Libraries in America at the Turn of the Twentieth Century

Let’s Go to the Library!

4591742865_db3f2630e1_zHow many times have we said it? Most of us can get to our local library within minutes and check out an armful of books and movies. We can ask a librarian to look something up for us, even while we’re at home on our computers. There is never a reason to be without a book. I love libraries. Just sitting inside on a rainy, cold day is comforting and inviting.



But our great grandparents did not have it so easy. The existence of neighborhood libraries  now is a testament to how far we’ve come in making literacy, education, knowledge, and reading enjoyment accessible to the masses.


The Man Who Built the Libraries

Of course he didn’t build them all, but Andrew Carnegie, the Scottish-American businessman and philanthropist built over 2,500 of them. He grew up with a love of books, borrowing them from personal libraries whenever he could. When he began building public libraries he started near where he lived, in Scotland and in Pittsburgh, PA. But he soon gave away money all over the country to those who would build his libraries for him. There were 104 public Carnegie libraries built in Ohio alone, plus eight academic libraries using grants given between 1899-1915.

Memorial Libraries

But Carnegie wasn’t the only one in the early twentieth century building libraries. All over the country there are memorial libraries that are still in use today, ranging in size from magnificent to quaint. These memorial libraries inspired me to have my character Annie Gallagher desire to build one for her father in Annie’s Stories.

Here are two I’ve visited:


This one is in Weston, Vermont. It’s called the Wilder Memorial Library. Absolutely stunning woodwork inside. There is barely room enough for a handful of people inside. It was named for the judge who lived there, John Wilder. He was also the postmaster, state representative, and senator. When he died his daughter donated the house for the purpose of a library. You could drive right by and not realize what a gem waits inside. I almost did. Below is the outside.


You would not be able to miss the Wagnalls Memorial Library built in 1925 should you visit the small town of Lithopolis, Ohio. It is quite a bit larger than the Vermont one as you can see below:



Photos from the library’s web site:


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I had the opportunity to give a talk in a room at this library several years ago. I really need to go back for a tour, though. It’s gorgeous.

What memorial libraries or special libraries can you tell me about?

2 thoughts on “Libraries in America at the Turn of the Twentieth Century

  1. Bonnie Roof

    Interesting post, Cindy – thanks!! I’ve been to numerous libraries, however, no memorial or special ones!!


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