Carnegie Libraries                      Glenn A. Walsh

         Session -                                         P.O. Box 1041

 National Preservation       Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 15230-1041 U.S.A.

    Conference 2006         Telephone: 412-561-7876

                                         Electronic Mail: < gawalsh@andrewcarnegie.cc >                                   Internet Web Site: < http://www.andrewcarnegie.cc >

                                                                        2006 November 3


Good afternoon. My name is Glenn A. Walsh and I have been involved in historic preservation for a little more than a decade. I want to welcome you to the birthplace of the Carnegie Libraries movement, and both ironically and regrettably, also the city where the original Carnegie Libraries are now at great risk.


Oh, it is likely that the original Carnegie Library buildings will still exist. However, these buildings’ use truly as Carnegie Libraries is quickly disappearing due to a combination of efforts by local library officials to “modernize,” efforts of developers to promote “economic development,” and indifference by local public officials to the important Carnegie Library history started right here in Pittsburgh.


Consequently, in just the last few months, it was announced that America’s first Carnegie Library could close, and America’s first publicly-funded Carnegie Library will be abandoned in favor of construction of a new neighborhood library building!


The first Carnegie Library in the United States was opened in Braddock, Pennsylvania, a Pittsburgh suburb, in 1889. Of course, Braddock is the location of Andrew Carnegie’s first steel mill, the Edgar Thomson Works, which still operates as part of the U.S. Steel Corporation.  In the beginning, since Andrew Carnegie built this library for the benefit of the plant workers and their families, the Carnegie Steel Company helped to fund the library.


In 1901, Andrew Carnegie sold Carnegie Steel to several investors, headed by J.P. Morgan for $480 million, which resulted in the creation of U.S. Steel, the world’s first billion-dollar corporation! And, consequently, many of Carnegie Steel’s managers became instant millionaires, while Andrew Carnegie became the richest man in the world!


However, three of Andrew Carnegie’s early Carnegie Libraries, located near his steel plants in the Pittsburgh suburbs of Braddock, Homestead, and Duquesne, no longer had Carnegie Steel to assist with finances. Those three libraries, along with the world’s first Carnegie Library in Dunfermline, Scotland and the Andrew Carnegie Free Library in the Pittsburgh suburb of Carnegie, Pennsylvania, did not benefit from municipal funding as all other Carnegie Libraries did.


In 1890, with the construction of the Carnegie Free Library of Allegheny, which I will talk about a little later, Andrew Carnegie started funding Carnegie Library buildings through what became known as “The Carnegie Formula.” If a town requested funding for construction of a Carnegie Library, they had to meet a few basic requirements:


1)       In the vast majority of cases, the town had to be located in an English-speaking country;

2)       The town had to secure the site for the library;

3)       The town had to agree to annually subsidize the library at a level no less than ten percent of the cost of library construction.


Now, for some towns that had special significance to Andrew Carnegie, the subsidy requirement was slightly reduced. However, there were only five towns—in Dunfermline, Scotland, and the Pennsylvania towns of  Braddock, Homestead, Carnegie, and Duquesne—where no subsidy was required for their Carnegie Library. In each case, either the local Carnegie Steel plant helped with library finances, or the Carnegie Library was provided with an endowment.


In the case of the three Carnegie Libraries in the Monongahela River Valley, Braddock, Homestead, and Duquesne, once the Carnegie Steel plants were sold, Andrew Carnegie realized he needed to make special provision for the continuance of the Carnegie Libraries  in these three towns. So, he set-up a $1 million endowment to be shared by all three libraries.


Andrew Carnegie set-up a board of trustees to manage this endowment, primarily made-up of U.S. Steel officials. As it turns-out, these steel officials were more interested in making steel, and making money, than operating public libraries. Consequently, they did not really participate in the management of the libraries, and the endowment was very conservatively invested over the years.


So, by t he 1960s, the proceeds from the endowment, which should have grown greatly over the previous 60 years, had not grown that much and were not enough to operate three libraries. So, the managers of the endoemwnt, at that time, decided to get rid of two of the libraries. The Carnegie Libraries in Barddock and Duquesne were “sold-off,” for one dollar each, to their respective school districts.


In the case of the Carnegie Free Library of Duquesne, the City of Duquesne School District did not want to operate such an old building and had other plans for the land where the library was located. Across the street from the Library is the location of the Duquesne High School, and the School Directors had a need to expand the high school; they planned to build an annex, probably including a new gymnasium, on the Library property. So, in June of 1968, the Carnegie Free Library of Duquesne, which had included a music hall and a swimming pool, was demolished.


However, before the new school annex could be built, the School District learned that construction of the annex would result in a partial loss of State funding for the School District. Well, the Duquesne School District, which today is being managed by the Pittsburgh School District due to major funding problems, could not afford to lose any State funding in the 1960s. So, the School Board abandoned plans for the school annex and sold the Library land to a developer; today, 13 modern split-level homes sit on a cul-de-sac called “Library Place.” A friend who lives in the area suspects that sale of the property to a developer was the real intent of the School Board from the beginning.


