The Winter issue of the Ohioana Quarterly focused on our good friend, the Mercantile Library in Cincinnati.
This library is one of the gems in the crown of the Queen City. It was established in 1835, according to the feature story written by Ohioana board member Bryan Loar. Its founders were merchants and clerks, hence the name. These young men of the city, who could expect a prosperous future for themselves as well as Cincinnati, placed a premium on learning and so created a place and an opportunity.
Can you imagine what a haven the library must have been from the rush and press of business in 1835? Cincinnati was hardly a backwater since it was a significant river port on the Ohio, with trade and a thriving meat-packing industry sending out salted pork all over the country. And can you imagine the despair over not one but TWO fires it endured, the first in 1845 and the second in 1869? Fortunately, most of the volumes were saved in both instances. And in 1904, the Mercantile Library found a home it has stayed in ever since.
The building is, of course, lovely. It has plenty of natural light, comfortable chairs, wood book shelves and cabinets, and works of art both venerable and modern. And it has kept up with the times. There are 80,000 books in the collection and membership has grown from the original 45 to the current 2,500. There are discussion groups, literary and other events, and even e-books.
As Bryan says in the article, “The Mercantile Library continues to support personal improvement and the exploration of contemporary ideas through an adaptive and open space, a notable collection, inspiring art, and extraordinary programs.”