The Stair Collection still resides at Stair Public Library 2011.11.30

Written by David Green.

stair.books shelvedBy DAVID GREEN

As the story goes, Phyllis Gillen of Stair Public Library was invited to the Edward Stair home in Detroit in the early 1950s for the purpose of bringing to Morenci a selection from the vast personal library of the late Mr. Stair.

Stair, several years retired as owner and editor of the Detroit Free Press, died in 1951 and left $10,000 of his $12 million estate to the library that bears his name. In addition, the library was to take possession of some of his books.

Stair’s books now line three walls of a basement room at Stair Public Library. There are hundreds of volumes from a wide array of disciplines.

Did Miss Gillen have a truck to use? Did she make several trips to Detroit and back? Was she given any guidance?

It’s not known how Phyllis made her choices. Did she have the time for careful consideration? Was it a hurried process to help clear out the house?

It seems obvious that she would have chosen “The Complete Works of Ralph Waldo Emerson” and “Hawthorne’s Works,” but what prompted her to bring home thick volumes of the “Journal of the Common Council of the City of Detroit”?

Library director Colleen Leddy, like her predecessor Elizabeth Stella, knows that something should be done with the books, but it’s always a matter of finding the time to tackle the project.

The library board chose a starting point: Bring in someone knowledgeable to peruse the volumes and offer an opinion on the value of the collection. Perhaps there are some gems among the collection that was largely acquired between the years 1900 and 1930.

Leddy invited Rod MacDonald of Ann Arbor to take a look. He was told the story of Miss Gillen going to make her selections, and after spending some time with the volumes, concluded that perhaps the collection says as much about her as it does about Stair’s tastes.stair.modern bank

There are travel books and railroad books. There’s a geology section, a banking section and a collection of books about the newspaper industry. Stair collected reference books and poetry, books about running a theatre, and others about politics and government. The collection includes books about wars, airplanes, business, adventure and on and on.

Stair apparently had a wide range of interests, and Miss Gillen did, too.

After his death, Stair was eulogized as one of Detroit’s foremost citizens, but he wasn’t a man to forget his roots.

Stair was born in Morenci in 1859. He was involved in the newspaper industry from an early age, but in 1888 he sold his interest in the “Livingston Republican” in Howell and entered the field of theatre management. 

He turned back to newspapers around the turn of the century, but never gave up his interest in the theatre. He made a deal with the village fathers of Morenci to pay half the construction cost of an auditorium which opened in 1908.

In 1942, Stair paid half the cost of a school gymnasium ($25,000). That same year he read Minnie Green’s editorial in the Morenci Observer about the need for a library building. City council accepted Stair’s offer to buy a building ($2,500) and when the facility was opened in 1943, it was named Stair Public Library in the donor’s honor. Stair also gave $1,000 for the purchase of books.

In the library’s “accession book” listing new holdings, the first entry appearing under “Stair Fund” was written Dec. 28, 1942: “The Cokesbury Shower Book,” a guide to entertaining. The library also purchased “Astronomy for Everybody” and “How to Write a Letter for all Occasions.”

Stair Fund books continued to be registered into 1951, the year that Ed Stair died.

A small publication called “History of Stair Public Library” lists a slightly different account of what’s in the library basement. Although the Morenci Observer report on Ed Stair’s will mentions only a gift of $10,000, the history book mentions that Stair’s personal library was to come to Morenci. Perhaps Miss Gillen had no choices to make. Maybe Stair’s entire collection was transported back to Stair’s home town.

On April 28, 1952, the first entry appears for “Stair Gift” when a volume of James Whittier’s poetry and prose was catalogued. In July, the Roxbury Classics followed, and after two more months, a collection of James Fenimore Cooper’s novels were processed. Nothing more was listed until March 1953 when William Gross’s “The Conquest of California” was added.

“Most of the authors here are of minimal interest to people now,” MacDonald told Leddy. “There are going to be a few that are still interesting, and there may be a gem.” plate

The library board will have to decide whether there is any value to retaining portions of the collection in Morenci. Perhaps a shelf of the more interesting volumes could be displayed as a memento of Stair, Leddy said.

MacDonald dug in, making a note of the Encyclopedia Britannica from 1910. It was only the 11th edition of the series and he knows that some of the older ones are drawing interest.

From Gautier to Turgenoff and Goethe to Longfellow, Stair had most of the classics covered.

MacDonald picked up a slim volume from 1923 called “The Making of a Modern Bank.” He knew it wouldn’t be one of the valuable gems, but it was very interesting.

“It’s something you don’t see,” he said, “and it’s in very nice condition.”

A narrow audience would find it interesting—and of value.

A book about the newspaper industry includes a note inside the cover from Frank Gannett, founder of the Gannett chain. 

