It was a day all of Auburn, Indiana turned out to celebrate...that day in May, 1910 when the town's Eckhart Public Library threw open its doors, a gift from local industrialist and Civil War hero Charles Eckhart. For four generations this is where the good people of Auburn have come to learn about the world, to discover life's possibilities and figure out their own place in it. But two and a half years ago an arson fire gutted Auburn's pride and joy and many in this town still have not recovered.
“It was overwhelming,” says Library Foundation member Angela Mapes Turner. “The more we got inside the more it was apparent that the damage was extremely bad. Every level of the building had smoke damage and soot damage extremely toxic.”
“It really hurt,” says restoration project manager Chuck Knox. “I teared up when I saw the inside of it because I knew what people cared about this building to see the whole thing destroyed like that was horrible.”
Virtually everything was destroyed; the entire book collection, walls and ceilings, historic paintings and furniture, wiring, heating, air conditioning. But the very worst that could happen to auburn brought out the very best in its citizens.
“People were just rallying,” says Turner. “They were showing up that day bringing books, bringing money bringing food for the staff.”
The town raised twelve million dollars. Contractors were hired, the original oak trim and magnificent stained glass windows restored, the new shelves restacked with a new book collection. Everything that perished in the fire rebuilt or replaced and two weeks from now the Eckhart Public Library will reopen, picking up where it was forced to leave off two and a half years ago. And with some improvements, new children's section, public meeting spaces, a 21st century I.T. infrastructure..a building preserving its glorious past but prepared to meet its promising future. A golden page of local history returned to a town that treasures it.