Cincinnati Library Built in 1874 and Was Demolished in 1955

Built in 1874, the Old Cincinnati Library was a thing of wonder in the world. It has 5 levels of large cast iron shelving, checker board marble floors, a foyer, and an atrium lit by a skylight ceiling, the amazing library was truly stupendous to behold.

Unfortunately that magnificent maze of thousands of books is now lost forever.

One of the large cast-iron book alcoves that lined the Main Hall

Credit: Public Library of Cincinnati & Hamilton County

Visitors and avid readers would enter on Vine Street beneath busts of Benjamin Franklin, William Shakespeare, and John Milton. Five levels of incredible-looking bookshelves jammed the walls. Sunlight cut through the windows to provide some light.

“The main hall is a splendid work”, The Enquirer said at the opening of the library. “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 cost of building the library was $383,594.53, about $7.7 million in today’s equivalent. It contained 60,000 volumes, with an estimated capacity of 300,000.

So why this building demolished?

As more books had started to outgrow the building, the management started discussing building a new library. More books were stacked beyond reach, and the ventilation was poor, damaging some of the books and peeling the paints.

In 1955, a new contemporary library opened at 800 Vine Street. The Old Cincinnati Library building was sold to Leyman Corp for about $100,000 today. In June that year, the amazing library was razed to ground.

The site is now a parking area.

The Old Main in an early picture

Credit: Public Library of Cincinnati & Hamilton County

A glimpse of the Main Hall can be seen through vestibule

Credit: Public Library of Cincinnati & Hamilton County

The Newspaper Room (photo circa 1899)

Credit: Public Library of Cincinnati & Hamilton County

People reading books

Credit: Public Library of Cincinnati & Hamilton County

Another view of the hall

Credit: Public Library of Cincinnati & Hamilton County

Children inside the Old Main

Credit: Public Library of Cincinnati & Hamilton County

Looking down at the reading area in the Main Hall

Credit: Public Library of Cincinnati & Hamilton County

Over the years the library wasn’t able to accommodate all the readers

Credit: Public Library of Cincinnati & Hamilton County

The library’s main entrance

Credit: Public Library of Cincinnati & Hamilton County

The welcoming booth

Credit: Public Library of Cincinnati & Hamilton County

This photo of the Main Hall was taken about a year before the building was closed.

Credit: Public Library of Cincinnati & Hamilton County

Readers

Credit: Public Library of Cincinnati & Hamilton County

The Main Hall featured five tiers of cast-iron alcoves that housed over 200,000 books

Credit: Public Library of Cincinnati & Hamilton County

Completed in 1874, originally intended to be an opera house before the project went bankrupt, the modestly-sized building did not do justice to to the magnitude and beauty of the interior designed by architect J.W. McLaughlin

Credit: Public Library of Cincinnati & Hamilton County

The beautiful main hall

Credit: Public Library of Cincinnati & Hamilton County

Young readers

Credit: Public Library of Cincinnati & Hamilton County

Young readers

Credit: Public Library of Cincinnati & Hamilton County

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