Where the memory remainsPublished 9:13am Tuesday, October 27, 2009
By JESSICA SIEFF
CASSOPOLIS – Andrew Carnegie’s legacy of building public libraries to people all over the United States is one that can still be found in the etchings of his name outside countless structures, his portrait hanging inside countless rooms filled with books, evidence of the history found old card catalogs still found, even in the age of rapidly advancing technology.
In Cassopolis, that legacy is found in the Cass District Library’s Local History Branch at 145 Broadway, which is celebrating its centennial this year.
“Every time I walk in here, I’m walking into a 100-year-old building,” said Jonathan Wuepper, library manager. “We’re very sensitive to the history and the integrity of the building.”
A building that holds the histories of countless families, a history of the are – bits and pieces that put together make a story one can imagine Carnegie himself would be proud to house.
The history branch specializes genealogy and research and has welcomed those digging into their family histories coming to southwestern Michigan from all over the country.
Researching family histories is a practice becoming increasingly popular.
Web sites like Ancestry.com make it possible to some of the search from the comfort of one’s home while the importance of old newspaper clippings and microfilm are more and more evident.
A peek into the genealogy and family history of the first lady Michelle Obama recently made national headlines.
“There’s only so much you can do online,” Wuepper said. “Our obituary file is still in an old fashioned card catalog and we keep it up to date.”
The library carries information as far back as 1872 including copies of the Edwardsburg Argus and the Cassopolis Vigilant also dating back to the late 1800s.
On a map in the front of the library, Wuepper keeps track of those who have come from all over the country to search through files in search of family histories.
“Some of them I’ve had burst into tears of joy,” he said. “We can shed light on marriages, birth, death … all the important things in life, coming in and going out…” the library holds those details in its 100-year-old walls.
The library cost Carnegie $10,000 when it was built in 1909.
“Carnegie built thousands of libraries not only in the United States but overseas,” said Wuepper. “This library is a piece of Americana from the early twentieth century … I feel very privileged and lucky and I think the people feel lucky that we have such an intact Carnegie library.”
The man behind the doors
Upon entering the Cass District Library’s Local History Branch, rich hardwood doors open up to a wealth of history stored in card catalogs, on microfilm and yes, even in computers.
For loyal customers of the library, making their way inside now looks a bit different.
About a year ago, Wuepper said he had the desire to restore the library’s main entrance doors, which had been fitted with thick veneers.
And he went with local woodworker Barry Young to do it.
Young explains that underneath thick, pale blue veneers that had covered the library’s doors were several spots that needed a little extra care and in others, “the rest of it was more damaged.”
So he set to work, stripping the old veneer and working on restoring the white oak hardwood.
Woodworking has been a hobby of Young’s for about 10 years and he explained the meticulous process of restoring each set of the library’s doors, including fitting the hardware.
It took about nine months to complete the project which Wuepper believes only adds to the structure’s overall character.