I passed the elegant buff-colored brick and gray stone building with an Italian tile roof twice: first, on my way to a 2013 birthday tour of the Airstream factory in Jackson Center; then, while traversing Union and Logan Counties in search of covered bridges last summer.
Both times, I noticed a bronze bas-relief plaque of a man’s portrait above the building’s main entrance. I wondered what this magnificent structure was doing in Zanesfield, a small Ohio village with a population of 197. What I discovered when I went to see it recently was truly worth the trip. Join me on a virtual visit to the Earl Sloan Library.
Our story begins in the mid-19th century, when Andrew Sloan emigrated from Ireland and set up shop making horse harnesses in Zanesfield. Known for his ability with horses, he became a self-taught veterinarian, rubbing their shoulders when they got stiff from spring ploughing with a strong-smelling liniment he concocted. While the village vet was developing a name for himself among the community, his son, Earl, was attending school, developing such a reputation for mischief that he earned the nickname “Spider.” By the time he was 15, Earl had become an apprentice harness-maker.
In 1871, 23-year-old Earl went to St. Louis, Missouri to join his brother, Foreman, who ran a livery and bought and traded horses. The two peddled their father’s horse liniment at farms, horse fairs and carnivals. When one of their customers discovered that the liniment relieved back discomfort in humans as well, the brothers started advertising the liniment as “good for man and beast.” Sales took off, and before long, Earl was so successful that he moved to Chicago. There, he started running ads for Sloan’s Liniment in the evening newspapers and on streetcars, touting its healing powers for rheumatism, arthritis, lumbago, muscular aches, and minor strains and sprains.
Liniment is a watery substance that is rubbed on the skin to increase circulation, bringing warmth to relieve stiff, sore muscles. Other active ingredients in Sloan’s Liniment include camphor oil to give it a strong smell; methyl salicylate; turpentine; oil of pine; and extract of capsicum, the active ingredient in cayenne pepper that makes it hot. Capsaicin causes the sensation of heat, which reduces pain in the body. It is also used to treat nerve pain in people who have had the shingles.
Concocting a marketing scheme that encompassed everything from advertisements to special publications like cookbooks, Earl targeted housewives to buy his product since they were the main purchasers of items for the home. He added the title “Dr.” to his name, added his picture and signature to the label to set his product apart from other liniments, trademarked it and incorporated his business. In 1904, he moved to Boston, continuing his successful business until he sold it for $1 million in 1913 to William R. Warner & Company, the maker of Listerine.
During the summer of 1912, Earl wrote some friends from his Zanesfield days, told them about his plans to visit his hometown the following summer, and suggested that they organize a reunion. The friends took him literally. In August 1913, Earl returned to Zanesfield to find that a three-day festival had been organized in his honor, including a parade and an address by Ohio Governor James Cox.
During Earl’s visit, he heard that a rumor was circulating about his building a $40,000 library for Zanesfield. Although it was untrue, he thought about how he was unable to borrow books as a child from a private library because he was considered too poor, and was determined to establish a place where all children would have access to books. He agreed to provide $6,000 for a building and an additional $2,000 to purchase items for the collection. When Earl returned to Zanesfield for the library’s dedication on September 8, 1914, he also created a $20,000 endowment for heating the building and maintaining its grounds.
When Earl died in 1923, $10,000 was added to the library’s endowment. When his wife, Bertha, passed away in 1946, it grew by another $15,000. Both Sloans are buried in Zanesfield’s cemetery.
Sloan Library continues today, serving Zanesfield and its surrounding community by offering a circulating collection of books and periodicals, as well as resources for computing and genealogy, including a very special family tree. A social hall and full kitchen on the lower level are available to rent for community activities. An annual book sale takes place during Memorial Day weekend.
The library’s interior is just as magnificent as its exterior. There’s a pervading feeling that you’ve been transported back to 1914 when you step inside. No wonder; the library had its first telephone installed in 1994.
All of its woodwork, bookcases, furniture and fireplace fixtures are original. Vintage light fixtures are operated with ceramic button fixtures.
Many non-circulating books from the library’s original collection remain in glass-fronted barrister-style bookcases, complete with their original handwritten check-out cards, accession numbers, and gift bookplate. Several pristine volumes in the “Peeps at Many Lands” series describe the history and customs of several foreign countries. Elbert Hubbard, best known as the founder of the Roycroft Arts and Crafts community in East Aurora, New York, is said to have selected several books for the collection, including his edition of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Self-Reliance.
Another Cushman painting that is said to have been exhibited at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago hangs across the room.
Kenton (1753-1836) was a fearless frontiersman who worked as a land surveyor, a military Indian scout and a British spy, but he is also known for surviving capture by Native Americans, who tortured him and attempted to burn him at the stake. Later in his life, he moved to a log cabin at nearby New Jerusalem and was buried there. In 1865, his remains were moved to Urbana, but a monument marking his original grave still stands.
Nine-year-old Zane was living with his family in Virginia when he was taken captive by the Wyandot tribe in 1763 and taken to Ohio when the tribe established a village that became present-day Zanesfield. Although he escaped at 18, Zane returned to the Wyandot five years later, married Chief Tarhe’s daughter, Myeerah, and settled there. Zanesfield was named for him.
Ebeneezer, the Zanes’ oldest child, built his own cabin nearby in 1805. After a Methodist preacher preached to natives and settlers in the area, a circuit rider held a mission meeting at Ebeneezer’s cabin in November 1819. The cabin continued to serve as a Methodist meeting place until 1832, so it was named a United Methodist Historic Site. In 1997, the cabin was rebuilt, using some of the original logs, near its original site, just steps from the library on Sandusky Street.
Take a scenic 15-minute drive via OH-540 to Bellefontaine and treat yourself to a satisfying meal at Don’s Downtown Diner, which my friends the Pramiks recommended it to me after writing their blog post about it. Located one block south of the Logan County Courthouse at 208 S. Main St., this tidy little diner offers local produce, hand-cut fries, deep-fried pickles, and shakes made with ice cream from Young’s Jersey Dairy in Yellow Springs. It’s best known for its steak burgers that come from a local, family-owned butcher shop. Man vs. Food’s Adam Richman would approve of the “Fatty Patty,” featuring bacon and cheese served between two Krispy Kreme doughnuts, or the “Baby Matilda,” made with two half-pound patties, two grilled cheese sandwiches, bacon and cheddar cheese.
Sloan’s Liniment continues to be available on the market today, still packaged in a carton and a labeled bottle depicting the mustachioed doctor.
The Earl Sloan Library is located at 2817 Sandusky Street in Zanesfield. Visit http://sloanlibraryoh.org/index.html for more information. For more on Earl Sloan and his library, read “For Man and Beast: Sloan’s Liniment,” by James Harvey Young, in the September/October 2001 issue of the Ohio Historical Society’s TIMELINE, and Sloan’s page in Ohio Builds a Nation: A Memorial to the Pioneers and the Celebrated Sons of the “Buckeye” State, by Samuel Harden Stille.