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This old library has found a new purpose in DeWitt

DeWitt's public library has had many buildings to call home. One of those old libraries has been turned into a bar and restaurant in the downtown area.

DEWITT, Iowa — Few places in DeWitt embody the town's motto, as the 'crossroads of opportunity,' better than the building at the crossroads of 9th Street and 6th Avenue. 

Sitting on the corner sits a building that's watched the town grow, shift and evolve. It was made possible through a grant of $7,116 back in 1907. A gift, from the Carnegie Foundation, to build an Andrew Carnegie library right in the middle of DeWitt, Iowa. 

"It was a real asset to DeWitt to have a Carnegie Library here," said Ann Soenksen, president of the Central Community Historical Society. "It's our town, you know?" 

For decades the library was a gathering spot for DeWitt and the surrounding communities. 

Soenksen and her team have records that trace the library back to a mere 5-foot shelf of books that grew to more than 5,000 volumes at the old Carnegie building. At the time, it was the largest library in Clinton County. 

While we were visiting the historical society, Soenksen pulled a list of books from 1922 out of her stack of files. But as she read off some of the titles -- including the Tom Swift stories, the Ralph Osborn series, Breckenridge's Radio Boys series and more -- it was quickly apparent that our list was not all that it seemed. 

"Oh, now wait a minute," Soenksen exclaimed. "You're not supposed to buy these books! It says don't buy!" 

That's right, we'd stumbled across a 101-year-old list of banned books. It appears history, does in fact, repeat itself more often than not. 

"Most of them are machine made, none of them are literature. Many of them are vicious and all of them are hopeless," Soenksen read from a note at the top of the list. By the end of it, she couldn't contain her laughter, saying, "See! It was going on a hundred years ago!" 

Nowadays, you'll still find some manuscripts if you step inside the old building building. But most of the books have been traded out for a bar known as "The Old Library." 

"It's been a great experience, the community has so welcomed us and made this all possible. It's been great," said Beth Lanhart. 

Lanhart and her family now own the building, which has been transformed into a bar and restaurant. A gorgeous wood bar takes up nearly half of one wall while high-top tables and chairs occupy most of the floor space. 

But look around carefully and you'll still find plenty of the original Carnegie charm. 

The ceiling has since been painted over, but it's still the original tin ceiling from 1907. Lanhart also estimates about 90% of the bar's wood trim is original as well. A few years ago a local gentleman came in and restored it all, showing off the detail in the century-old woodwork.  

And, of course, there's still one wall lined with floor-to-ceiling bookshelves bursting with texts of all size and subject matter. 

"People love coming in here and talking about the years when it was a library and they were younger," Lanhart said. "It's very warm and friendly." 

She even joked that a few people have asked to take some of the books home. Lanhart says she always says yes -- no need for a library card here! 

For more than a century, the old library has been a gathering spot in DeWitt. So, while the books have come down and the Bailey's has gone up, the building remains a source of community for those in the town. 

Watch more DeWitt Hometown Tour stories on News 8's YouTube channel

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