Central Ohio Libraries: Wagnalls Memorial Library

Wagnalls Memorial Library in Lithopolis, Ohio

Tucked into a neat, little shop front on Main Street in a tiny Ohio town in the early 1970s was the Kingston Library. Within its book-lined walls I formed some of my favorite childhood memories and a deep appreciation for libraries.

The librarian, Shelby Shaffer, was one of my favorite people in the world. That was her name: Shelby Shaffer. It wasn’t Shelby, or Ms. Shaffer. It was Shelby Shaffer, spoken almost in one breath. I don’t think I ever addressed her as such, but each week I was excited to go to the library and see Shelby Shaffer.. She was one of the leading characters in the play that was my childhood.

As soon as I entered through the big front door, I would see her there on the left, sitting at her desk. I’d bring my previous loans to have her check them in. She’d ask which ones I liked the best as she made her way through the stack.

Then I’d head to the little table in the back, the children’s section. There, Mother and I would sit in the tiny chairs and I’d go about the business of choosing my books for the week. I was allowed ten, but I loved them all (most of which I’d checked out before) and making the cut to ten was an agonizing decision.

It was for the love of libraries (and free things to do) that Marina and I decided to spend an entire afternoon touring some of the best in Central Ohio. If you haven’t already, check out our article on the Columbus Main Library, which was the first story in the series.

Wagnalls Memorial Library

The little village of Lithopolis sits just inside the Franklin County line, a stone’s throw from nearby Canal Winchester and it’s 27 minutes from downtown Columbus. Though the village has been growing these past few years, the population is still under 2500.

The courtyard entrance to the Wagnalls Memorial Library in Lithopolis, Ohio.

Located on the village’s main thoroughfare is Wagnall’s Memorial Library. The building is a beautiful Tudor-Gothic structure, surrounded by gardens.

As much as I was attached to the Kingston Library and Shelby Shaffer as a child, my children developed there love of reading and libraries at the Wagnall’s Memorial Library. Each week they brought their library bags and selected ten books each from the children’s section.

The foyer and checkout desk of Wagnalls Memorial Library in Lithopolis.

They chatted with the children’s librarian and attended special programs in the summer. Sometimes we would walk through the gardens and visit the stone wishing well toward the front of the building. Visits to Wagnall’s, though frequent, were always special.

Wagnalls Memorial Library History

Adam and Anna Willis Wagnalls were born and raised in Lithopolis. Adam later became co-founder of the publishing company Funk & Wagnalls.

The reading room at Wagnalls Memorial Library. Stained glass windows and a cathedral ceiling are the highlight of the space.

Their daughter, Mabel, was born in Missouri and spent most of her life in New York City. She spent her teenage years traveling Europe, studying piano and later performing to concert halls. As an adult, she also authored nine books.

Even though she never lived in the village of Lithopolis, she visited several times as a child to visit her grandmother. She was aware that her mother, Anna, had always wanted to do something special for the village.

As such she designed and funded the Wagnalls Memorial Library, dedicating it to the memory of her parents. The Library was dedicated in 1925 and gifted to the village of Lithopolis.

Wagnalls Memorial Library

The Library is a very special place and is available for use by the residents of both Lithopolis and Canal Winchester. Even if you don’t live in the area, I’d advise you to make a stop.

If you’re interested in the history of the Library, or of Mabel Wagnalls herself, I’d recommend you take a look at the history page set up by the Library. There are several videos that tell you a little bit about the library and about Mabel and her famous friends. She was friends with and had connections to notable figures of her time such as O. Henry, Harry Houdini, Norman Rockwell and more.

Visiting Wagnalls

The building itself is made up of the original library, which includes library tables and the fiction section, and an addition completed in 1992. The additional space so well matches with the original structure that I had to be convinced by a very emphatic librarian that it actually was added nearly 70 years later.

The stairs lead to the tower. Original artworks and poetry are stored there. This is only accessible during tours at Wagnalls Memorial Library.

The addition includes the Reading Room, which is a lovely space with study tables and a grand piano. The Reading Room fills light and airy, with oak trim and stained glass windows that run to the top of the cathedral ceiling.

The Foyer is located just off the Reading Room. Here you’ll find the big front desk, restrooms and you can view the original outside wall of the Library. Two works from Norman Rockwell, each of which graced the cover of the Literary Digest, are available for viewing. Downstairs you’ll find the Children’s Library, and the upstairs currently houses a number of original artworks.

Two young girls select books in a library.
Natalie and Amanda in the children’s library a few years ago.

Passing through the fiction section, you’ll find the steps to the Tower. Access to the Tower is limited to special programs and tours.

Passing straight through you’ll find yourself in the Auditorium. The Auditorium hosts local productions on stage and currently seats 300. There is a projection booth at the back.

The fiction section and a lighted study table in the Wagnalls Memorial LIbrary.

Just outside of the Auditorium, there is a set of stairs. The stairs lead you to the Banquet Hall, one of Mabel’s special projects. The Banquet Hall plays host to wedding receptions and special celebrations. Though I don’t know the going rate to rent the space, according to the website it was available to rent for $3 in 1925.

Touring the Grounds

Paved pathways lead you through the gardens surrounding the Library. In addition to the flowers and landscaping, you’ll find a number of rock sculptures. Dr. Edward Roller, a local physician used rocks he collected from all over North America to build a martin house and other structures. His home stood on the site of the 1992 addition.

Village of Lithopolis

While you’re in town, take some time to walk around the village of Lithopolis. Here you’ll find a number of small shops and eateries. Natalie wanted to make certain I mentioned El Pedregal, a Mexican restaurant within walking distance of the library and one of her favorites.

The gardens at the Wagnalls Memorial Library are meticulously maintained. You can take the stone path through the gardens.

You may also want to walk through the local Lithopolis Cemetery. Mabel, along with her parents Adam and Anna are buried here. 

Since you’re in the area, you may want to plan a stop to nearby Slate Run Metro Park. The park is part of the Columbus Metro Parks system. In addition to miles of trails, the park offers fishing and playgrounds. You can also visit the Slate Run Historical Farm. There you can get a hands on look at a working Ohio farm from the late 1800s. You can even help with chores and visit all the animals! And best of all? Admission is completely free!


Thanks for FindingOhio with us today. We’ll continue our series on the libraries of Central Ohio with our visit to three of the libraries on the campus of The Ohio State University.

Auditorium. The chairs are wooden and overlook the stage which has a large maroon curtain.

If you’re looking for adventures beyond libraries, there are plenty of things to do in Ohio. Looking for more cheap or free activities? Check out the National Museum of the Air Force in Dayton.  Take a tour of the Ohio Statehouse in downtown Columbus. You’ll only have to pay for parking.

We publish as new article every week, mostly adventures in the Buckeye State. Check back often and as always, we appreciate it when you share our content to your social media. We love sharing our state with everyone!

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