COATESVILLE — The Coatesville-Clay Township Public Library celebrated its 100th anniversary this past Saturday, quite an achievement considering that it was hard pressed to exist in the first place, and was destroyed by a tornado in 1948.
The celebration was rife with nostalgia and a plaque of gratitude to Andrew Carnegie was unveiled as residents from the area stopped by to take in what is still considered the chief meeting place in town. Coatesville was given funding for its first library by Carnegie, which at the time made it the smallest town with a Carnegie library.
“People kept trying, they were rejected, they kept trying again,” library director Cheryl Myers Steinborn said. “It’s not clear what they did to finally push it, but I think it was that they were smart people who knew what they were doing. They did a good thing and it’s still here today. I don’t know if they expected it to be here 100 years, but they’re my heroes anyway.”
The event included a pictorial slide show of all the library has been through over the years, a story time for children, and even treats from the year the library was born, such as Oreos. At the end of the year, Steinborn said there will be a time capsule so those who come later can look back at the past.
A tornado ravaged Coatesville in 1948, leaving the town and the library in ruins. All communication was cut off from the town, and without a highway running through it, no one really knew until a state trooper who lived nearby happened upon the destruction.
Along Milton Street, where the library is located, stood one house that inexplicably stood during the storm while everything around it on both sides was pummeled. Not content to give up, the residents picked up the pieces, literally, and a new library was born.
To commemorate the event, a magnolia tree was planted in front of the building by a woman, and her grandchildren recently planted one nearby in her memory, which Steinborn says is a unique wrinkle of sorts.
“When this thing blew down in ‘48, we built a new building and a lady in town just stuck that little thing in the ground,” she said. “It was 1950. It’s kind of cool, having the 60-plus-year-old magnolia and now the new one.
“We put a plaque up with the names of the tornado deceased. Without Carnegie, the library wouldn’t have been here, I’m guessing.”
Steinborn is succinct about the importance of the library in a town like Coatesville, saying that the place still draws the community together.
“Obviously there’s not a whole lot to do often in a small town, so it’s been good, it’s been a meeting place,” she said. “The original had a basement meeting room. The second had a community room, and that’s why when we knocked it down, we got a grant to build that meeting building next door.
“It’s still a hub to this day. Was then, is now. And I know they’re proud to have it here. We used to have a school and now it’s gone. I think this place gives you some town pride, particularly with the tornado and people thinking this town was a goner, along with the library.”