The Lawrence Library

January 11, 2013 § 4 Comments

A guest on one of my tours recently commented on the short-backed chairs found throughout the house.  He noted as others have that they are quite a contrast to the high-backed chairs in the dining room.  I then re-told the story that I relate in Chapter 5 of Susan Lawrence: The Enigma in the Wright House:

Lawrence Library circa 1906

Lawrence Library circa 1906

At their February, 1903, meeting the School Board voted to name the new elementary school that was being built on Springfield’s sparsely populated south side the “Lawrence School” in honor of [Susan’s father] Rheuna [who was president of the Board at his death]. Susie commissioned Frank Lloyd Wright… to design a library for the new school.  She also funded the library’s Wright-designed furniture, and she purchased books for the library.

Lawrence School still welcomes teachers and students.  However, in 1977 it was remodeled to become an adult/alternative education center.  The library was kept intact, and Mark Heyman, a former Taliesin apprentice who was living in Springfield at the time, spearheaded a drive to purchase reproductions of the library furniture.  The original chairs and tables were taken to the Dana-Thomas House for display throughout the house, and the reproductions are still used today in the school library.

Lawrence Library 2013

Lawrence Library 2013

It occurred to me that despite the fact that I frequently encourage others to visit the library, I had never done so myself.  Consequently, I made a trip to Lawrence School this week with camera in hand. Although the building looks much the same as it did in Susan’s day, she would be bewildered by some of the dramatic changes. The school is surrounded by an asphalt parking lot, and since the 1999 shooting at Columbine, all students, staff, and visitors are greeted by a uniformed guard.  However, when I entered the library, I stepped back in time.  The preserved room is a small gem.  Rheuna’s picture remains on the wall where it originally hung.  The stacks are filled with books, and the short-backed chairs fit snuggly under the tables.  The gates into the stacks have been removed, the reproduction lamps have been replaced by sturdier ones, and a computer sits on the librarian’s desk.  Nevertheless, the room feels like a bridge between Susan’s world and ours.  The words of the Illinois State Register reporter on April 14, 1906, still ring true: “[It is] the most beautiful and artistic school library in the city.”

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