Conserving a piece of the past

Scoville Window in Special Collections
Image courtesy of The Conservation Center

Special Collections curates, houses, and conserves Oak Park’s historical treasures, and makes them publicly available both in person and digitally. In 2018 we worked with the Conservation Center in Chicago to conserve a work of art of special significance to the library—a rare window from the Scoville Institute, the late 19th-century building that once stood at 834 Lake St., now home to the Main Library.

Scoville Institute Bookplate
Image courtesy of the West Chicago Public Library, Cornelia Neltnor Anthony and Frank D. Anthony Book Plate Collection

Oak Park’s first library

Before the Oak Park Public Library, there was the Scoville Institute. Originally a private subscription library built in 1888 with funds donated by resident James W. Scoville, it became Oak Park’s first public library in 1902.

In the early 1960s, it was torn down to make way for a new library building. The current Main Library, opened in 2003, is the second to be built on the old Scoville site.

Gravity takes a toll

When the Scoville Institute was demolished, local hardware store owner Don Peaslee bought an art glass window from the building at auction, refurbished it, and later donated it to the library.

Dubbed “The Scoville Window,” it hung on the wall of the Main Library’s third-floor Special Collections Reading Room until early 2018, when staff noticed that parts of the window’s frame, which is not original, had started to separate.

“The glass itself is in excellent condition,” said Archivist Emily Reiher. “But the window is heavy. Gravity took its toll on the frame.”

Crafting a new frame for the Scoville Window
Image courtesy of The Conservation Center

Reframed and restored

To solve the problem, the library contacted the Conservation Center, a leader in art preservation. In 2016, Special Collections staff had worked with the Conservation Center to successfully conserve the library’s Grand Army of the Republic volumes, full of photos and information about local Civil War veterans.

The Conservation Center crafted a new frame, plus a custom easel to display the window upon its return to Special Collections this past October.

Leigh Tarullo with Scoville Window
Curator of Special Collections Leigh Tarullo with the restored Scoville Window

A special place

“So few objects from the original library building exist, and that’s why the Scoville Window is so special to us,” said Leigh Tarullo, Curator of Special Collections. “We will make sure it always has a prominent place.”

Other Scoville Institute items at the library include rare books and correspondence between librarians and local authors.

Learn more about the library’s Special Collections »