AUBURN, IND. (WPTA21)-It’s perhaps the most beautiful building in Auburn, Indiana, the magnificent Eckhart Public Library, an elegant Prairie style treasure AND the heart of this community since it opened in 1910, a gift to the town from Auburn industrialist Charles Eckhart. Two years ago this month an arson fire gutted the building destroying tens of thousands of library materials, historic paintings and stained glass. And sending a shock wave through this proud town.
“Honestly I felt like somebody had just punched me in the face,” says library Board of Directors president Carolyn Foley. “None of us had been through such a catastrophic event in either our personal or our professional lives.”
Two years after the fire much of the seven million dollars in damage has been repaired. On this day workers are cleaning bubbled shellac from the oak trim, burned in the 12-hundred degree heat of the flames. Cement work, framing, wallboard and plaster work are complete. New heating, air conditioning, wiring, all destroyed in the fire, are nearly done. Contractors have saved as much of the historic structure as possible but six panes of stained glass and several irreplaceable works of art that once adorned library walls were destroyed. And though the library park west of the building is still in disarray the Eckhart Library is on track to reopen before the end of the year. Just what that will mean to this town is best understood by how citizens responded the day of the fire.
“We actually had members of our community show up with cleaning supplies,” says Foley. “They were ready to walk through that door and start getting those windows clean of all that soot. People were actually trying to hand us cash.”
It’s been a long two years for patrons, like a best friend disappearing for many months. But the end is near, the finish line in sight, and Auburn, Indiana’s best friend is about to come home.
“I know it is going to be a day of celebration for the board, for our staff and for our patrons,” says Carolyn Foley.
Eric Olson reporting out in 21 Country.