Tuesday, February 18, 2014

A Treasure in My Own Backyard

Sometimes, it takes a challenge to make you look at something in a whole new way. I belong to a Facebook group called Snapshot Kansas. It's a group of amateur and professional photographers who post pictures of all things Kansas.

I love photos. I love Kansas. It's the perfect little spot on the Web for someone like me.

Each Tuesday, the site administrator issues a new challenge. Photographers are free to participate or ignore the prompt. Sometimes I join in, and sometimes I don't. Last week's suggestion was to take photos of unusual libraries or bookstores.

I've never seen a library or bookstore I didn't like. I have loved libraries since my Mom took us each week to get new books at the Pratt Public Library.

But I am ashamed to admit this: I don't go into the Stafford library very often. It's certainly not that I'm anti-library. The ladies at the front desk of the Hutchinson Public Library know me by name because I reserve so many just-released books.

Of course, Dixie knows me by name, too. She's the librarian at Stafford's Nora E. Larabee Memorial Library and has been for years. When Jill and Brent were little, we frequented both the Stafford and Hutchinson libraries. It was often a challenge to keep the piles of children's library books separate and accounted for.

Brent, especially, loved going in to the Stafford library to see Dixie and to play games on the computers there. As an older elementary school student, he'd walk to the town library after school and wait until I was done with work at Stafford Middle/High School.

But this Snapshot Kansas prompt reminded me there is an unusual library in my own little town. A centerpiece of the library is this gorgeous stained glass window.
Nora Larabee was the only daughter of two of Stafford's leading citizens, Mr. and Mrs. J.D. Larabee. When Nora died of tuberculosis in 1904, her parents wanted to build a tribute to her. In 1906, they erected a red brick building at a cost of $5,000. Nora Larabee's portrait in stained glass dominates one of the library's west windows.

Dixie says the window is at its most beautiful in the later afternoon, as the setting sun illuminates the window with a fiery red. But I took this photo a little after 2 in the afternoon, and it's pretty spectacular then, too!

The stained glass window isn't the only unique feature of the library. Many of the other windows feature leaded glass. (Even though it doesn't show the woodwork, I like the angled view below because I could avoid the storm siren and the power lines you see when you look out the window directly.)
The windows are encased in beautiful original woodwork.
This photo also shows one of the pieces of 100-year-old Mission-style furniture in the library.
The library hasn't been without controversy. When I shared the photos with the Snapshot Kansas group, I wanted to include a snippet of history. What I learned surprised me:
      The library is unique as a focal point in a 1907 feud between the town banker and The Stafford Courier editor. The building became a public library only after a controversy which turned the town upside down. Public sentiment about the library was so strong that the entire Stafford City council and mayor resigned before the deed for the building was finally accepted. The condition of the deed that caused the furor read as follows: "Owing to certain unwarranted attacks made by The Stafford Courier…it is made a condition of this deed that the present editor of said newspaper, nor any of his family shall at any time be a member of the said board of directors."
        Finally, in May of 1907, a petition from Stafford citizens requested the library council to either accept the conditions of the deed to the library or resign. The new city council voted to accept the building from the Larabee family along with the stipulation that the editor of The Stafford Courier and his descendants be barred from membership on the library board in perpetuity.
Information from http://skyways.lib.ks.us/towns/Stafford/libhist.html

The feud is long-since forgotten, but the library remains today, more than 100 years after it was constructed as a memorial to honor a beloved daughter.
This Snapshot Kansas "assignment" caused me to think about other unique features of this place we call home. They say that those who live near the Grand Canyon don't go look at it until they have guests coming. The same is said for Washington, D.C., residents who save their trips to the Smithsonian for special occasions or to entertain out-of-town visitors.

Maybe I need to think like a tourist in my own backyard to truly appreciate it! So, in the coming days, I plan to share more from Stafford, America.


  1. Kim,
    I can't believe that the library has such a stained glass window. What a treasure.

    I, personally, feel that the library is one of the most important venues a town can have. It goes hand-in-hand with my passion for lifelong learning. I don't go into the library as much as I should either. We don't go to town that often and Kindle has made it so easy to purchase good reads on the cheap.

    That being said our small town has had h*** with our library. The town board had problems with the librarian, library budget and library. The librarian and her board fought tooth and nail to keep the library. It was a big drama for a while. We have a beautiful remodeled library and new librarian. I think things are better now.

    After reading your history it reminded me that every small town has issues of some kind. Funny how that is not matter your location.

    1. I still read "paper" books, but I seem to gravitate toward the bigger library where I can sign up for and get just-released books. Still, the Stafford library is quite a treasure and an asset to our community. You're right about small towns, but I think it's probably true of larger towns, too. Wouldn't it be nice if we could all get along?