In the case of the Carnegie Free Library of Braddock, the General Braddock School District assumed ownership of America’s first Carnegie Library and did operate the Library for a few years. However, by the mid-1970s, the building was so dilapidated that the School District had to close the building, as the poor school district had no money for rehabilitating the building. It stayed empty and unused for nearly a decade until a movement in the neighborhood led to some building repairs and reopening of the Library. Today, the Braddock Fields Historical Society owns and operates the Braddock Carnegie Library.


However, it is still an open question as to whether the Braddock Carnegie Library will remain open. To take advantage of new County funding for libraries in 1995, from a one-half percent sales and use tax levied in Allegheny County, the Allegheny County Library Association—ACLA—was formed. This new organization is responsible for distributing the new County library funding to 44 suburban libraries in Allegheny County; The Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh receives County funding through a separate appropriation.


Well, the larger libraries in the more affluent suburbs were able to send their library directors to the many meetings needed to set-up ACLA and determine the formula for distributing money to County libraries. Often, the smaller libraries could not participate in these discussions, as these libraries have limited staffs and their library directors could not always leave the library for ACLA meetings. Consequently, the library directors for libraries in the larger, more affluent communities designed the library funding formula. And, despite denials by the ACLA executive director, I, and many others, do contend that the funding formula has been skewed to benefit the larger, more affluent libraries.


For four years, I was delegate to ACLA representing the Andrew Carnegie Free Library in Carnegie, and I fought this unfair formula, with limited success. As bad as the formula has been over the last decade, changes proposed to the formula for 2007 have come to the point where, on August 28, Jeffrey Au, President of the Braddock's Field Historical Society which operates the Library, stated that the proposed ACLA formula changes would deny the Braddock library County funding. He said, "Without RAD (County) funding, we will no longer qualify for basic aid from the state, and we will be forced to close our doors,"


He made that statement to the Board of Directors of the Allegheny Regional Asset District (RAD), which is responsible, to the County government, for approving the ACLA library funding formula each year. Fortunately, the County would be quite embarrassed if a RAD-approved formula resulted in one or more county libraries closing. So, I am cautiously optimistic that changes will be made to the formula so that librry closures do not happen. However, so long as libraries do not close, I fear that the County will continue to allow many other inequities in the library funding formula.


Now, let me talk about the Carnegie Free Library of Allegheny. Dedicated by U.S. President Benjamin Harrison in 1890 as Americas first publicly-funded Carnegie Library, this library was built in the neighborhood where Andrew Carnegie grew-up in the then-independent City of Allegheny.  And, adjoining the Carnegie Free Library of Allegheny is the world’s first Carnegie Hall, built a year before the opening of Carnegie Hall in New York City.


In 1907, the City of Allegheny became the North Side of Pittsburgh, in, what many North Side residents today still consider an unfriendly merger. Through a change in State law, the combined vote of the residents of Allegheny, and the much larger City of Pittsburgh, resulted in approval of the municipal merger, even though a majority of Allegheny residents were against the merger.


Although despite the merger of the two cities, the Carnegie Free Library of Allegheny did not merge with The Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh system until 1956. The Carnegie Free Library of Allegheny was then renamed the Allegheny Regional Branch of The Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh. It was considered a regional branch due to the fact that it was much larger than other Pittsburgh neighborhood library branches since it had originally been the main library of a two-library network in the City of Allegheny,, and in-fact, the largest library branch in the greater Downtown area. The Lower North Side, where the Allegheny Regional Branch is located, is just across the Allegheny River from Downtown Pittsburgh, while Andrew Carnegie chose to locate the main branch of The Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh in the-then developing cultural center of Oakland, three miles east of Downtown, in 1895.


We almost lost the Allegheny Regional Branch—building and all—during the days of the urban renewal programs of the 1960s and early 1970s. At that time, the historic core of what had been the Allegheny City business district was razed, replaced with “modern” buildings: a two-level shopping mall, three office towers, four high-rise apartment buildings, and pedestrian mall areas which replaced several streets. Only three historic buildings remained, right next to each other on what had been Ohio Street: the Allegheny Regional Branch Library, Buhl Planetarium, my former employer, and the Old Allegheny Post Office—the Post Office Department had abandoned the building for a “modern,” smaller post office building on the other side of the shopping mall.


Both the Allegheny Regional Branch Library and the Old Allegheny Post Office had been at risk to be torn-down and each replaced with an apartment high-rise. The Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation saved the Post Office building and turned it into a city history museum.


Finally, it was decided to keep the Allegheny Regional Branch Library building as well, but only the exterior. The Library was temporarily moved to the balcony level of the shopping mall while a multi-million dollar renovation occurred which gutted the interior of both the library and music hall. The beautiful marble staircase was replaced by a utilitarian spiral staircase in the Library’s historic click tower. In fact, the only historic interior that remains in the building are the balcony railings and, I understand, that the original fireplace is still located behind a “modern” wall!