In 1974, the Stevenson Center opened on the Chillicothe branch campus of Ohio University. Unsurprisingly, the building houses the campus’ Quinn Library. Unsurprising because the namesake was a world-renowned librarian from right here in Chillicothe.
Burton Egbert Stevenson was born nearly 150 years ago on November 9, 1872. After graduating from Chillicothe High School, he attended Princeton University in New Jersey. In 1893, he returned to his hometown to work for local newspapers, including The Gazette, The Daily News, and The Chillicothe Budget.
In 1899, Stevenson became the Director of the Chillicothe Public Library, then housed on the top floor of the city building. In 1906, Stevenson shepherded the library’s move to its new (and current) location, 140 S. Paint St. To put that in perspective, the Main library was built when the Ohio Erie Canal was still active in downtown Chillicothe!
Mr. Stevenson remained the local library director for 58 years, finally retiring in 1957. However, not all of those years were spent in residency. During World War I, he became very active in the war effort, establishing a library at Camp Sherman, the local training camp for soldiers entering in the conflict.
Stevenson organized a national book drive that stocked the camp’s library with over 40,000 books. He also made it a goal to have at least one newspaper from every hometown that was represented by a soldier at the camp. His effort became the national model and caught the attention of the American Library Association (ALA), who tasked him with founding the American Library in Paris. He served concurrently as Director there from 1918-1920 and again from 1925-1930. From 1930-1937, he served as the European Director of ALA’s Library War Service.
That alone would be enough to make Stevenson a prominent citizen of Chillicothe, but he was also a well-known writer. He published 40 books, including novels, young adult stories, travel guides and histories, and reference and anthology collections.
One of Stevenson’s most popular novels, The Mystery of the Boule Cabinet was adapted into Hollywood movies three times, first in 1916, as the silent film “The Pursuing Vengeance.” Again, in 1930, as “In the Next Room” (based on the play of the same name). And finally, in 1941, “The Case of the Black Parrot” starring William Lundigan.
Mr. Stevenson died at the age of 89 in 1962. He is buried on the top of the hill in Grandview Cemetery.