Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - May 19, 2006

The past meets the future

My hometown of Burns, population 300, was buzzing a couple of weeks ago. The population increased substantially as former residents and dignitaries came to town for the dedication of the new library and city hall building.

Mom, Katie, Nadja and I traveled from Manhattan, stopping to pick up Aunt Edith along the way. We drove the 70 miles from Council Grove, mostly in heavy rain, to attend the ribbon cutting and reception. The soggy day didn't dampen the spirits of the many people who arrived to be part of the excitement.

Right away, I saw my school buddy Carol, who is now the city clerk. Before long, we were greeting old neighbors and friends right and left as we made our way to the entrance. Even Aunt Edith, who isn't from Burns and came along just for the fun, found someone she knew - the mother of a young man she taught with in Council Grove.

I was impressed when I saw the 102-year-old building. The brick structure had been cleaned and the facade was repainted in cream, green and brick-red. The south part now includes a new city office with spacious seating for meetings in the back. The north part is the library, with a small lobby area for relaxing, shelves for 3,000 books and room for more, and a children's story corner, complete with a rug and rocking chair.

I had to laugh at Katie's description of the little library. "It's sad," she said. I guess she's used to the larger libraries in her school and in Manhattan.

I told her if she thought the new library was sad, she should have seen the old one, which was in a tiny house for many years. My sister Gaila told me recently that she just loved that "library in a house" and the smell of the books. Maybe it rubbed off on her as she is now the head librarian at the American Cooperative School in La Paz, Bolivia. I must admit that I always loved that little library, too.

Katie didn't think there were enough books in the new library, but she was impressed with the computers, all of which had Windows XP - the latest operating system. Along with offering books for patrons to check out, library volunteers also plan to have free computer classes in the fall.

As I walked around inside the building, I thought back to what it was like when I was growing up in Burns. At that time, the building housed Hammann's Harness and Shoe Shop on the north side and the post office on the south. I remember the smell of leather and watching as Henry Hammann repaired saddles and shoes. I also remember greeting friends and neighbors every time I entered the post office.

Our mail carrier Virgil was at the dedication, too. He remembered sorting mail with the other rural carriers and then going out the south door as each headed out on their individual routes.

At various times the old building has housed many businesses, including a drugstore, a furniture store, a bank, a bakery and a jewelry store. It was also home to the town's telegraph exchange, the newspaper office - complete with a printing press - and even a "picture show." The upper floor has an apartment on one side that was once used by various community organizations for meetings and social events.

So now the old building again takes on two of the more important roles in a small community - handling its business and providing knowledge and entertainment. When it was a furniture store, it helped people out of this world by doubling as an undertaking parlor. Now it will help people reconnect to the world and once again be a place where neighbors meet and greet neighbors.

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