“All that you can take with you is that which is given away.” If that saying rings any truth, Andrew Carnegie left this earth with quite a bit. An immigrant, millionaire, philanthropist, Carnegie was once the richest man alive. Then, he traded his riches to benefit the knowledge of everyone else. He believed that the rich had an obligation to spend their money to benefit the poor, and thus, the community overall.
In 1903, Carnegie donated $300,000 to build The Carnegie Library in Washington, D.C. A structure renowned for its beauty, size and inclusivity, it was dubbed “the intellectual breadline” during the depression. After his success in D.C., Carnegie went on to donate money across America to fund libraries. Parkersburg saw one of these 3,000 libraries come to life in 1905 through a grant received by the Parkersburg Board of Education from Carnegie.
Parkersburg High School graduate and Morehead State University Librarian, Betty Wilson, described the building as “one of Carnegie’s beautiful libraries that did so much for society. The collections were as wonderful as the architecture.”
With Carnegie’s donation of $34,000, Parkersburg erected what would become a historical landmark.
“I remember it so well. The smell of the books as you entered the building. The evenings I spent doing research for high school projects. The beauty of all the architecture,” Parkersburg resident Patricia Goudy said.
Serving its time as a library until 1975, the building supplied the area well. Many students would visit after school when Parkersburg High School (later Washington Junior High School) was still downtown. Its location to the Coliseum (a space for concerts and ice skating) provided plenty of entertainment for someone spending the day in downtown Parkersburg.
My mom took my sister and I there when we were younger because she always loved it when it was a library. I was fascinated by the spiral staircase and the glass floors. It was always my favorite place to go, and it was full of that old book smell that I love so much.
“I attended Washington Jr. High in 7th grade – the last year the building next to the library was open. Carnegie was our school library. I spent hours there. That is where I learned the Dewey Decimal System. I loved that place. When my kids were babies, I went there to check out books at least every 2 weeks,” Parkersburg resident Linda Stollar said.
Even when the school moved, people still visited. Those who knew it as a library brought their kids there when it reopened as The Trans Allegheny Bookstore in 1985.
“My mom took my sister and I there when we were younger because she always loved it when it was a library. I was fascinated by the spiral staircase and the glass floors. It was always my favorite place to go, and it was full of that old book smell that I love so much. I always went there when I was having a bad day,” Parkersburg resident Candice Black said.
Architect E.T. Sanderson designed the Classic Revival style building that truly stood the test of time. Still regal, it features the famous glass spiral staircase that is synonymous with the building today.
“It’s where I bought my first book, and it’s where I fell in love with books. My uncle used to take me and I was so scared of heights when I was little but always ventured regardless because of the mystique of the glass floors,” Parkersburg resident Natasha Kirby said.
Every time I drive down 7th Street now, I always check to see if maybe, just maybe, this’ll be the day its opened back up.
The glass floors are one of the hallmarks of the beautiful building. Partial allure from the novels in that area, and partial allure from walking on glass, residents and non-residents alike would flock to the building for what it offered in the area of used books.
“I used to drive up from Ripley specifically to go to Trans Allegheny, and I had the same routine every time. I would start in the hardback fiction section in the back (to this day, I remember always being a little nervous about the glass block floor there!), take the spirals down to paperbacks and mysteries, then back up to the kids/ YA section. Every time I drive down 7th Street now, I always check to see if maybe, just maybe, this’ll be the day its opened back up,” Ripley resident Ceason Ranson said.
My dad took me there when I was a kid and let me explore. I remember walking through and pretending I was somewhere new, in a big city where such a marvelous place might exist.
The glass floors weren’t the only attraction of the bookstore. Overstuffed couches and chairs lined the rooms and resident cats roamed the halls greeting guests. Parkersburg resident, Brittany Walters, remembers curling up in her favorite chair in the side room to read and one of the cats would come and sit on her lap while she relaxed.
“I miss the cats! One adult and three kittens, I think. You’d be browsing the shelves, and a kitten would just pop out at you,” Parkersburg resident Lori Zyla said.
In 2010, the Trans Allegheny Bookstore closed its doors. Those who remember the interior are growing fewer as the younger generation misses out on what many describe as “magic.”
“My dad took me there when I was a kid and let me explore. I remember walking through and pretending I was somewhere new, in a big city where such a marvelous place might exist. I continued to go there as I got older and actually got my senior pictures taken there. It must have been right before they closed it. I’m so glad I have those now,” former Parkersburg resident Tyler Collie said.
Although rows of books still line the walls, the glass stairs can no longer shine through the layer of dust. Slowly, the bookstore is fading, but the response in Parkersburg for its preservation is hopeful. As a community landmark, here is to hoping, acting and preserving the local intellectual breadline.
Writer’s Note: I posted an inquiry about Carnegie Library/Trans Allegheny Bookstore on my Facebook page to help gather some information. The amount of responses was overwhelming. The building has clearly touched many people from the Mid-Ohio Valley. Below are a few responses from the post (edited for clarity).
My parents and I went to Trans Allegheny many times when I was growing up, it was right down the street. When I first started reading books for enjoyment we found the first Star Wars books that began my now extensive collection. I remember spending my time walking the spiral staircases or sitting on the stepstools reading the back covers of the books I selected while they were finding books to add to their own collections. They may have more detailed memories, but I still have those books on my shelf and they are some of my favorites to reread. – Richard Woody
It was a stop on the ghost tour for a number of years. We’d stop, go inside to look at the marvels and I’d tell a few stories about the building. Often a black cat would venture out of the shelves. People from other areas were in awe of that building. – Susan Sheppard
It was such an amazing place, I didn’t see much more than the ground floor though. Even at a young age I wasn’t messing with those glass floors and spiral staircases. – Emily Nestor
I went once as a kid and it was the perfect space for books and curiosity. Felt like I came home to a place I’d never been. It was amazing. – Courtney Knoch
It sparked my obsession with spiral staircases and pretended it was my personal library like from beauty and the beast when mom took me as a child. I’m so sad the girls didn’t get to have those experiences. – Kristen Wilson
I loved it there, it was like stepping back into history. I could spend hours there. – Eden Cornwell
Trans Allegheny was magical place for many book lovers. It was a special place that our community mourns deeply. What a tragedy that I will never get to share it’s beauty and the many possible adventures that their books offered with my children. – Kasey Snyder