At some date in late 1907, a Mansfield woman boarded a train and headed to New York City. Armed with determination and expressions of commitment from civic leaders, her intent was clear – she wanted to secure a grant from noted industrialist and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie for a library building in Mansfield.
It was that grit that actually landed that woman, Martha Mercer, a private interview with Carnegie’s private secretary. Mercer made her case. The response was clear and positive. The city would receive $35,000 if the city could meet two conditions: that it provide a site, and also provide ten percent per year for building maintenance.
By this time, Mansfield had had a public library for decades. First housed in various locations, the Mansfield Memorial Association Library was established in 1887 and had its home in the Solders and Sailors Memorial Building, still standing on Park Avenue West. By 1896, the facility had 7,000 volumes.
Mansfield clearly supported the new library proposal. A $10,000 bond issue was passed to purchase a lot on West Third Street from Grace Episcopal Church, which then built a new church at the corner of West Third and Bowman.
The architect for the new library was Vernon Redding, the city’s “go to man” for important civic and residential structures at the time, and who had designed Galion’s Carnegie Library a few years earlier. He designed a structure with Greek and Roman architectural elements, fronted by a pediment supported by Corinthian columns. The exterior was built and faced with white vitrified brick and terra cotta, and the building was topped with a red tiled roof. Total cost was $50,000.
On December 19, 1908, the Carnegie Library opened to the public. Electric lights went from “floor to dome,” reports shared. Potted plants and cut flowers were on display, and music from the Aeolian Orchestra floated through the air. Library trustees acted as receptionists.
Originally, the first floor featured reading rooms, reference rooms, a fiction room, a children’s room, and head librarian Martha Mercer’s office. The second floor had the Trustee’s Room, Map Room, Sherman Memorial Room, and the Ladies’ Club Room. All furniture in the Sherman Room was donated by John Sherman’s daughter, Mary. Some 15,000 books lined the shelves.
Since 1908, there have been a handful of renovation and expansion projects. In 1933, the library was renovated and thoroughly cleaned in a federal project. A read addition was added in 1951.
When replacement was proposed in the 1980s, two bond issues failed in large part because the Carnegie Building would be demolished in the process. When a renovation and expansion project was then proposed, the issue passed, and the east and west wings were added.
The facility acquired its present name, the Mansfield/Richland County Public Library, in 1977.