Adapted from the original email-letters from Paul Ovaitt - Original date 9/9,/2021
Shhh! The Libraries of Augusta.
Hello gentle readers, I’m back, and I hope all of you are well…and curious. Many of you will think you already know all there is to know about our libraries, but others may learn something new here. And speaking of new, I wish to start with what’s new, and work my way back to the 1800s.
So, what’s new? Well, sometime in the past year a tiny library popped up here on the ridge I roam. It’s at the top of the hill where Schluersburg Road meets Terry Road, on your right if you come from 94. It is on the property of Lynne and Jim _______, and it goes by the name of Lynne’s Little Free Library. I mentioned its existence to librarian Shawna Wheeler, and she said she had seen it when she was on goat feeding duty for the McCleod family. (Don’t you love small towns?) Then, she informed me it’s part of a larger organization called Little Free Library. Check it out: https://littlefreelibrary.org Turns out they even offer an app so you can find one wherever you travel. I have included a photo of my neighborhood library.
It's a safe bet that the next library, going back in time, is our beautiful County branch at Jackson and Locust, a lot previously owned by Dan Kemner. The building and land are owned by the town of Augusta, and the handsome structure was designed by architect, Alden Scott, who lived on
Augusta Bottom Road with his wife Barbara. (Sadly, Alden just died in July 2021.)
In an August 21 phone conversation, Barbara Scott told me the plans for a new library were in full swing just as real estate and construction were struggling with the downturn in the economy. When the call went out for bids on construction, Alden received nearly 200 bids! No doubt the builders were hungry for work, but who was going to examine all those bids? The town didn’t want to pay Alden to look at every bid, but Alden knew you couldn’t just grab the lowest price. So, he put in the extra hours it took to choose a builder, and T. S. Banze Construction of Warrenton was selected.
Like me, Barbara is a big fan of the new library. Here’s what she says about it: “I love the new library. I think it’s just precious and so…user-friendly. I love the colors in it, I love that they really spent some time to figure out the best way to do it…for the whole organization. It’s very welcoming.”
The Augusta Library Committee chairman at the time was Tom Diehl. Tom was quoted in the 7/16/08 Missourian, “My feeling has always been that these are the types of things a town owes its community. I feel strongly that a library is intrinsic to a community.”
Our new library opened March of 2010. The St. Charles County Library system leases the building, supplies the material, and currently staffs it with some of the most helpful librarians on the planet: Lisa Tucker, Shawna Wheeler, Olivia _____, and Leslie Blanchard. Even at the new location we still had Cathy Mosely until 2016 when she retired after 40 years of dedicated service. I recently spoke with Cathy for a little help with this story, but I was unable to record our conversation, hence I am now poring over my scribbled notes, so kindly overlook any inaccuracies. She did remind me that Susan Fifer, corner of High and Webster, worked for a while at the new location. And I think Cassie Gilliam worked at the new site also.
I suppose most of my gentle readers know that our previous library was on Walnut St. and the building it occupied is now the Augusta Visitor Center. Did you also know that the Walnut St. building is also the site of a previous post office? No...not the old post office at Walnut and Lower Street, which is owned by Chuck and Esther Nobe. Check out the c. 1910 photo of Walnut St. with the downtown store, an old post office, the roof of the wine hall, the building that later became the White House Tavern, and the Ebenezer steeple in plain sight. I don’t know if it was already a post office as early as the taking of the photo, but you might ask how I Know it ever was a post office. How do I know? Because Anita said so, and just to confirm, I spoke with Jan Mallinckrodt, whose late husband, Earl, started delivering mail from that location in the early 1960s. Earl took the job after a Mr. Meyer retired from his route.
The Augusta Library on Walnut St. opened August 29, 1976, but as Anita Mallinckrodt put it, not without a fight. In 1974, Marie Hackmann, in her Augusta news column (which I presume was in the Missourian), asked why St. Charles County was planning to add several branches but not in Augusta. She invited the public to attend a meeting at the Augusta fire hall on 3/14/74. Members of the county library board would attend and answer questions. But the library system maintained that “it was too costly to have a branch for such a small population so far from St. Charles; moreover, Augusta had Bookmobile service,” wrote Mallinckrodt.
