The Andrew Carnegie Free Library and Music Hall in Carnegie, Pa. has hired a part time curator to oversee its collection of rare artifacts from the U.S. Civil War.
Diane Klinefelter is a historian who served as the library’s director until 2012. She will return in January to take up the new position, which is being funded through a grant from the Massey Charitable Trust.
“Here we had a library director who brought 35 years of business experience, was a professional geneaologist – which is a rare thing to be – and had written two books on the Civil War,” Executive Director Maggie Forbes said. “She thinks she’s died and gone to heaven.”
Since 1906, the Carnegie Free Library has been home to the Captain Thomas Espy Post No. 153 of the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR). Civil War veterans returning home to southwestern Pennsylvania established the post in 1879.
At one time, there were nearly 7,000 GAR posts nationwide. However, the organization’s membership was limited to veterans who had served in the Union armed forces from 1861 to 1866 – “which means it was an organization that was destined to die out,” Forbes said.
The meeting room was sealed in 1937, after the final member of the post died. Its doors stayed closed for decades until the library was renovated in 2004. During that time, mold, mildew, water damage, and vermin took their toll. But when the room reopened in 2010 it had been restored to its original condition from the turn of the century, right down to the color of the paint – reproduced from lab analysis of a plaster sample.
Today, it’s regarded by scholars as the most intact GAR post in the nation.
“It’s a really important part of our national heritage,” Forbes said. “And it’s beautiful. It’s not a museum. It’s actually just restored to be the way it was when the veterans were meeting there.”
The restoration effort had help from a detailed catalog of the room’s contents left by the veterans who furnished the post at a cost of $11,000 in 1906. It includes several one-of-a-kind items like an oak table with crosspieces fashioned from Civil War bayonets and rifle stocks.
“In the center of this catalog, they took a picture of each [of the] four walls of the room,” Forbes said. “They actually documented what it looked like. So we were able to very meticulously and accurately bring it back to the way it was.”
The post was named for Capt. Thomas Espy, a native of Upper St Clair, whose portrait hangs in the meeting room. Espy died in southeastern Virginia during the Peninsula Campaign of 1862.
The Espy Post is open to visitors from 11:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. Saturdays at the Andrew Carnegie Free Library and Music Hall at 300 Beechwood Avenue in Carnegie.