PLSJC Director Alan Hall writes a weekly column discussing library and community news, history, and other interesting subjects.
When the new Carnegie Library building opened in 1902, operating the new library turned out to be more difficult than planned.
The book collection was a combination of books from earlier subscription libraries, public collections from the schools and city, and donations from the public.
Some of the books were so old and falling apart that they were bound with string to be held together on the shelf.
Beginning in October 1903, the Carnegie Library was open on Sundays, just for browsing.
No checkouts allowed, just an afternoon of reading with the promotion, “A special invitation is extended to young men who are here temporarily and who want a pleasant, cheerful place in which to spend their time.”
In 1902, the building had been built with gas lines extending through the structure for lighting; as well as wiring for electricity to also be used for lighting.
The library used only electricity for lighting, and in 1915 a “new electric sign” was added to the front of the building which was described as “a handsome one, brilliantly lighted, and a decided improvement to the building.”
The “Citizen’s Circulating Library” was the first branch library of the Carnegie Library, started in 1903 on Franklin Ave. under the management of Abbie B. Rhodes.
The selection of the site for the Carnegie Library had provoked controversy, many feeling that it was too far south in the city to be effective.
The problem was that in 1902 building sites are difficult to find in the city, especially one large enough for a library building.
This first neighborhood branch library was an effort to balance the location of the Main Library in the South End of the city.
Later, the branch library moved to North 7th Street, and eventually closed in 1959.
The second neighborhood library opened in 1939 on Belleview Blvd. and was called the Hilltop Branch. It later operated on Lawson Ave. and closed in 1985.
The Main Library building experienced a variety of physical problems.
Within its first decade of operation, the building had severe roof leaks from both the tower and the steep-pitched main roof.
The complexity of the gutters and roof flashing required continued repairs until the top of the tower was removed in 1956, and the red clay tile was replaced with slate.
Boiler issues in those early days required the coal-fired steam boiler to be replaced in the 1920s. Black smoke pouring out the basement windows was commonplace in those days, requiring a “scrub down” of interior walls.
A large ventilation system was constructed inside the walls of the library in 1902, and caused nothing but problems for years until disconnected.
A huge pipe descends from the tower into the attic, and then extended to shafts inside the walls that came down into the library space.
The intent was to move fresh air around the high ceiling rooms and basement level. In reality, it blasted hot air in the summer and cold air in the winter causing the boiler and radiators to strain to overcome the fresh air.
Today, those shafts are sealed off and removed in the attic, except for the huge standpipe standing upright into the tower awaiting some assignment for the future.
The next time you are at the Main Library, be sure to notice the ends of the building. The north end is now easier to see with our new parking area.
As the ends climb toward the chimney, the narrowing ends have brickwork that forms triangles to strengthen the end walls.
For you brick experts, the definition from our National Register of Historic Places application states that, “the masonry is a running bond laid up at a diagonal perpendicular to the slope of the parapet.”
Supposedly, there are only two buildings in the U.S. with this feature, and ours is one of them.
Next week, we will explore how the library changed in the 1930s as service expanded to countywide.