Don Flynn was chairman of the Town Board at the time, and some years later told Augusta Neighborhood News, “the community’s wish for a full-service library rather than a Bookmobile was so strong that the Town Board decided it should and would do whatever it took to get the library branch in Augusta.” Hence the Board and Flynn purchased the old post office lot for $3500, and then hired Dan Kemner and Nick Baravik to construct a 30’x30’ brick building for $30,000.
I don’t claim to understand county politics, but apparently the library system saw that Augusta was serious about having a real library, and Augusta’s bookmobile days were soon over. Sometime when you’re in our Locust St. library, look on the north wall of the conference room. Tucked away in a corner behind the door, is a resolution from the Missouri Senate which doesn’t resolve anything. But it does honor Augusta, Don Flynn and librarian Sonia Struckhoff for establishing the Walnut St. library.
At this time, I’d like to mention a few more librarians from the Walnut St. era. There were Sonia Struckhoff and Cathy Moseley, of course, but also Arline Behrens, Cassie Gilliam, Lisa Tucker, Carol Higgins, and I’m told that Ellen Knoernschild filled in for a while.
Before 1976 the town’s literary needs were served by dinosaurs, oh I’m sorry, I meant to say bookmobiles. But like recalling dinosaurs, most Augustans are familiar with the concept of the beasts, and bookmobiles, and yet have only a murky, inherited, cultural memory of them. “Mobile” implies that these libraries moved around. Fair enough. I’m told the bookmobile visits to Defiance, for instance, were staged monthly in front of Fulkerson’s tavern, and sometimes across the road at the old general store that now houses the Robin’s Nest. But no one in Augusta can tell me where the vehicle parked, how often, and for how many years we had service. Understandable. These little details become forgotten trivia over time, and nobody much cares in our digital daze.
On the east wall of our new library, there hangs a one-page history of Augusta’s libraries, written by our town historian, Dr. Anita Mallinckrodt. She states that Augusta was served for decades by county bookmobiles. I haven’t seen any proof of this, nor have I spoken with anyone who remembers this. Cathy Moseley thinks it wasn’t that long, but she revealed to me that there was a short period when “mobile” wasn’t mobile. For three months, approximately May, June and July 1976, a Winnebago bookmobile was parked just west of the old library. It served our town while Dan and Nick built the first brick and mortar library. Inside the Winnebago you would find Cathy Moseley or Sonia Struckhoff. It had a front and rear door on the “passenger” side. Cathy recalled that it, or the steps, weren’t quite level, hence you would practically fall into the library on entering and fall out at the exit. She also recalled that Mops Fuhr was astonished that Winnie started immediately when the driver fired it up after 3 months of idleness. (I was compelled to include this Mops Fuhr anecdote because he is clearly my all-time favorite Augustan.)
I have included an August 29, 1976, photo of Cathy and Sonia taken at the celebratory open house of the Walnut St. library. Also included is an exterior view photo of a county Winnebago from that era.
So, you might think this story is finished, but not so! If you have ever read Anita’s one-page history of Augusta’s books, which hangs on the east wall of the new library, you might recall that our first library was at Harmonie-Verein. Let’s let Anita speak:
“Two years before the incorporation of the Town of Augusta in 1855, its German-language immigrant settlers founded a Reading Circle. The members provided books they had brought with them from Europe, including German classics, reference books, and American literature in translation. Three years later, in 1858, the Reading Circle grew into a lending library for the benefit of members of the Harmonie-Verein (Harmonics Society)…around 3500 volumes…were made available on loan. The existence of a lending library in frontier Augusta is especially astonishing when contrasted with the fact that Missouri’s big cities of St. Louis and Kansas City did not have public libraries for several more decades. In 1915, to support the newly established third year of high school at the Augusta Public School, the Harmonie-Verein…donated its entire library.”
