Carnegie Library, Jefferson City
Now home to the Cole County Assessor, the former Carnegie Library remains a landmark structure in Jefferson City. The library was built in 1902 and like 2508 other libraries across the United States, it was named in honor of Andrew Carnegie as his matching grant supplied half of the funds needed to construct the building. Over the next seven decades, the building not only served as a library but also as an entertainment and civic venue. The reading room and books were located on the first floor (the children's section was in the basement) and an auditorium was located on the second. A fine example of Classical architecture, the library was designed by local architecture firm Miller & Opel.
The former Carnegie Library, built in 1902, is now occupied by the Cole County Assessor. It is one of the few Carnegie library buildings still standing in Missouri.
Backstory and Context
The first library (a subscription library) was established in 1871 by the Jefferson City Library Association. However, it did not last long and in the coming years subsequent attempts also failed. Finally in 1898, another subscription library was established and this time it remained open. It had 300 subscribers who paid an annual fee of three dollars and over the next three years collected 1,700 books were collected.
Although it was successful, some in the community called for a free public library. In 1900, two local pastors wrote to Andrew Carnegie requesting funds. By then, Carnegie had been donating grants to communities to build libraries around the country for several years. He offered to pay $25,000 on the condition that the city buy a property for the library and agree to spend $3,000 annually to maintain it. The pastors worried that the city would not be willing to commit to that so they traveled to New York City in hopes of visiting Carnegie in person to discuss the matter. He declined and stated he would not grant the funds unless the city agreed to his conditions. In the end, the residents voted overwhelmingly (839-42) in favor of a tax to provide the annual maintenance funds.
Construction began in 1900 and was completed in 1902. The community used the auditorium for a variety of purposes. It was used by many civic organizations and a local theater company called The Little Theatre originated here. The children's section featured fairy tale murals painted by local students but they seem to have been painted over. The library became part of the county library system in 1947 and it operated until the early 1970s. It was set to be demolished but residents rallied to save it. It is one of the few Carnegie library buildings remaining in the state.
Harper, Jaden. "Carnegie Library." Jefferson City Magazine. August 10, 2018. https://jeffersoncitymag.com/carnegie-library.
Kremer, Gary. "Andrew Carnegie Helped Jefferson City to Build Its First Free Public Library." News Tribune. July 15, 2000. Retrieved from the Missouri River Regional Library. Accessed April 25, 2022. https://www.mrrl.org/history-mrrl.
"Landmark in city is named for benefactor." News Tribune. December 14, 2008. Last Updated January 22, 2020. https://www.newstribune.com/news/2008/dec/14/landmark-city-named-benefactor.
Stephen Brooks, via the News Tribune