The Cass District Library's local history branch will get a facelift inside and out in the coming years. A current project to repair the roof and masonry is already underway. Leader photo/ALY GIBSON

Archived Story

Local history library gets a facelift

Published 5:55pm Wednesday, September 5, 2012

The Cass District Library’s Local History Branch is undergoing major restoration as the last days of summer shift into the fall season.

Renovations at the building, 145 N. Broadway St. in Cassopolis, will total an estimated $178,000 for work on the roof and masonry.

According to Jonathan Wuepper, branch manager, the last restoration project took place in 1993 and 1994.

“We were taking on water,” Jennifer Ray, the library director, said. “Depending on the direction of the wind and how hard it was raining, the roof was leaking, so we looked at the options and wanted to do everything to keep the water out of the building.”

Work began Aug. 21 and crews are working on the north and south sides of the building. According to Ray, the price could end up much lower than planned.

“There’s about $25,000 built into the project plan for ‘in case’ purposes,” Ray said. “We may not need that, but it’s good to have it for anything that might be unexpected.”

The building, rich with history of the area, serves as a local history and genealogy research branch. Wuepper, also the building historian, said the building was originally erected during the winter of 1908 and 1909. By late May 1909, the branch opened with 1,500 volumes donated by a ladies library group.

“It originally served as the LaGrange Township library,” Wuepper said.

According to Wuepper, a Cassopolis judge named Harsen D. Smith took a train in 1908 to New York to visit Andrew Carnegie. During the visit, Smith asked Carnegie for a $10,000 grant to build the library. Carnegie responded with a need for the community to match the funding, which it did in April 1908 with a millage raise.

“The lot was bought in June, and they tore down a law office that was previously built in that space in 1838,” Wuepper said.

From there, a South Bend architect company, Young and Shambleau, drew up the plans with a construction company out of Mishawaka, Rosewarne, building the library.

“In February of 1916, they tried to reinforce the west end of the foundation and that’s what we’re looking at now,” Wuepper said. “We want to stabilize the building and repair the roof.”

Nehil and Sivak Consulting  Structural Engineers are working with Blair Bates and Jeff Braasch of Building Restoration Inc., a Kalamazoo-based restoration company. Rick Mancini of Hoekstra Roofing is also helping to complete the project. Ray said, however, this first project will give way to others, including indoor improvements.

“As the money becomes available, we can keep renovating and preserving the building,” Ray said. “This is just the tip of the iceberg.”

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