A bound report on the Republican National Convention from 1932 caught MacDonald’s eye.

He found several more books with inscriptions by the author and wondered how many more there are. The Stair collection is large, but apparently Ed didn’t have to buy a lot of the books. Gifts from authors went onto his shelves.

“Cosmos, the Soul and God.”

“Marriage as a Trade.”

“To All the World Except Germany.”

“On the Safeguarding of Life in Theatres.”

“We Married an Englishman.”

“Out of the Wreck I Rise.”

“Turkish Life in Town and Country.”

“Earthquakes” from 1907.

“The Woman Movement” from 1912.

“The Red Network: a Who’s Who and Radicalism for Patriots” from 1934.

That was an interesting book since it names names, MacDonald said.

“The Old Club” lists Detroit’s high society connections.

“Dau’s Blue Book” for Detroit lists “the most prominent householders published for the convenience of our lady patrons.”

The “Dogs of Great Britain and America” is a handsome leather-bound book that remains in great condition for an 1891 publication.

“Conquering the Tropics” sounds like it could be a traveling adventure, but instead it outlines the successes of the United Fruit Company in establishing outposts in the Third World.

“The Gasoline Age” includes a note to Stair from automotive pioneer R.E. Olds.

If someone could take a children’s book, push hard on the top until it loses its square edges, they would have the trapezoid-shaped “The Slant Book.”

Stair had an extensive collection of books by Edgar Guest, and many of them include personal notes. Stair was a strong supporter of the Michigan writer.

MacDonald made it through just a third of the collection in a little over two hours and he made several notes for further research.

“I’m seeing a lot of things that I haven’t seen before,” he said, but he repeated the   warning that he gave earlier: Interest doesn’t necessarily lead to value.

  • Front.bridge Cross
    STEP BY STEP—Wyatt Stevens of Morenci makes his way across a rope bridge Sunday during the Michigan DNR’s Great Outdoors Jamboree at Lake Hudson Recreation Area. The Tecumseh Boy Scout Troop constructed the bridge again this year after taking a break in 2016. The Jamboree offered a variety of activities for a wide range of age groups. Morenci’s Stair District Library set up activities again this year and had visits with dozens of kids. See the back page for additional photos.
  • Front.bridge.17
    LEADING THE WAY—The Morenci Area High School marching band led the way across the pedestrian bridge on Morenci’s south side for the annual Labor Day Bridge Walk. The Band Boosters shared profits from the sale of T-shirts with the walk’s sponsor, the Morenci Area Chamber of Commerce. Additional photos are on the back page.
  • Front.eclipse
    LOOKING UP—More than 200 people showed up at Stair District Library Monday afternoon to view the big celestial event with free glasses provided by a grant from the Space Science Institute. The library offered craft activities from noon to 1 p.m., refreshments including Cosmic Cake from Zingerman’s Bakehouse and a live viewing of the eclipse from NASA on a large screen. As the sky darkened slightly, more and more people moved outside to the sidewalk to take a look at the shrinking sun. If you missed it, hang on for the next total eclipse in 2024 as the path comes even closer to this area.
  • Cecil
    THE MAYOR—Cecil Schoonover poses with a collection of garden gnomes that mysteriously arrive and disappear from his property. Along with the gnomes, someone created the sign stating that he is the Mayor of Gnomesville. He hasn’t yet tracked down the people involved in the prank, but he’s having a good time with the mystery.
    TAKE A BREAK—Last Wednesday’s session of Stair District Library’s Summer Reading Program ended with a quiet period in a class presented by yoga instructor Melany Gladieux of Toledo. Children learned a variety of yoga poses in the main room at the library, then finished off the session relaxing. Additional photos are on page 7. Area children are invited to visit the library today when the Michigan Science Center presents a flight program at 11 a.m. and roller coasters at 1 p.m.
  • Front.batter
    THE DERBY—Tyler “Smallpox” Flakne of Minnesota’s Home Run League All-Stars goes for the fence Friday night during the National Wiffle League Association’s home run derby in Morenci. This year the wiffleball national tournament moved from Dublin, Ohio, to Morenci’s Wakefield Park. During the derby, competitors had two minutes to hit as many home runs as possible. The winner this year finished with 21. See page 6 and 7 for additional photos.
  • Screen
    OUT OF THIS WORLD—Elizabeth McFadden and Elise Christle pose in front of the green screen as VolunTeen Noah Gilson makes them appear as though they are standing on the Moon. More photos from the Stair District Library’s NASA @ My Library program are on page 12.
  • Front.fireworks
    FIREWORKS erupt Saturday night over Morenci’s Wakefield Park during the waning hours of the Town and Country Festival. Additional festival photos are inside.
  • Front.batter

Weekly newspaper serving SE Michigan and NW Ohio - State Line Observer ©2006-2017