Summer 2003

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The Library Circuit: The Olean Public Library

By Samuel Patton, NYSALB Trustee

Summer 2003 issue of Trustee

A bit of library history ...

Several years ago, my wife and I were driving along the Southern Tier, on our way to Ann Arbor, Michigan.  We had planned on spending one night on the way and when we reached Olean, we started looking for a place to dine and lodging for the night.  While driving along South Union Street, we saw an imposing building, with a sign saying Old Library Restaurant, and it looked so much like the Carnegie libraries we all know about that we stopped to investigate.  

It turns out that the Old Library is not the current library, but has been a restaurant since about 1982.  So while the building no longer houses the library, I recommend a stop if you go that way in your travels.  Here is the story, thanks to Mary DiRisio of the Olean Public Library, The Old Library Restaurant, and the reference desk at the Prendergast Public Library in Jamestown.

The site was donated to the Library Association in 1889.  The then Mayor (and President of the Library Association) Mr.  W.H. Mandeville interested Andrew Carnegie in donating funds for the new library building.  The original grant of $25,000 was increased to $40,000 when Mr.  E.L. Tilton, who was Carnegie's architect, unveiled plans for the grand edifice.  The building was completed in May of 1910 as the Olean Public Library.  

By 1974 the library had outgrown the building and moved to larger quarters.  The Olean Historical Society and the local Department of the Aging used the building until 1979, and then in 1982 it was bought by the present owners.  The building was put on the NY State Registry of Historic Places on May 21, 1985 and placed on the National Register of Historic Places July 11, 1985.  The current owners have preserved unique features that are typical of Carnegie libraries: the rotunda, the plaque of Mr. Carnegie and the marble frieze.  They even went to the same brickyard in Pennsylvania where the original bricks were made when an addition was constructed as a kitchen for the restaurant.  

So even though you will not find the same amenities and services at the Old Library as you will at the current Olean Public Library, the building itself is a good reminder of what the classic Carnegie libraries looked like, and a credit to all who worked to preserve and restore it.

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