Our hometown library is undergoing a renaissance.
In October 2021, the Preserving Nora's Legacy fundraiser began. The goal was to raise money for restoration projects at the Nora E. Larabee Memorial Library. A dedicated group of volunteers dreamed big. They called their neighbors. They called their classmates. They sent letters. They talked about their dreams at civic clubs and in the local grocery store aisles. They wrote grants. They talked some more.
And the community responded, raising more money than even those big-dreaming volunteers thought possible in a little town during uncertain times. A Wall of Giving - Preserving Nora's Legacy - was recently installed at the library. (Thanks to local artisan Robert Owens for his beautiful work.) It includes the names of those who donated at least $100 to the project.
|This photo is by "courthouselover" on Flickr. Currently, they are working on the front door replica and the yard was torn up as crews worked on the foundation, so I didn't take my own photo.|
|And I took this photo in 2014. (We could sure use the moisture from that snow!)|
The Preserving Nora's Legacy Facebook page appropriately uses a children's book analogy to symbolize the volunteer's efforts: "I think I can, I think I can..." It's a book we all read as children, whether it was in the basement children's room at the Larabee Library or from a library in another town or sitting on our mother's lap. And, we, like that Little Engine That Could, dreamed about doing big things.
I can't help but think of the people who originally gifted the library to the city. They were certainly big dreamers as well. The Larabees left quite a footprint in Stafford - in banking, flour milling and civic leadership.
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.
The building was designed by Charles E. Shepard, a leading architect in Kansas during the first part of the 20th century. At that time, most libraries weren't designed by architects. But he envisioned the dark red brick building in a Corinthian style. The Larabees and Shepard also cooperated on a bank building in Stafford at Main and Broadway. (It is currently one of the buildings used by the Stafford County Historical Society.)
The library hasn't been without controversy:
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.
Besides the individual donors, the library received monies from the Heritage Trust Fund grant program from Kansas State Historical Society.
The renovation projects include:
- Trenches were dug and pipes were laid to carry water from the downspouts away from the building to the curb. The trenches are now back-filled, the sidewalk replaced, the lawn graded and leveled and grass sown.
- The interior basement walls got a functional facelift; the bricks and stone were re-pointed with the historically-correct mortar "recipe."
- The exterior will be spot-repointed and masonry reconstruction will restore a portion of the north wall.
- The historic door was irreparable, but a master craftsman is working on a new replica that will incorporate the original beveled glass.
- The electrical system has been updated.
- Updating entries, steps and one bathroom to meet ADA-compliance recommendations.
- Making the envelope of the building safe and secure, specifically windows.
- Front step renovation.
- 4 windows (double-hung and beveled glass surround), stained glass windows around Nora's portrait window, trim repair/painting, replacement of overhead light fixtures in two original rooms, and baseboards.
|This photo also shows one of the pieces of 100-year-old Mission-style furniture in the library. It's a photo I took in 2014.|
|Photo taken January 2023|
The library remains today, more than 100 years after it was constructed as a memorial to honor a beloved daughter.
It's not just the building that's undergoing a renaissance. During the past couple of years, the library has added a First Friday event to its programming in the spring, summer and fall. They've featured artists, musicians, photographers, magicians, a car show, readers, crafts and much more.
The library also offers classes and other special events, along with summer reading for children and adult reading programs all through the year. In fact, I picked up my next contest sheet when we were at the library the other day.