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Carnegie's legacy of libraries -michigan history

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  • 1. hough nev€r a resident of the $tate, Andrew Carnegie gready influenced rhc advancement of literacy in Michigan when his philanthropy enabled ehe construction of more than 60 public libraries here. Inside the -Woodward Avenue entry of the Detroit Public Library main branch is an important and often-missed inscription. Etched in the marble of the hallway's nonh wall are these words: "In memory of Andrew Carnegie whose generous and timely aid hastened the completion of this building and enlarged the scope and function of the iibrary." When visiting the statet public buildings, Michiganians are more accustomed to seeing names from their automotive past-Ford, Dodge, and Fisher-and t'ith good reason. Beginning in the 1920s, the state's automotive elite developed a well-known reputation for altruism. The name ofAndrerv Carnegie, by contrast, connotes an eYen earlier era-thar of the Gilded Age. The unexpected sight of rhe steel magnates name gives a clue to what was one of the most proli fi c philanrh ropic efforts ever undertaken in America. From 1883 until 1920, Carnegie underwrote the cosr of building hundreds of public libraries across the United States (and in some other countries). Grants were provided to small ro'nsJ large cities, and some of the earliest suburban areas. In total, the program endowed the construction of 1.688 buildings throughout the U.S., serving a rotal of 1,419 communities. Michigan-with 61 of these edifices-was a sizable beneficiary of Carnegie's generosin-. Of these, 50 still stand and 26 still function as libraries. Their reach extends to all corners of the state, from Detroit in rhe southeast to Ironwood in the northwest. Amazingly, Carnegie's librarv program (u'hich never had an official title) represenred onlr'a fraction of his total philanthropic efforts. Additionailrt he established and endowed more than 20 institutions dedicated mostly to education, including Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, the Carnegie Institution for Science in 'Washington, D.C., and others which do not bear his Previous poge: Soult Ste. Morie's Cornegie librory now houses the Eostern Upper Peninsulo lntermediote School District. Courtesy of R;ck Moyer. Above: The originol orchiteci for the Howell librory, Eliioh Myers, olso designed the stote copitol. Courtesy of the Howell Cornegie District Librory. Left: Andrew Cornegie focused his philonthropy on librories, educotion, scientific reseorch, ond world peoce. Courtesy of the Librory of Congress. Opposiie poge: A note from Cornegie's wife resides in Howell's orchives.
  • 2. lf:::!lnegie. arrived. in_America at the age of 11 .-Tl:,"fer William, a skiiled aUrt. *."*.?.*O i::}::Ij:m Dunrermr,"., s.*r""J," o[rn*r,Pennsylvania in 1B4g as a severe depression,.;?;"tl ke. fespite " r"Jir r".-"ii.r.,ootirg, the younger Carnegiet inrellectuaj name, including the famous peace palace in The Hague.This,was all in keeping wirh. Carnegt"lpi,i"_pfry oFhowa well-purposed liFe should b. li".;r;dio,l ,uro,r, wealrhshould be dispersed. factors to begin his ribrary program in r gg3. It was at thartime that the concepts oruni,rJ.r"i .;;.;" and access toinformation began io.take hold t" A;;;.;. This growingsocial trend dovetailed perfectiy *,th a;;;.gie,s way ofthinking. As the 20th century dawned, kroirl"dg. *",becoming democratized. Yet the modern cor very much a work," ;..#:::ff:*J:triJil,l,jl1, "rCarnegie granrs were 1lr.".o_p"rrf r"** i^r.gheny and fi:'a:".fi,'J:#::in rdse il t;;, respectiverv unheard.r,"r,i.".,..".'#::;1'fli:ffii.1:il;:,"* pools, art galleries, and billiard fr"ffr. n.l"icilities, whichcould accuratety be cailed comm;;il;;;; rather thansimply libraries, reflecred Carnegiesie;;;" of.what the :;::ilj:t::f an emproye,,hoid #, ;;-"';. not onry irays nrs emproyees-wages. bur who also enriches rheir livesrn rhe grearer communiry Carnegie handled many of the details of these eariyprojects personalry. Beginning in iB9B, to*.*r' ,t " curiosity proved insariable, due at least in part to being exposed ,o *ork, of great literature ar an earl1, age. rhile Carnegie worked a series of"odd jobs as a,teenager. J manager rvho owned a modesr personal iibran aljowed him access ro his bookr. Th took futl "d,.;;;;. ;'.":"d-#;," and used ir ro der.elop ,h. blrirr.r, r ) ,.1-:n rhar made ir porsible to build an rndusrrial cmpir. in rhe steel br-rsiness and amass a fortune so -asr 1]131-11,hsn he retired in 1901_his net u.orrh u'as esrimared ar $225 million. or abour S6 billion .; yet, for "il hi, ,u..t-orL"l".rr.g,. retused ro be beholden to his riches. He belii ed pr_o"r,.tu that wealth should not be ,qur'ra.r.'a L, person who gathered it, but be reinvesred into the community to aid the public good. In his fimous essay "7ealth,,, he wrore: "First, to ser an example of modesr, unosrenrarious living, shunning displar_ or exrravagance: co provide moderarely flor rh. regrnmate wants oI chose dependenr upon him; and after doing so ro consider all surplus revenues which come to him simply as rrusr funds, which he is called "p"" ,"?