How to Use
Reading 3: Examples of Carnegie Libraries
Medford Free Public Library, Medford, Wisconsin
As the town grew it created institutions like schools and libraries. In Medford, as in many other towns, women controlled the founding and operation of the library. According to David L. Macleod, author of Carnegie Libraries in Wisconsin, many of these women hoped to draw men away from the saloons. In 1902 the Medford Women’s Club joined with the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) to organize a center to encourage reading and the dissemination of information. The WCTU erected a new building, part of which was to be used for a free public library. The Women’s Club contributed $100 toward its construction. The library operated there for the next 15 years.
A formal library board met for the first time in January 1903 and decided to support the library by soliciting contributions from the public. This campaign resulted in the collection of $75 for equipment such as shelves and tables, and $50 for the purchase of books. Benefit talent shows and Opera Hall events helped raise additional funds, and the city government began making contributions as well.
The library officially opened on February 23, 1903. Medford had 1,758 residents at the time, and the library issued 549 "borrower’s cards." In 1909 the library moved into a larger room in the Temperance Hall, but four years later even that space was considered inadequate. In 1913 the library board decided to apply to the Carnegie Foundation for a grant to construct a library building.
The Carnegie Foundation accepted Medford’s application in May 1913. The city agreed to continue its annual appropriation of $600 and the foundation donated $6,000 for a new building. The city-appointed library board chose a site at the end of Main Street. This location, on the edge of the downtown district, was considered a desirable location by early 20th-century library planners, since it made the library easily accessible from the center of town.
Even after Medford received its grant, women’s clubs continued to play an important role in the town’s library. In the fall of 1915, the Medford Woman’s Alliance was organized to assist in maintaining the new library. In 1916 the Alliance helped furnish the new building by donating a mahogany desk, shades, and plant stands. In subsequent years it made further donations.
The Medford Free Public Library had its grand opening in 1917 on Washington’s birthday. The freestanding rectangular block, approximately 50 feet long and 30 feet wide, was built in a style that has become known as the Prairie School, popular in the early 20th century for small-scale library facilities. The Prairie School derived its name from its emphasis on horizontal lines, as though the building had grown naturally out of the long, low landscape of the Midwestern prairie. The one-story Medford library is set into a hillside that slopes down toward the rear of the building. Its foundations are made from concrete, while the walls are brick. The attic and underside of the eaves are stuccoed, and the low, hipped roof is now asphalt.
The interior of the building has changed over the years. Initially all the books were shelved along the walls of the rectangular first floor room. Though this system could accommodate the original collection of 2,221 volumes, by 1936 the library had expanded to 5,637 books and remodelling was necessary. Numerous shelving units were added as the collection continued to grow. In 1984 the number of items in the library was estimated at 21,900. However, due to limited space, a new library was constructed down the street and the Medford Free Public Library building now houses the local Chamber of Commerce.
Carnegie Free Library, Connellsville, Pennsylvania
Through the gift of a library, some of the wealth Andrew Carnegie had drawn from the Connellsville area returned to the town. In 1899 it asked Carnegie for a $50,000 grant to build a new library to house the growing collection it was already developing. He agreed, "provided a suitable site is furnished and the [town] council agrees to grant a fund annually to maintain and operate the library."
Meeting these conditions, however, proved difficult. The town council, the school board, and the General Library Committee agreed that the proper location for the proposed library building was the old cemetery that was in the hands of the school board. The school board was instructed to condemn the old "Connell Grave Yard" (given to the town by Zachariah Connell, its founder), after which the land would be donated for the library. The school board engaged an attorney and the process of acquiring the cemetery began. It took almost one year to condemn the ground, remove the bodies, and reinter them in Chestnut Hill Cemetery.
These actions caused a great deal of dissension in the community. Objections were raised to using the cemetery for the project, with many feeling that it was ghoulish to exhume the bodies. Others complained because relatives had to bear the expense of exhumation and reinterment.
Another group complained about the new library because of its expense. On April 16, 1900, the town council levied a one mill tax--that is, a 1/1,000 tax per dollar of property owned, or 1 cent for every 10 dollars--to pay for supplies and maintenance. On April 18 the opponents of the new tax wrote to Carnegie protesting "against burdening the town with a debt it can ill afford to incur under existing conditions." They attacked library advocates, saying these men had neither given any monies themselves nor solicited voluntary contributions. Instead, said the critics, supporters had obligated residents to pay higher taxes and invited litigation over use of cemetery grounds. Carnegie’s office rejected these complaints because the town council, which had the power to levy taxes, had approved the agreement. Carnegie believed the council was elected by the citizens of Connellsville and that its actions reflected the interests of the people.
Though some opposition to the tax continued for the next several years, library construction began in 1901. At the cornerstone laying, one of the speakers summed up the importance many in the community placed on the new building. "In laying the cornerstone of this building," he said, "you are not merely putting in place an inorganic block. You are laying the foundation of increased knowledge, happiness, enjoyment and improvement in your community. Within the walls to be erected, you and your sons and daughters and generations yet to come, can survey the whole horizon of human existence and achievement."¹
The "inorganic block" the speaker mentioned was a massive structure for a town of Connellsville’s size. Two stories tall with a full basement, the library sits on a small hill near Connellsville’s business district. Nearly 100 feet wide and 75 feet deep, the building was made primarily from stone quarried in Ohio. The library’s style is best described as neoclassical, since it contains elements borrowed from Greek and Roman architecture.
Today, the library’s main activities occur on the first floor. The two largest spaces are the children’s reading room and the adult reference room. There are plans to restore the reference room to its original 1903 appearance. Other rooms hold periodicals, book stacks, and offices. The second floor has an auditorium, houses the Connellsville Historical Society, and houses the local history library for genealogy.
Questions for Reading 3
1. How would you respond to someone who says that Andrew Carnegie created the Medford Library?
2. Why do you think women had such a large role in the development of the library?
3. Do you think it was acceptable to move the graveyard? Why or why not?
4. Why would Connellsville, which had fewer than 15,000 people, receive such a big grant?
Reading 3 was adapted from from Amy Alexandra Ross, "Medford Free Public Library" (Taylor County, Wisconsin) National Register of Historic Places Registration Form, Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service, 1993; and Carmel Caller, "Carnegie Free Library" (Fayette County, Pennsylvania) National Register of Historic Places Registration Form, Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service, 1981.
¹ Carmel Caller, "Carnegie Free Library" (Fayette County, Pennsylvania) National Register of Historic Places Registration Form, Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service, 1981, Section 8, page 4.