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175 year old Mercantile Library to receive major facelift

Cincinnati’s historic Mercantile Library is beginning its first facelift in over one hundred years in preparation and celebration of the library’s 175th birthday in 2010.

The Mercantile Library was established in 1835 as a membership library for young merchants and clerks working in the city and is one of the three oldest cultural institutions in Cincinnati.  Membership currently costs $45 a year and also guarantees discounts to most of the library’s 80 or so events each year.

Library President, Dale Patrick Brown says that the Mercantile Library is one of Cincinnati’s oldest treasures and says that we “have an obligation to maintain its historic features while, at the same time, making sure we meet the needs of new generations.”

Brown goes on to liken the work that will be done at the Mercantile Library to that of the work that was done in the early twentieth century when electric lights were added to the building.  “The library was the same, but better.”

Cincinnati-based Brashear Bolton, Inc. is the team of architects that drew up the plans and made sure to maintain the elegant period atmosphere of the library while also adding contemporary updates like a bigger, modernized restroom; a stage area for the many events held in the library’s reading room; a new Elizabeth Nourse Study Center area to house the library’s collection of sketchbooks and writings of the American Impressionist artist; new, two-story stacks; and an electronic, online catalogue of the collection.

The library’s 2,000-plus members will also see a freshly painted reading room with refinished floors and quieter air conditioning.

As a result of all this work the library will close its reading room doors beginning July 1 until the work is complete.  The library will also maintain limited services during this time and will have staff operate from the library’s lecture hall on the 12th floor.

Events hosted by the Mercantile Library will be moved to the 12th floor lecture hall as well, with larger events being held off-site.

The last time major improvements were made to the space was in 1904 when the Mercantile Library located there.  At that time, the library obtained a 10,000-year lease that is believed to have been negotiated by Alphoso Taft, father of President William Howard Taft.

The $850,000 worth of improvements will look to preserve the Machine Age feel of the space that was built by developers Thomas Emery’s Sons located at 414 Walnut Street downtown.

Following completion in mid-November the Mercantile Library is planning an official unveiling of the refurbished space at the library’s annual meeting in January 2010.

Writer: Randy Simes
Source: Albert Pyle, executive director, Mercantile Library; Nancy Nolan, principal, Nolan Kerr Artists
Photography by Amber Kersley
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