The story of the Wagnalls Memorial Library; Columbus Monthly receives national recognition

I’m not sure why I was driving through Lithopolis. All I remember is it was an accident. Meandering through the rural byways southeast of Columbus, I found myself on Lithopolis Road, heading into the tiny village along the border of Franklin and Fairfield counties. Nothing seemed particularly noteworthy at first—just another blink-and-you-missed-it little Ohio town. Then, right before I was about to say goodbye to Lithopolis forever, I saw what looked like a sprawling estate on the edge of town. It had a tower, a stone façade, gorgeous lead-glass windows and immaculate gardens. I nearly drove off the road gawking at this remarkable sight.

This, as I later figured out, was no private residence. It was the Wagnalls Memorial Library, and it has quite a story to tell. Founded in 1925 by publishing heiress Mabel Wagnalls Jones to honor her Lithopolis-born parents, the library’s been at the center of cultural and educational life in the small town since then. Wagnalls is one of Central Ohio’s most obscure (and at-risk) architectural treasures. When I became editor of Columbus Monthly earlier this year, I knew I wanted to dig into this tale, and we’ve done that in this issue with contributor Jeff Long’s fascinating feature "Wagnalls Library’s Uncertain Future."

For me, the story of Wagnalls offers some important lessons. There are the obvious ones, of course: the inspirational generosity of its founder, who wanted to give to the citizens of Lithopolis the kind of cultural and educational resources that her parents never had, as well as the importance of careful stewardship, which now is needed to keep the library alive for future generations. But I also draw a more personal lesson, one rooted in my first accidental encounter with the landmark: If we let ourselves drift a bit—to get lost, if you will—then we might find something extraordinary.

Think of what you can gain when you turn off the GPS, ditch Google Maps and head out on the open road without a plan or a clue: unexpected adventures, delicious meals at off-the-beaten-path restaurants, a Tudor-Gothic library in the middle of nowhere. Life without a map opens you up to moments of grace, surprise and danger. And you might end up with a story to tell.


Speaking of great stories, we have some exciting awards news to share: Columbus Monthly has been named a finalist for four City and Regional Magazine Association Awards—a record for us. For the third year in a row—and after winning the top prize last year—Columbus Monthly is again up for a General Excellence Award for best magazine in the country (circulation less than 30,000). Senior editor Suzanne Goldsmith is also a finalist in the feature category (circulation less than 60,000) for her April 2018 story on undocumented immigrant Edith Espinal. Meanwhile, two of our ancillary publications, Columbus Weddings and Columbus Monthly Health, are up for awards. Winners will be announced at CRMA’s annual conference May 18-20.