Sunday, August 14, 2011

The Enduring Literary Legacy: Carnegie Libraries in Washington State

On several recent trips around Washington state, I stopped by Sound Bend and Port Townsend. I was surprised to discover that both these towns have original Carnegie libraries still in use. In fact, the South Bend library, which is now part of the Timberland Regional Library system, has functioned continuously as a library for over 100 years.

South Bend Library, Pacific County WA

These libraries are a legacy of Andrew Carnegie, a Scottish-born American industrialist and philanthropist. Andrew Carnegie At the end of the nineteenth century, Carnegie had become the richest man in the world, amassing a $500-million fortune (worth about $200 billion in today’s dollars).

In 1901, he sold his Carnegie Steel Company and retired. However, he decided to use his wealth for the public good. He donated about $350 million to several causes, including the endowment of over 2,500 libraries worldwide. Of these libraries, 44 were funded and built in Washington State between 1901 and 1916.

Nearly all of Carnegie's libraries were built according to "The Carnegie Formula", which required applicants to:

  • Demonstrate the need for a public library
  • Provide the building site
  • Provide partial support for its operation
  • Provide free service to all

Carnegie Libraries in Washington
The first Carnegie library grants were approved for several Seattle area libraries. A $430,000 grant was given for the construction of the original Seattle Central Library, which was razed in 1957.

Seattle Central Library (1919 photo)Of the 44 Carnegie libraries built in Washington (see list), 33 still stand. Of those, 14 still serve their original purpose.

As many of these existing libraries enter their second century of service to their communities, they’ll need to be expanded and modernized. Port Townsend is launching a capital campaign to expand and upgrade the historic Port Townsend Public Library, which would double the library’s existing square footage. Here’s an architectural rendering of the project.

Port Townsend Library expansion 
Expansions for historic buildings, such as Carnegie libraries, typically preserve the architectural heritage of the building. In 2004, the Carnegie-funded Columbia Branch of the Seattle Public Library was expanded to twice its original size. The new portion of the building extends from the back of the original structure, maintaining the building’s original street presence.

Columbia Branch Library entrance

Grand Tour
The Carnegie Library Consortium of Washington is an Grand Tour Guide organization whose mission is to raise awareness of the Carnegie libraries in Washington state and to preserve them for future generations. In 2009, this organization sponsored the Mr. Carnegie’s Grand Tour of Washington a driving tour of the remaining 33 Carnegie library buildings in Washington. The Grand Tour Guide provides useful info on visiting these historical sites.

So with 2 libraries visited, I have only 31 more to go!

Redmond Library Board

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