Andrew Carnegie and Columbiana County Libraries

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March 1, 2005 by J. Johnson

Ohio’s Columbiana County has the distinction of having three public libraries that were built with grants from Andrew Carnegie. This ranks Columbiana County as among those
counties having the most of these donated buildings, with only Trumbull County having more (4).i While living in Pittsburgh, young Andrew Carnegie occasionally vacationed with his uncle, Thomas Hogan, in East Liverpool. When older, he recalled hikes in the surrounding forests and visits with many of the neighbors. While impossible to prove, it may be that these teenage memories played a part in the millionaire’s decision to provide such generous support to this part of the Buckeye State at the beginning of the 20th Century.

Andrew Carnegie

Andrew Carnegie’s role in transforming America’s, and indeed many other nations’ public libraries, is well-known. Between 1890 and 1920 the steel magnate donated over $41 million dollars to construct 1,679 public libraries in over 1,400 cities across the United States.ii Carnegie sincerely believed the adage “the man who dies thus rich dies disgraced” and sought to use his fortune to bring about wide-spread social improvement.iii Carnegie was not content to merely pass along his wealth to the next generation, or entrust it to others who lacked his vision of a harmonious democratic society. Carnegie sincerely believed the era of tremendous economic progress he witnessed was a unique opportunity for men of wealth, and to squander or miss the challenges then present would be a mistake with far-reaching implications for capitalism and democracy. He stressed, “it is well to remember that it requires the exercise of not less ability than that which acquires it, to use wealth so as to be really beneficial to the community.”iv With his library gift-giving, Carnegie challenged other men of substance to use their fortunes as change-agents for
the communities in which they lived.

East Liverpool Public Library

East LiverpoolEast Liverpool won a Carnegie grant in 1900, but it took another 2 years to secure land for the building’s construction. This is a bit exceptional, as most communities had to provide the land “up front” for a successful library construction award from the Carnegie Trust Corporation. The architect for the library was Charles Henry Owsley, who had designed several landmark buildings and libraries in the Youngstown and Mahoning Valley area, and was recommended by Andrew Carnegie himself. The library building was subjected to an extensive three-year restoration and modernization effort that was completed in 1994. The Carnegie Public Library of East Liverpool is still very close in appearance and room arrangement as when it was when it first opened to the public in 1902. This is quite an accomplishment, given how many of these structures were torn down, added-on, or converted to some other use over the many decades since Andrew Carnegie began funding library construction. This particular library is an architectural gem and well worth a visit.

East Liverpool Public Library web site:

Salem Public Library

Salem LibraryRecognizing the need for a permanent home, the first librarian, Mrs. Helen Carey, contacted Andrew Carnegie in January 1903 to request a grant of $17,500 to build a library. Within three weeks Mrs. Carey had a letter of commitment from James Bertram, Andrew Carnegie’s secretary and administrator of the Carnegie Trust Corporation that approved all library grant applications and
reviewed the progress of funded public library projects. An additional $2,500.00 would later be provided to turn the basement into public and staff space. The building was designed by the Pittsburgh firm of Alden and Harlow. The new library opened September 1st, 1905 at its present site, on land donated by the Salem Board of Education (a provision of the grant that was stipulated in the award). In 1931, the Carey Memorial Reading Room was added to the library, and in 1984, a $1.2 million expansion and renovation project was completed. Only the front façade of the original Carnegie building was preserved.

Salem Public Library web site:

Wellsville Public Library

Wellsville LibraryProperty on the corner of Main and Ninth Streets, originally belonging to Gen. James Reilly, was given to the city by the State of Ohio to be used for a public library. In 1916 the mayor appointed a board of trustees to manage the library and to apply to the Carnegie Trust Corporation for funds to build a library. A community’s willingness to provide land, funds for a library collection and staff, as well as the means to maintain the donated facility for the long-term were necessary for a successful grant from the Carnegie Trust Corporation that managed the gift. The Wellsville grant application was awarded $10,000.00 for the construction of the building. Designed by the architectural firm of R.W. Struthers of Sewickley, Pennsylvania, the library was dedicated and opened to the public on November 20th, 1917. The building was greatly expanded to over twice its original size thanks to a generous donation in the early 1990s. The new wing
and annex mimics the original Carnegie-era architectural design and façade.

Wellsville Public Library web site:

i Mary Ellen Armentrout, Carnegie Libraries of Ohio: Our Cultural Heritage, Mansfield, Ohio: Rainbow Pubishing,
2003, p. xii.
ii Abigail Van Slyck, Free to All: Carnegie Libraries and American Culture, 1890-1920, Chicago: University of
Chicago Press, 1995, p.22.
iii Andrew Carnegie, The Gospel of Wealth, Garden City, New York: Doubleday, Doran, and Company, 1933, p. 17.
iv Ibid. p. 9.


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