Dust, must, ink and sweat
Relishing Caldwell’s Carnegie Library
I can still remember the smell of the first library I ever visited. Caldwell’s Carnegie Library was built in 1913 by an undocumented architect. It’s brick facade and deep portico entrance is still iconic in Caldwell, as the building sits stately on the main street that goes out of town. My sole memory of this library is the children’s section in the basement. I remember making my way down the concrete steps to the outdoor, separate entrance on the side of the building. The offices and adult sections were on the main floor, and honestly, I don’t think I’ve ever been through the main entrance of the building. It was traded in the mid 70’s for the new building, and I was still so young, that the children’s section was all that was important at the time. My great-aunt gave me my first libary card, and would take me and my sister there after school for readings and puppet shows. The deal was that we never left with fewer than 3 books each.
Sadly, today the Carnegie Library is empty and up for sale, and let me tell you, if I had the cash, I’d buy it on the spot. Luckily it’s on the historic register, so it will never be torn down. Libraries used to be architectural works of art steeped in Roman details like classic columns, archetraves, and marble floors. Today, alas, many have succumbed to the nature of practical suburban architecture — square, sturdy, functional — and our local library is nice and all, but it’s very non-descript. The latter part of the 20th century, in architectural terms, seemed to move toward the practical. Cookie-cutter homes and brutalist, blocky public buildings became the standard. But Caldwell’s first libary, now that was a monument. As the 21st century evolves, I’m seeing more of a turn back toward historic details — the classics revisited. I can only hope that this trend will awaken people to the beauty of preserving more of our past, and embracing it as we design for the future.
NOTE: CARNEGIE LIBRARIES WORLDWIDE
“Philanthropist Andrew Carnegie founded 2,509 libraries in the late 19th and early 20th centuries throughout the English speaking world, including the United States, United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand. Of these libraries, 1,679 were built in the United States. Carnegie spent over $55 million of his wealth on libraries alone, and he is often referred to as the ‘Patron Saint of Libraries.’” – Source: Carnegie Corporation of New York