Historic Cleveland doctor’s office has new purpose as library

Published 12:00 am Saturday, November 29, 2014

By Elizabeth Roy

For the Salisbury Post

CLEVELAND — Add some curtains, a new roof and a fresh coat of paint, and an early 1900s doctor’s office can become a town’s self-serve book-borrowing post.

In fact, the town of Cleveland has done just that.

Once the medical office of Dr. G.M. Fleming (1882-1942) on Main Street, the historic building is now a Rowan Public Library outreach location for the under-serviced western portion of Rowan County. The structure’s charming teal green exterior bids visitors to peruse its three shelves of books containing children’s, youth, fiction and non-fiction reads.

“People have been trying for 40 years to have a library out here, so this is the alternative plan,” said Joy Steele, Rowan Public Library board chairwoman. “This was just a way to get the presence out here.”

For Steele’s husband, Dr. John Steele Jr., former commissioner and mayor of Cleveland and a lifelong resident of the town, the old doctor’s office is a childhood landmark. Dr. Fleming treated Steele’s mother when she was pregnant with his older sister. After Fleming’s death, the 12-by-14-foot building became a tool shed and pantry on the Fleming family property.

“John was very anxious to recover the building for the town,” said Joy Steele of her husband.

In 2008, at the request of then-commissioner John Steele, the historic building was deeded to the town of Cleveland and in 2009 moved to its current location adjacent to the town hall.

After a good bit of sprucing up – projects including fresh paint, a new roof, a wheelchair ramp, and interior finishing touches – the old doctor’s office is back in business but with new purpose. As of early this summer, it now houses the collection of books previously held in the Cleveland Town Hall.

Visitors check out up to three books at a time, all on the honor system, and log their comings and goings in a binder. On average, 10 visitors check out an average of 18 books each month.

The town of Cleveland funds the building’s upkeep, and Rowan Public Library provides a circulating supply of books as part of its adult outreach programming.

“Certainly the goal is to meet people where they are,” said Rowan Public Library Director Jeff Hall about the library’s outreach service. Several times each month a library staff member visits the Cleveland location to ensure that the site is well-stocked with a changing supply of books, Hall says.

In addition to its adult outreach participation, Cleveland has for the past four years partaken in Rowan Public Library’s summer reading program, with programming held in their town hall. Participation has grown each year.

“And the neat thing about it is that people in the community have volunteered and brought in refreshments for the children,” said Hall. “So they really have bought into it, and they want that service there.”

Both Cleveland residents and Rowan Public Library have shown an interest over the past decades in a full-service library branch in Cleveland.

“A Cleveland branch is something that is part of the library’s long-range plan and capital improvement plan,” said Hall. “It’s been in that plan for 10 or more years, and the obstacle is always funding.”

The town of Cleveland has made several offers of money and property for a library branch in years past, Hall says.

“It’s been an ongoing struggle,” said Joy Steele. “There is no library presence in the western part of Rowan County, and you have dozens of schools out this way that could benefit.”

Surrounding areas include Woodleaf, Mount Ulla, and a number of unincorporated townships. Many residents in these areas cannot get into Salisbury to access Rowan Public Library resources such as computers, high-speed Internet, and library programming, Joy Steele says.

For the time being, Cleveland has successfully integrated a historic structure into the town’s assets, and is increasingly promoting literacy through growing summer reading participation and its adult outreach book-borrowing post.

John Steele is happy to be a part of the win, and reflects that the beloved doctor who once practiced in the medical-office-turned-library would be as well.

“I think Dr. Fleming would be pleased,” Steele said.