I know everyone knows what Harmonie-Verein looks like, but I’m including a photo taken before the addition on the west side was built. I can’t identify any of these sportsmen, but I’m sure reading was not on their mind that day.
I’m pretty much through with this story. I still have a few phone calls hanging out there, looking for clarification regarding the Augusta School Library; I would have liked to include them. And I had more questions about the history of county bookmobiles, but today is Saturday, and everything is closed until Tuesday after Labor Day. And I don’t feel patient. I might just hit that send button. We’ll see.
Stay well and curious,
P.S. Okay, it’s Wednesday, and I just heard from Dr. Mary Robertson, principal of Augusta Elementary. Perhaps the most interesting part of our conversation revolved around the fire in the school library. On Sunday morning, October 11, 2015, a fire started among some computers on a cart. She had to explain to me that the cart was like a charging tower. Anyway, it took our fire department only 5 minutes to respond but in the end the library books were considered a total loss due to the soot, except for 300 or so books, checked out and safely situated in students’ backpacks. Truthfully, I don’t remember any of this, but I had suffered a brain hemorrhage in August of that year, and in October I was still being tortured by therapists testing my balance, mental and physical.
Dr. Robertson: “We had to close the building between October 12 and 16th for cleanup. And during that time a really great community event happened. We got books from the other elementary schools in Washington. They lent them to us until we could get other books. We had a makeshift library in the teachers’ lounge. We received several thousand dollars through donations from the Augusta community, Washington businesses and individuals. And I’d like to add that normally, the St. Charles County-City Library does not lend books to our kids, but they gave every student in our school access to their library even if they lived in Warren County. Classes could just walk down there and get a book.”
Later, I spoke with Wanda Howell who has a long association with the Augusta grade school. But she never attended school there. Her grade school days were at the Lutheran School on Church St., and after graduation she went to the Washington High School because Augusta High had just closed. “And then I spent half of my life teaching at the Augusta School!” Wanda told me with a chuckle. She started with a two-year teacher assistant job in 1984. Wanda told me that in those days the library didn’t have a permanent home; it moved around the building. If they needed the library space for a classroom, then they would move it. The students were lined-up all down the hall and even on stairs until they stretched from the old location to the new. Then a teacher repeatedly handed the first-in-line a book which he or she passed on to the next student until all the books reached the new location; a book brigade, you might say.
Dr. Robertson and Wanda Howell both suggested I contact Lisa Tucker at the new library because she too worked as a librarian at Augusta Elementary. She started her library career with St. Charles County-City Library in 2002, but by 2003 she was working for the school and just filling in at the town library. In 2016 she accepted a “fulltime” job in the new Augusta library. Lisa remembered the 2015 fire all too well. She was at the Botanical Garden in STL when she got the call. While the school library was being restored, she was kept very busy at both libraries with the business of receiving loaners and the lending out to students. When renovation was complete, the elementary school received brand new books.
Oh…in a conversation with Jim Rhodes, assistant manager of Kathryn Linnemann branch, I learned that bookmobiles would have been visiting Augusta by the mid-60s as a service of the county system. When the county and St. Charles City merged into one system in 1973, bookmobile service would have been continued.
Okay, it’s Thursday, and now I’m through, but let me just tell you an amusing thing I heard this morning: a rich man burst into the library Monday, and called out, “quick, I want a pizza and a bottle of Cynthiana before my helicopter returns.” The librarian said, “sir, this is a library!” The rich man lowered his voice to a whisper and said, “quick, I want a pizza and a bottle of Cynthiana before my helicopter returns.”
Now isn’t that curious?
Gentle Readers, today is August 28, 2022, and I am updating this story. After I wrote it, I discovered the Augusta Shores community also has a Little Free Library. Sorry, no photo. And I don’t imagine it’s open to the public anyway.
Also, I regret to tell you that Barbara Scott has since passed away. She died May 12, 2022.
It may interest you to know she once owned Meriwether’s restaurant in WashMO. I also took note that donations were directed to Chef Jose Andres, who provides food at disaster areas. Currently, he’s feeding hungry people in Ukraine. Ese hombre tiene algunos cojones.