Carnegie, Pa. Library To Reopen Restored GAR Post
(February/March 2010 Civil War News)
CARNEGIE, Pa. — On Feb. 12, the 201st anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s birth, the restored Captain Thomas Espy Post No. 153, Grand Army of the Republic, will reopen in the Andrew Carnegie Free Library & Music Hall.
The veterans named their post in Carnegie for Espy, who was a local resident mortally wounded at the June 27, 1862, battle of Gaines’ Mill, Va.
Members of Capt. Thomas Espy Post gather in front of the Andrew Carnegie Free Library on Memorial Day 1905.
They custom-furnished a room at the library and met there from 1906 until the mid-1930s, when the last post member died.
The room, along with its original furnishings and artifacts, including flags, weapons, books and prints, was locked and essentially forgotten for decades, according to Maggie Forbes, executive director of the Library & Music Hall and capital campaign manager.
The Espy Post has been documented by GAR expert Stuart McConnell, professor of history at Pitzer College in Claremont, Calif., as one of the most intact GAR posts in the country.
The post was chartered in 1879 and met in various rented spaces in the area. In 1906, it reached an agreement with the Carnegie Library to occupy a second-floor meeting room.
The veterans furnished the room to reflect the 1901 library’s grand character as well as Civil War motifs and GAR convention.
Forbes said the room and its contents were deeply compromised by decades of neglect and took a back seat for restoration because the Andrew Carnegie Free Library & Music Hall’s entire facility was in dire need of structural and cosmetic repairs.
In 2008, as the building’s renovation was well under way, a donor with a family connection to the Civil War made an unexpected and significant gift to restore the Espy Post.
The benefactor was Bill Brown, who was born and raised in Birmingham, Ala., and now lives near Pittsburgh, which is five miles northeast of Carnegie.
Relatives on his mother’s side served the Confederacy and his paternal great-grandfather, William Marshel Brown, a native of upstate New York, was in the Union Army.
Thanks to Brown the Espy Post room has been restored as closely as possible to its original appearance. Forbes said a post catalog published in 1911 documented the early appearance.
The library building itself is notable as one of four libraries that Andrew Carnegie endowed. The more usual model was Carnegie funding the building and the municipality funding operations.
Forbes said that after decades of entrenched poverty the building is in the midst of a remarkable transformation. “We have raised more than $6 million to restore this historic landmark facility, and improvements in programming and organizational capacity is keeping pace with upgrades to the facility,” she said.
In conjunction with the room’s opening a rare collection of Abraham Lincoln photographs will be on loan from Pittsburgh fine arts photographer Norman Schumm. They will be on display in the Reception Hall adjacent to the Espy Post from Feb. 12 through March 27 during regular library hours.
The “100 Aspects of Lincoln” exhibit photos range from an 1847 daguerreotype to the only photograph of Lincoln in his coffin.
Schumm had worked with noted photojournalist and author Stefan Lorant on three editions of Pittsburgh: The Story of an All American City. Prior to his death in 1997, Lorant asked Schumm to develop photographs from his collection of copy negatives from his book Lincoln: A Picture Story of his Life.
Lorant intended to exhibit the photographs in New York. As part of the compensation for his three weeks of work in the darkroom, Schumm negotiated permission to develop a full set of the 100 Lincoln portraits for himself.
The Espy Post will reopen with a special reception hosted by Carnegie native former Pennsylvania Governor Richard Thornburgh and his wife Ginny.
The post will be open to the public at no charge on Saturdays from 11 a.m. until 3 a.m. beginning Feb. 13.
In April the library will host the Gilder Lehrman Institute traveling exhibit “Abraham Lincoln: A Man of His Times; A Man for All Times” and present Aaron Copland’s “A Lincoln Portrait” in the music hall.
For more information go to www.carnegiecarnegie.com or call (412)276-3456, ext. 6.