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The Union Township Public Library, located in downtown historic Ripley, Ohio, has a long history of serving the community.

Situated above a natural deep water landing on the Ohio River, Ripley was formally founded in 1812. The town had long served as a landing place for traffic and commerce along the Ohio, and it became the home of abolitionists Reverend John Rankin and John Parker, who established it as an important Underground Railroad depot. Ripley’s history as an Underground Railroad site is documented in the Library’s Anti-Slavery Collection.

In 1910, the Ripley Progress Club began raising funds to establish a public library. Through diligent efforts, including fundraising, ice cream socials, and auctions, they were able to purchase land in the heart of Ripley and prepare it for building. Only one block from the Ohio River, flooding was a vital concern for a prospective library, and the Progress Club built a retaining wall and filled the lot to elevate the library’s foundations above the 1913 flood level.

The community donated $8,000 to prepare the foundation, but still lacked sufficient funding to build the library. The chairwoman of the state extension service visited the Ripley Progress Club, and suggested they make an application to the Carnegie Foundation. By that year, the Carnegie Foundation had already provided part or all of the funding to found 1500 new libraries across the nation. The Foundation responded to the plea with a $10,000 grant to fund the physical construction of the library, with the stipulation that it be further elevated above the current record flood mark set back in 1884. Hans T. Liebert was engaged as the architect of the project, and designed the charming and distinctive Prairie-style building, with ribbon windows, a tile roof, and custom decorative tiles made by the Rookwood Pottery in Cincinnati. The Library opened its doors in 1915. The Union Township Public Library was the last Carnegie Library built in Ohio, and remains one of only two in the state to feature Prairie-style architecture.

In 1937, disaster struck: the Ohio River flooded its banks, exceeding all previous recorded floods by nine feet. The main floor of the library was flooded with three feet of water, the basement was completely submerged. More than 1,000 volumes were destroyed, and much of the furniture and woodwork was damaged. As part of the cleanup and repair process, state librarian Marjorie Merriam re-catalogued the entire collection, and donations from the community added to it substantially. Many of the books then purchased remain in the collection today. A plaque marks the 1937 flood level outside the main entrance, reached by climbing twenty-nine steps above street level.

In 1989, the Union Township Public Library made its first expansion. A large, two-story addition was built, significantly expanding the library’s floor space. The addition provided housing for a new reference section, an enlarged children’s section, community meeting rooms, offices and storage. The addition was carefully designed to complement the original Carnegie structure. Care was taken to match the color of the original bricks, to reproduce the ribbon windows, and that the tiles decorating the façade evoke the Rookwood tiles.

Further expansion would follow in the next decade. In 1997, the Russellville Branch Library opened, across from the Russellville Elementary School. Located fifteen miles north of Ripley, Russellville is located at a crossroads for the residents of rural eastern Brown County. Russellville Branch’s architecture echoes the Prairie style of the original Carnegie building. Two years later, the Aberdeen Branch library opened, seven miles east of Ripley. Aberdeen Branch initially opened in one unit of a larger commercial building. Soon after, the Library acquired the entire property, and the Aberdeen Branch was expanded to include several more units, expanding the library floor space, and adding a computer lab and community meeting room.

Throughout the years, the Union Township Public Library has remained committed to serving the community, and the community has responded in kind. Support from dedicated Library friends and community members has enabled the Library to remain open continuously, despite state budget cuts and a long-term decline in public funding.

In 2009, Brown County showed its support for its libraries by passing a levy, in spite of widespread economic challenges. The Union Township Public Library wishes to thank the community by continuing to fulfill our mandate: come visit the library. You’ll be welcome.

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