_r,l,rr"" and strictly bound as a marrer of dury ro administer in the manner which, in his judgment, is best calculated to pr"a".. the most beneficiai result for ,h. .o--,rlrriry-.,i. _"" .,wealth thus becoming the mere "g"lr, "rri'r.'rr,..for his poorer b..th."-n, bringing i"li""l.*,* f.,,superior wisdom, experign6s, arid abiliry to administer, doing for them better than they;;;i;';;."rld do forthemselves." Carnegiet reverence for knowledge, coupled with hispersonal philosophy of wealth, pr;j.J Ji;"moti,,"ting ryryW, 5::1:T:g:owing popularity forced him to detegate uay-ro-day responsibilities to his personal secrerary James Bertram. Berrram.adminircered ,tr. Orogrr. 'i"accordance with Carnegies simple b", ;;;;qrireme nr..Each communiry was Jhg.,i ,i p-",a. ,fr.l.,,ra,rr* site, and to earmark an-amounr equal to l0 percent of rhegrant annually for the facilitys op.."tior, "rrj upk..p i,
  • 3. tE. tEi iFt perpetuiry. The costs of the library's holdings, equipment, and furniture were also a local responsibility. Architectural styles of the early Carnegie libraries varied considerably and included Tudor Revival, Richardsonian Romanesque, and even Prairie School examples. Often, these buildings incorporated sumptuous details, such as thick marble columns, domed cupolas, and impressive porticoes. Carnegie and Bertram frowned on these excesses, insisting that the dollars be spent practically, in order to provide the maximum amount of shelf space. Eventually, Bertram insisted upon approving all building plans and, by 1910, most grants were dedicated to constructing the recognizable "Carnegie Classical." This design, with Greek Revival features, symbolized a reverence for knowledge often associated with the ancient world. Bertram used a formula of $2 to $3 per resident in determining the amount of each gfant. over time, specific situations (for example, dealing with local mayors or library boards that had little 6nancial expertise) required more complex policies and procedures. Crants typically ranged from $5,ooo to $ 15,000. Ifan initial grant proved insufHcient due to cost overruns, local leaders could apply for supplementary amounts which were sometimes accepted. Such was the case with at least one Michigan communiry. W4ren Howell's grant of $10,000 fell short of funding the complete project, Bertram approved an additional $5,000 necessary to finish. The Howell library still serwes residents of the Livingston County community today. A 1990s restoration and expansion project included a 22,000-square-foot addition architecturally sympathetic to the original structure. Also involved was the removal of a drop ceiling installed during 24 | mrcrrcAN HrsToRY the 1960s, which hid the iibraryt distinctive cupola. In the library's archive are correspondences with Bertram (which document the firing of the original architect and contractor in a dispute over costs) and a 1919 personal note from Carnegie's wife Louise to Miss fl Winifred Brown, the librarian at the time. Petoskey is another place where Carnegie's legacy lives. In 1909, the city dedicated its new library. A larger, more modern facility was opened in 2004 across Mitchell Street, but the original structure is still used as meeting space. Petoskey also benefited from a double dose of philanthropy. In 1908, LeliaJohnson, a prominenr local citizen who was aware of the Carnegie program requirement that local communities supply the building site, purchased the Mitchell Street site in memory of her deceased husband. Just rwo weeks later, Carnegie gave final approval of $12,500 for the building. The cin'subsequently decided to raise an additional $5,OOo through raxes to allow for a more elaborate structure. A story attributed to the Petoskel. library states that Ernest Hemingway gave a series of lectures there in 1925, recounting his experiences during 7or1d War I. Though no ephemera confirming the event is known to exist, the Hemingway Sociery of Michigan is convinced of the storfs truthfuiness. Another Carnegie library with a connection to a famous writer is located in Lapeer. This Georgian Revival structure It I:l I', It* IH IA ig a ffi H efr ;H iffitats ;ffi ifg Cornegie opproved o sizoble gift to the Detroit Librory Commission, which finonced the construction of nine bronches including the moin one on Woodword Avenue. Courtesy of Robert Yonol.
