, and an application was made to the Carnegie Corp., which offered a $15,500 grant, according to Smith.
Eckhart didnt believe that would be enough to provide Auburn the library it needed and deserved, so he offered to build it himself if the Carnegie grant could be canceled. It was, and Eckhart hired Patton & Miller of Chicago to build a library in the style being forged by Chicagos Frank Lloyd Wright.
In the end, Eckhart spent the amount of the Carnegie grant several times over to build the Bedford limestone and salt-glazed brick library with its distinctive green-tiled roof.
On a recent morning, Internet users browsed in the airy front room that was added as part of an ambitious 1996 expansion and renovation that maintained the marble and quarter-sawed oak inside the original portion of the library.
Graber is proud that the library was able to maintain its historical integrity through the $1.6 million expansion, keeping its spot on the National Register of Historic Places.
If anything, historical features were revived. Bronze chandeliers are reproductions of the original lights. Stenciling was designed to match the pattern that originally accented the walls.
While Graber is proud of the aesthetics, shes most proud that the ramps and elevators added to the library made it accessible to everyone – from young parents with strollers to patrons using wheelchairs, she said.
The 1996 expansion led to a wave of changes and additions. A restoration of the librarys courtyard fountain, a 1912 gift from Eckhart, was accomplished with a gift from the William H. Willennar Foundation. Other private gifts created what Graber likes to call the librarys outdoor reading room.
The library has expanded to become a campus beyond the original block originally donated by Eckhart.
A second building, the William H. Willennar Genealogy Center, was dedicated in 2002 across the street from the library. Another neighboring building was bought in 2006 and remodeled for administrative offices and technical services.
Last fall, a nearby building became The Third Place, a teen library that contains the librarys entire young-adult collection and computers for teen use only.
The library, which was one of the first to automate its card catalog in the 1980s, recently became one of the first to offer downloadable audiobooks to patrons, Graber said.
Graber is quick to credit the leadership of the librarys board members through the years and her predecessors, such as former director Sirleine Smith, for the librarys success.
Barb Morrow, chairwoman of the 2010 Centennial Celebration Committee, said that leadership cant be diminished but credit must also go to Graber, who is just the librarys seventh director.
Its a legacy of progressive but thoughtful growth, Morrow said.
They didnt stop and say, OK, were good for another 50 or 100 years, Morrow said.
Morrow grew up in St. Louis, but she said the feeling she gets stepping into a public library is the same anywhere: Its an important place thats accessible to people from all walks of life. That feeling is heightened in such an architecturally beautiful building as Auburns library, she said.
We know that were stepping on common ground, that anybody can come here, Morrow said.
Local author Rachel Sherwood Roberts, in her 1999 guidebook Auburn is a Dancing Lady, called the library a jewel.
Roberts served on the library board in the 1970s and 1980s when expansion was being discussed.
To Roberts, Auburns library represents a vision of civic responsibility. All funding for the projects – from Eckharts original building to the teen library – has come from individual and business donations, community foundations and grants.
Seeing how dynamic the library remains today has been gratifying, she said.
Its much more than a building for books, she said. It should be a place thats constantly changing, because it certainly cant be a monument to the past.