Coonskin Library

(Western Library Association)

1804-1861

Amesville, OH 45711


 

 

 Exhibit of Some Original Coonskin Library Books - Coonskin Library Museum, Amesville, OH

(only present on special occasions as a temporary loan from the Ohio Historical Society)

However, you can access and copy some original records of the library online.  Go to http://www.ohiomemory.org/          and type in Western Library Association in the search box at the top above the picture.  (accessed by webmaster November 19, 2012)

 Coonskin Library Museum

16320 State Route 329 North

Amesville, OH 45711


Cathy Mowrer, of Marietta College has written a book for school children titled Young Thomas Ewing and the Coonskin Library.  it was formally released at the Coonsking Library Museum and Amesville Elementary School Cafeteria in Amesville, OH on September 22nd. It was also released a week later on September 29th at Campus Martius Museum, Marietta. Paperback copies are available from Amazon (www.amazon.com) for $8.23.





The Coonskin Library: A Brief History

Ames Township, Ohio was settled by pioneers who were individualists who know the necessity of working together to survive and succeed. How they came to establish a library in the wilderness is a unique story of community spirit and ingenuity.

The industrious Ames settlers had trekked westward from New England for the promise of new opportunities in the Ohio Valley. Some, like Ephraim Cutler and Capt. Benjamin Brown, had been educated in the East and valued education as a basic need for their children. As early as 1801 - when the settlement was less than a decade old - a school was in operation in Cutler's home.

But for some of the pioneers, this 'formal' education was insufficient. They wanted books - books for the continued education and entertainment of their entire family. There was little reading material in the settlement beyond a slim newspaper, the United States Gazette, that was delivered to Ephraim Cutler from Philadelphia and was frequently three weeks late. Assembling a library of books in the wilderness may have seemed an unattainable goal, but, just as the settlers joined forces to stitch quilts or build barns, they now would cooperate to satisfy their hunger for the printed word.

Plans for the Western Library Association, the official name for what would later be called the Coonskin Library, were begun at a meeting held to plan the township's road maintenance. Josiah True made a proposal for a library in Ames Township; he got an enthusiastic second from George Ewing. These men and their neighbors in the sparsely settled rural area recently released by the native Americans felt isolated from reading materials they had been accustomed to in New England. By the fall of 1803 at a second meeting they set into operation a plan to build a lending library.

Financing was the most immediate problem, as cash was in short supply on the Ohio frontier. However, True and Ewing had a solution; they suggested that their limited funds could be supplemented with cash from the sale of pelts in the East, pelts attained from hunting and trapping area wildlife. That fall and winter, area residents aggressively sought the pelts of raccoon, deer, fox and bear. Many Ames men must have followed the example of Josiah True, whose diary documented his hunting success:

October 15 (1803), "kill three raccoon, panther, 1 cat"; October 16, "kill she bare"; February 25, 1804,"went huntin 12 bares"; March 15, "kill 3 racoon".

At a third meeting in the spring of 1804, True and others brought together their accumulated pelts. They also published regulations establishing the Western Library Association at this time. For many the skins fulfilled their financial obligation as charter members. The Coonskin Library was born.

 
Cover of the Western Library Association - 1804
Designed by Moses Everett, 1st School Teacher

The pelts - mostly raccoon - were turned over to Samuel Brown, who in the spring of 1804 returned overland to Boston to get his family and move them back to Ames. His trip took him upstream to Pittsburgh and over the Pennsylvania mountains to Boston where he sold the pelts for $73.50 . With the aid of Ohio Company Associates and Boston residents, Rev. Manasseh Cutler and Rev. Thaddeus Harris, librarian and teacher at Harvard, he purchased 51 titles.

Ames Portion of Coonskin Library - located at Ohio Historical Center - Columbus.

 

Dover Portion - housed at Ohio University Library

Brown brought the new books with him on his return to Ames. Later at Sylvanus Ames' home the newly arrived books were catalogued and turned over to Ephraim Cutler, the first librarian. Subscribers would visit Cutler's home to borrow books. Non-subscribers were not authorized to use the books. In the first year there were 24 shareholding subscriber families.

Over the years additional books were acquired until a total of over 400 books had been acquired during the life of the library. Around 1830 the collection was divided into two traveling libraries, one to serve Ames township residents and the second, to serve Dover township to the east. As the area population increased transportation improved with increased availability of provisions from the East. This included more abundant reading materials. In the 1860s interest in the Coonskin Library waned. The last record of books loaned was made by librarian, Nathan Dean in the 1860s. The library was later purchased for the purpose of preserving it in 1861 by E. H. Brawley, A. W. Glazier and J. T. Glazier. A year later it was again purchased by William P. Cutler, Ephraim Cutler's only son, at original price - $73.50. His daughter Sarah, later donated the Ames Collection to the Ohio Historical Society in Columbus where it remains today. The Dover Collection became the possession of Ohio University and is currently housed in the Archives of Alden Library. A full history of the origin and life of the library was written by Sarah Cutler in 1915 and is available online. See reference link below.


Coonskin Library Association

The Coonskin Library Association was formed in the mid-1980s under the leadership of Robert Avery, then Principal of the Amesville Elementary School. An earlier effort had been underway for some time to preserve and publicize the community's most acclaimed historical event; however, efforts did not come to fruition for some time. In 1994 the Amesville Elementary School gave the Association the small building near its playground. It was formerly a one-room school that had been moved to its current site in 1949. It served first as a high school machine shop and later in the 1950s as the school's cafeteria. The museum became a reality through the combined efforts of many local individuals who offered their labor and opened their purses. Federal-Hocking teachers, Steve McKinley and Terry Burns spearheaded the design of the library and mobilized students to donate their time and talent to the cause. Fifty-two persons and organizations were cited for their contributions to the museum's creation. Over 250 donors provided approximately $13,000 to finance the museum's creation and upkeep. These were in the form of $10 to $200 donations.

