By PATTY KISHMAN
Ritter Public Library
In 1918, the town of Vermilion established its first public library. This year, Ritter Public Library celebrates 100 years of service that has grown from a few dozen books and nickel fines to wireless internet and streaming videos.
A year-long, community-wide celebration will show off the value of the library. Throughout the year, events include a community quilt, historical displays, customer-appreciation awards and a free, town- wide picnic in the park this summer with a concert by Emily Keener, a contestant on the television show “The Voice.
In addition, the library has presented a special anniversary gift for the community. Because residents cherish the unique history of the town, Ritter has created access to the stories of Vermilion through a brand new page on its website.
Ritter partners with the Vermilion Area Archival Society to collect and archive historical material including old newspapers, club ledgers, photo collections and more. Now you can look through some of this material, which is presented in captivating story collections, anytime at ritterpubliclibrary.org/stories-of-vermilion.
And throughout this year, you can enjoy a new oral history series: live interviews with longtime residents who share stories of the people and places of Vermilion. The programs will be held the second Monday of the month and will also be recorded and made available anytime on the Stories of Vermilion page online.
The Story of Vermilion’s Library
In the early 1900s, before Vermilion had a public library, townspeople could pay to belong to a “subscription” library. Membership cost $1 a year and a few dozen books were housed on the shelves of various local stores.
This first library was sponsored by a group of devoted women. Bessie Roscoe, wife and partner of the publisher and editor of Vermilion’s newspaper, “The Vermilion News,” was one of its first champions.
In 1902, an article in the paper encouraged people to join the library.
“We can while away winter evenings to no better advantage, especially during the stormy weather, than to sit by our own fireside and read some good books. It not only relieves our minds of the cares of the day but also brings bodily refreshment as well.
“Another feature is the cheapness. Where can we find so much good reading for so little money?”
In 1918, the Vermilion school board appointed a library board of trustees so the village could begin receiving state funds. During those first years, however, there just wasn’t enough money to cover all the expenses, so the women scrimped on spending, held fundraisers, saved and invested.
By 1935 – despite the turmoil of the Great Depression – they were able to pay for a new, brick building, Vermilion’s first library, on Grand Street near the railroad. Today, this building is The Old Vermilion Jailhouse Bed and Breakfast.
Twenty years later, hometown son George Ritter, who had made his fortune as a lawyer in Toledo, offered to pay for a new, grander library on Liberty Avenue. He modelled the new building on the Joseph Swift mansion south of town. He had pink marble brought up from Georgia, thinking that white marble might fade. The cornerstone was laid in 1958.
Ritter died in 1979 and in his will, he left money for construction of an addition to the library, which was completed in 1983. His will also established a trust fund, enabling the library to purchase membership in the CLEVNET group in 1985, and which continues to be a source of funding today.
In the 1990s, the public agreed to expand the building again, to prepare for coming technology. During construction, the entire library moved to the old Valley View School for a year before re-opening in 1994.
An expansion in 2010 added a second floor and a computer lab and Ritter became the first public library in Ohio to earn a gold award for environmentally responsible building designs.
Vermilion will hear from George Ritter yet again. A sealed box was placed behind the cornerstone in 1958. In it is a letter from Ritter that was not to be opened for 100 years. In 2058, residents may open it for a final message.
— Kishman handles communications for Ritter Public Library, 5680 Liberty Ave., Vermilion. For information, visit ritterpubliclibrary.org or call 440- 967-3798.