Ely Celebrates New Library, New Literary Landmark

07-Landmark-JoeOwens.jpgThe past year has been an eventful one for the small town of Ely, Minnesota. Last year, broad-based community support and financial help from the local Friends chapter allowed the Ely Public Library to build a brand new, 6,500-square-foot facility. The library officially relocated in November.

In addition to boasting one of Minnesota’s newest libraries, Ely can also lay claim to the nation’s newest “Literary Landmark.”

On June 5, the Minnesota Association of Library Friends, in partnership with the Friends of the Ely Public Library and The Listening Point Foundation, honored conservationist Sigurd Olson and Vermilion Community College with this special distinction.

Literary Landmarks are sites with a strong historical connection to prominent American authors, recognized through a joint partnership between United for Libraries’ Literary Landmarks Association and local affiliates (such as MALF). Examples range widely: from the boyhood home of Roots author Alex Haley in Henning, Tennessee; to a New York City church library where Madeleine L'Engle wrote parts of A Wrinkle in Time; to the hotel in Durango, Colorado where Westerns favorite Louis L'Amour drafted much of his best work. To date, there are over 160 Literary Landmark sites across the country, and Minnesota is home to six. Recipient sites are recognized with a dedication plaque and unveiling ceremony.

As anyone in the Minnesota Northwoods can tell you, Sigurd Olson is a strong candidate. He is best remembered today for championing wilderness conservation through nine bestselling books, beginning with The Singing Wilderness in 1956 and his seminal Listening Point in 1958.

His efforts played a direct role in the establishment of national preserves ranging from the Arctic Wildlife Refuge in Alaska to Point Reyes National Seashore in California. Closer to home, Olson’s advocacy also proved instrumental to the legislation that created Voyageurs National Park and the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in northern Minnesota.

Olson titled Listening Point after his personal retreat, located on scenic Burntside Lake just outside of Ely. Given that site’s remote location, the Literary Landmark co-partners opted instead to install the plaque and hold the ceremony at Olson’s academic home, Vermilion Community College. Nearly 100 attendees – a packed house – turned out to bear witness to the unveiling. Speakers included Chuck Wick, a close personal friend of Olson's and a founding member of the Listening Point Foundation that preserves his legacy, who delivered a short keynote.

Out-of-town attendees who made the trek to this far northeast corner of the state enjoyed several tie-in activities over the weekend, as well. In conjunction with the plaque dedication event, the Ely-Winton Historical Society hosted a small exhibit on the life and work of Sigurd Olson. The Listening Point Foundation offered several guided tours of Olson’s beautifully preserved cabin on Burntside Lake. In addition, the Friends of the Ely Public Library also offered a tour of the new, $1.3 million library building, which is not far from the Vermilion Community College campus.

MALF dedicates one new Literary Landmark in Minnesota each year. We are already hard at work on choosing an honoree and site host for next year’s festivities. Stay tuned for that next announcement!