  • 4. i The Petoskey librory-now o meeting ond events spoce-is soid to hove hosied o series of lectures by Ernest Hemingwoy. Courtesy of Cory Pompolone. was complered in 1921 and known as the Lapeer public Library unril 198 1 , when it was renamed in honor of Marguerite deAngeli: the acclaimed children's authori illustrator and Lapeer native. The library is the custodian of an archive of materials on deAngeli, including original artwork, manuscripts, galley prints, and the Newbery Medal deAngeli won in 1950 for her work, "The Door in the Wali." Among the stare's larger cities, Derroit benefited the most from Carnegie's largesse, rhough not without considerabie debate. Negotiations benveen rhe Detroit L16rary Commission and Carnegie began in 1903 and dragged on nearly a decade. Most everyone in the ciry agreed that the existing library, located downto*'n on the site of todays Skillman Branch, was ta-xed beyond capaciw. In 1907, The Detroit News ran an editorial that echoed this need while reflecting deep civic pride: "fith nearly a quarter of a million books packed within a space intended for only 40,000 and with sanitary conditions which are frankly condemned, Detroit's public library has now reached a point where...either Andrew Carnegie's offer to the city should be accepted, or the city itself shouid issue bonds ro the extent of $45O,OOO for the erecrion of a new building... . At the presenr time, Detroit leads every orher ciry of its size in America as a library ciry." The sticking poinr berween the parties was over rhe design of the new building. Local officials envisioned an opulent faciliry featuring a marble exrerior and wide hallways, in keeping with the City Beautiful movemenr popular at the dme. This collided head-on with Carnegie and Bertram's more restrained vision for building designs. In 1910, the Carnegie library program pledged $750,000 to the Detroit Library Commission, with half being intended for a new main library and the balance for neighborhood branches. If the city desired a more elaborate building, Bertram communicated, it would have to make up the additionalfunds itself Detroit voters passed a bond issue ro do just that, and ground was finally broken. Then, another snag deveioped. A little-noticed clause in the paperwork required that any locaily raised funds be spent first, prior to the release of grant monies. Since the bonds had been approved but not yet sold, this proved impossible. Construction ground to a halt, leaving the buildingt skeleton to stand dormant for about 10 months. After work resumed, World.War I began and further delayed the project, postponing the dedication unril 1921. Tlue to its original inrentions, however, Detroit did raise the funds for the more elaborate facility. The result is the elegant Italian Renaissance Revival srructure that still stands today. The process of erecting the branches went much more smoothly. The remaining$375,000 of Carnegie's money was earmarked to build eight satellite libraries throughout the ciry predominantly on the west side. Some were larer replaced with more modern facilities, but three still survive: the Bowen, Conely, and Duffield branches. Standing in stark conrrasr to Detroit's grandiosiry is the story of Ironwood, which initiated Michigan's involvemenr in the program in 1900 when it became the first in the state to receive a Carnegie grant. The modest Ironwood facltiq, has survived for more than 100 years wirh no additions and very little renovation, and still it manags5-a5 i15 mission statement promises-1o provide "equitable access to materials and services that support the educational, informational, cultural, and recreational needs of the entire communiry." Today, despite the widespread availability of the Internet and other means of accessing information, Carnegie libraries remain a cornerstone institution in communities across the srate and the country. Itt easy to imagine this is exacdy what Andrew Carnegie envisioned. Paul Vacbon is a Detroit-baseclfeelance writer whose interests include 2 1th-centur! h istory, emerging ind.ustries, and education. He is a member of the American Society of Jo u rn a lists a nd A u tho rs. MAY/1uNE 2atz ) 25

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