Rotary reveals first part of ongoing project

PUNXSUTAWNEY — Thursday, at the Crimson Village, Punxsutawney had more added to its history with the unveiling of a free-standing replica of the former public library from the late 1960s and early 1970s.

The piece, created and built by local artist Jeff Marshall, was revealed after a period of time when the Punxsutawney Rotary Club was seeking something to add to its existing Circle of Trees effort.

“The purpose is to enhance the overall holiday atmosphere in Punxsutawney, to preserve the history of Punxsutawney in an unique and interesting manner, and to draw tourists and local individuals to the downtown shopping area by enhancing the downtown business atmosphere,” Rotarian and Circle of Trees chairperson Tom Chelgren said.

In the late 1990s, Rotary took over maintenance of the live Christmas tree on display in Barclay Square. As happens with tall, real trees, it fell over multiple times, including one year about four times during the Christmas season.

While Christmas cheer was spread each time the tree was returned to its upright position, the club decided in 2006 to erect an 18-foot artificial tree.

Soon afterward, Rotary decided it wanted to do more to spread tidings throughout Punxsutawney, and developed ideas leading to the Circle of Trees, starting in 2007.

While the Circle of Trees was popular locally, it was also recognized by out-of-town guests. Chelgren recalled visitors from South Carolina, Ohio and Virginia, telling him they stopped just to look at the glowing trees.

Late last summer, the Circle of Trees committee bounced around ideas on how to add to the event, but nothing stood out, until the group decided that Punxsutawney’s history should be the focal point.

Thus, the committee chose to make history come to life by building replicas of downtown businesses from the late 1960s to early 1970s. This was an appropriate time period, as many people are able to recall past memories of the buildings, as well as the time when many devastating fires took place, destroying beloved landmarks.

The idea continued to flourish as the committee wanted to convert Barclay Square sidewalks into replicas of North Findley and Mahoning Streets, which would allow residents to see what town was like 20 years ago.

While the ideas were beginning to become a reality, Rotary contacted Marshall to create and design the model that was yet to be decided upon.

After long deliberation, the members decided that a model of the former public library should be the first piece, and they chose this to be the first because of the detailed structure of the building, which included the pillars.

For many, this project would not only be a way to light up the holiday season, but also serve as a touching remembrance.

For three ladies — Jeanne Curtis, Connie Gresock and Jean Williams — present for the unveiling, the library was more than books. It was the place they would spend each day.

From the beautiful staircase to the glass windows, memories were made every day among the shelves. Williams recalled the change from the former library to the new one as one being of excellence.

“It was a wonderful thing to change,” she said. “There was not so much lugging of books up and down the staircase.”

Marshall began creating the replica in November, dedicating time and detail. George “Butch” White said the construction took place on the third floor in the Crimson Village, which he co-owns. He said it took about two weeks to carve the stone on the piece and another two weeks to build the porch.”

Chelgren said Rotary wants to complete its goal — recreating the blocks from Findley Street and East Mahoning Street to Jefferson and to go west one block to Gilpin — in the next three to four years, but will take as much time to do this project as needed, striving for efficiently and authenticity.

The next piece will either be the former Spirit building, due to the height and architectural design, or the former Mahoning Hardware.

If interested in being an artist for further projects, looking to sponsor a piece or wanting to showcase the library replica in your store front window, contact Chelgren through Rotary.