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)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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 email@example.com
- Ohio History Central
- Ohio University Libraries
- Ohio Center for the Book
- Amesville History: (recent project for Amesville Elementary School Children by teacher Tracy Keirns, Danita McLaughlin and colleages)
- Amesville Website
- Amesville Community Mural
- About Ephraim Cutler
- About Thomas Ewing
- About Josia True
- The Coonskin Library by Sara J. Cutler (final owner and donor of library to Ohio Historical Society)
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.
- American Profile (of Bob Avery and CSL)
- Walters, Willa. How the Coonskin Library Got Its Name. Logan Daily
- Wild Ohio Magazine Bicentennial Article - Hathaway, Melisssa. Coonskin Library Holds Heritage and Ingenuity
- Mudsock,- an Early Pioneer (Ames) Villiage
Ephraim Cutler - early resident of Amestown and Early Area and State Leader.
The History of Amesville
Last Update: November 1, 2013