EVERGREEN, Colo. — Created during a time when we all had to be apart, a not-so-little Little Free Library has cemented its place in the Evergreen community.
Despite the ownership changing hands this summer, the neighborhood isn't losing the place that brought them together in hard times.
Mary Ann O’Rouke bought the historic property in Evergreen’s Old Squaw Pass neighborhood about two-and-a-half years ago. On the property was a bigger house and a smaller cabin she estimates is about eight by 12 feet.
“The legend has it—I haven't been able to verify—the house on the property was an old church for the community when the Civilian Conservation Corps was camping there and that the pastor lived in that little cabin,” said O’Rourke.
Purchased for the history behind it, O’Rourke always had the goal of creating something on the property to bring it into the 21st century version of the neighborhood. Last year when the pandemic started, she got her inspiration.
“When COVID hit and the libraries closed, the kids up here had nowhere to go and everyone was trying to figure how to keep a sense of community in spite of having to social distance,” O’Rourke told Rocky Mountain PBS in July 2020. “So I renovated it, worked on it, restored it, and turned it into a library.”
O’Rourke charted the library with the nonprofit organization Little Free Library. The idea behind it: take a book and leave a book, all for free. Most of the time the libraries are really small, about the size of a backpack. However, the organization doesn’t have any size limits, so this one can count.
Since opening the library last summer, O'Rourke said the library has "thrived."
The purchased or donated shelves that line the cabin walls are crammed with a variety books for all ages. But this little renovated cabin is so much more than a book exchange: it’s a place for connection.
“It’s really become an embedded part of the community really quickly. People who have out-of-town guests that will be their first stop to bring them to see it,” said O’Rourke. “I’m like ‘Really? You want to show them the library?’”
Even with laughter and a bit of surprise in her voice, she knows this place is special, more than what you first see.
"It's kind of got this good feeling... like somebody who cared, invested themselves in that little building and it carries through to this day,” said O’Rourke. “I think people gravitate to that."
People also crave genuine interactions with others, especially in a mountain town during a pandemic. O’Rourke said it could be weeks between seeing another person last year, so this library came at the perfect time.
"I know there is one neighborhood teenager who has been one of my best volunteers, and her mom told me it was her peaceful place to go when she just needed to get away," explained O’Rourke. “That she could go and sit in there, lose herself in organizing the books and just get a little respite from the crazy world.”
The library has also made its way into the lives of the children in the area. There is a kids section of books, plus donated games and a “PokéStop.” That’s an interactive part of the mobile game, “Pokémon Go”, where kids can collect Pokémon as part of the gameplay.
This building also served as the place kids and families could come to celebrate Halloween last year when COVID-19 canceled the usual Halloween parade.