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Into the vault: Library uncovers its history

Staff writer

Florence history is safe and secure, housed inside a former bank vault with a pull-down ladder that leads to an attic-like room. Years ago, the room above the vault had a hole, since sealed, that faced the Main St. entrance.

“The security guard would sit up there and stick his rifle through the hole,” library volunteer Kathy Inlow said. “He would have it aimed at the front door so that if any robbers came in, he could actually take care of them before anything really happened.

“That’s kinda cool. That’s cool history.”

From the stacks of the library, one can look up and — if the lighting is just right — see where the outside of the hole used to be.

A recent push to tidy up helped library volunteers flesh out the building’s history.

“We knew the hole was up there,” Inlow said, “but we didn’t know what it was for.”

Florence Public Library has been in the building at 324 Main St. since 1962. Most of its history had been stored in the vault, which had been formerly used by First National Bank after it moved into the building in 1922.

The vault has been turned into a history room, with old books, newspaper clippings, bank equipment, old photos, and family history documents, some of which date as far back as 1887.

The vault’s walls have themselves been imbued with history. Two black lines about four feet off the ground remind visitors of flooding that drowned many Florence buildings decades ago.

“That’s what the water level was after the flood in 1951,” Inlow said. “It was higher, but when it settled, this is where it was.”

All the library’s media were claimed by that flood, which prompted a national book drive. The book drive was featured by country musician and actor Rex Allen on his CBS radio show; a picture of Allen talking with Florentines about the library, dated Oct. 5, 1951, is displayed in the history room.

Originally the site was a butcher shop, but that building was razed in 1915. The bank came in seven years later, and the library used a portion of its space. The building’s second floor had other tenants throughout the years, housing doctors’ offices, dentists, and apartments.

Lately the second floor has been home to nothing. No concrete plans are in place for the second floor, but Inlow said volunteers were sifting through what’s left of old establishments and removing materials. The library has been taking a one-step-at-a-time approach.

Last winter, the board made some New Year’s resolutions to clean up some of the mess in closets and halls.

The excavated space was ideal for a museum-like exhibit; Inlow plans to display different items seasonally to make it worth returning to.

She said she had been amazed at what’s been uncovered so far and is optimistic about the library going forward.

“It’s just amazing what we found when we started cleaning,” Inlow said. “We just started doing it, and this is what came about.”

Last modified July 16, 2015

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