The Coonskin Library Museum was dedicated on Friday, May 20 1994. Since that time it has served the schools, alumni, and local communities by demonstrating the history of this early library. However, there is a continual need for volunteers and financial support to provide for the upkeep and improvement of the facility. The library is currently unable to retain the original books due to the lack of appropriate security and humidity control. The museum is only able to maintain a display of copies of original titles. Actual books are displayed only on temporarily loans that are arranged for special occassions through the cooperation of the Ohio Historical Society. The Association's goal is to raise sufficient money to acquire a more secure book display that would not only better secure the books but provide the appropriate atmosphere required to preserve them. When such capability is acquired Avery hopes to petition the Ohio Historical Society for a more generous policy for borrowing and displaying original books.

The museum is currently most used by school children who visit while on school trips. Individuals and groups may arrange for tours and visits by contacting Robert Avery, Association President. The museum is not easily found. It is located behind the Amesville Elementary School off SR 329 north of SR 550. It is not served by a major street and does not have an adjacent parking area. One must park on Franklin Street across from the Presbyterian Church and walk west on a short street that is not open to vehicles. See map below for general location. There is no charge to visit the museum; however, donations are welcomed.

Map of Amesville north of SR 550

The continued operation of the museum is dependent on the continued financial support of Ames-Bern and Federal-Hocking Alumni, Amesville citizens, county residents, visitors and friends. You may add your support to this worthy historical project that exists to preserve, promote, and share local history. You may lend your support by either (1) getting in contact with Bob Avery, President (740) 662-1230 or (2) by sending your check now and in the future to:

The Coonskin Library Association

PO Box 160

Amesville, OH 45711

Bob Avery, President

Coonskin Library Association

 To learn how to lend your support to the Coonsking Library Association (click here)


Coonskin Association Officers 2008-2009

Bob Avery, President

Gary Goosman, Vice President

Richard Dean, Secretary

Teresa Pollock, Treasurer


For Further Information contact

Robert Avery, President (740) 662-1230

Amesville Elementary School (740) 448-2501 (for information on touring)

Richard Dean, Webmaster deanr@ohio.edu

Internet Links to Coonskin Library Refernces

Web Descriptions

Ohio History Central
http://www.ohiohistorycentral.org/entry.php?rec=692
Ohio University Libraries
http://www.library.ohiou.edu/libinfo/depts/archives/factbook/dyk/dyk2001spring.htm
Ohio Center for the Book
http://www.ohiocenterforthebook.org/LiteraryLandmarks.aspx?id=1&mode=detail&region=none
Amesville History: (recent project for Amesville Elementary School Children by teacher Tracy Keirns, Danita McLaughlin and colleages)
http://oak.cats.ohiou.edu/~tl250692/AmesvilleHistory_Local/The%20Coonskin%20Library.htm
Amesville Website
http://www.seorf.ohiou.edu/~xx125/homepage.html
Amesville Community Mural
http://www.ruralaction.org/arts_mural10.html
About Ephraim Cutler
http://oak.cats.ohiou.edu/~deanr/ephraim_c.htm
About Thomas Ewing
http://www.progenealogists.com/athens/amestownship2.htm
About Josia True
http://www.progenealogists.com/athens/dovertownship.htm
The Coonskin Library by Sara J. Cutler (final owner and donor of library to Ohio Historical Society)
http://publications.ohiohistory.org/ohstemplate.cfm?action=detail&Page=002658.html&StartPage=58&EndPage=77&volume=26&notes=&newtitle=Volume%2026%20Page%2058
 

Published Information on Coonskin Library

Beatty, Elizabeth Grover and Stone, Marjorie. (1984) Coonskin Library, Getting to Know Athens County. The Stone House, 49 Graham Dr., Athens, OH, 45701.

O'Neill, Elwin R. (1936) A History of the Coonskin Library. A masters thesis presented to Ohio University, Master of Arts.

Recent Journalist Articles

American Profile (of Bob Avery and CSL)
http://www.americanprofile.com/issues/20041121/20041121_4319.asp
Walters, Willa. How the Coonskin Library Got Its Name. Logan Daily
http://www.logandaily.com/main.asp?SectionID=1&SubSectionID=1&ArticleID=119599

Download Publications

Wild Ohio Magazine Bicentennial Article - Hathaway, Melisssa. Coonskin Library Holds Heritage and Ingenuity
http://www.dnr.state.oh.us/wildlife/PDF/WildOhioSPRING2003.pdf
 Rollins, Ron. Tribute to Reading: The Coonskin Library Museaum. Ohio Magazine, February, 2006, pp.60-62. Not yet available on magazine website - http://www.ohiomagazine.com

Other Amesville History on the Web

Mudsock,- an Early Pioneer (Ames) Villiage
http://oak.cats.ohiou.edu/~deanr/mudsock.htm
 

Ephraim Cutler - early resident of Amestown and Early Area and State Leader.

http://oak.cats.ohiou.edu/~deanr/ephraim_c.htm
 

The History of Amesville

http://oak.cats.ohiou.edu/~tl250692/AmesvilleHistory_Local/Introduction.htm


Webmaster: Richard Dean - deanr@ohio.edu

Last Update: November 1, 2013