Peer Back in Time With These Magical Photos of the ‘Old Main’ Library of Cincinnati


Cincinnati's "Old Main" was once considered to be one of the most magnificent public library buildings in the country. Spiral staircases weaved between five levels of towering bookshelves. When patrons entered, they were greeted by busts of William Shakespeare, John Milton and Benjamin Franklin. Marbled, checkerboard floors lined the space and slants of light poured in from skylights in the roof.

Located downtown at 629 Vine St., the building — which was designed by architect J.W. McLaughlin — was completed in 1874 and originally meant to serve as an opera house.

“The main hall is a splendid work," The Cincinnati Enquirer reported at the opening. “The hollow square within the columns is lighted by an arched clear roof of prismatic glass set in iron, the light of which is broken and softened by a paneled ceiling of richly-colored glass. One is impressed not only with the magnitude and beauty of the interior but with its adaptation to the purpose it is to serve."

The historical images of the library's past are magical — it's the kind of space in which you could imagine Matilda wandering or Hogwarts' students studying feverishly. Despite its beauty, it was demolished in 1955. An Enquirer clipping from May 4 that year reported that "the old Public Library Building, constructed originally as an opera house, is fast disappearing under demolition by the Cleveland Wrecking Co. at its long-occupied spot on Vine Street adjoining The Enquirer Building."

Its reason for demolition was simple: The library had outgrown its space and was starting to show wear.

The archival clipping was joined by a photo taken of the rear of the library's building being torn down. Now, a parking garage occupies the space. The new Main Branch of the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County is situated nearby on Eighth and Vine streets, designed by architect Woodie Garber. One prominent element was carried over, according to the library's website: the skylight and atrium ceiling. The aforementioned trio of busts still reside in the Main Branch's garden.